26 April 2008 | JohnHowardReid
A Great Cinema Experience! An Enthralling Work of Art!
Mary Pickford often stated that Tess Skinner was her favorite movie role. Well said! She played the part twice and for this version which she herself produced, she not only had to purchase the rights from Adolph Zukor but even give him credit on the film's main title card. Needless to say her portrayal of this role here is most winning. Indeed, in my opinion, the movie itself rates as one the all-time great experiences of silent cinema.
True, director John S. Robertson doesn't move his camera an inch from start to finish, but in Robertson's skillful hands this affectation not only doesn't matter but is probably more effective. A creative artist of the first rank, Robertson is a master of pace, camera angles and montage. He has also drawn brilliantly natural performances from all his players. Jean Hersholt who enacts the heavy is so hideously repulsive, it's hard to believe this is the same man as kindly Dr Christian; while Lloyd Hughes renders one of the best acting jobs of his entire career. True, it's probably not the way Mrs White intended, but it serves the plot admirably, as otherwise we would have difficulty explaining why the dope spent a fortune on defense but made not the slightest attempt to ascertain who actually fired the gun that killed his future brother-in-law! Needless to say, this particular quality of the likable hero is downplayed by Jack Ging in the bowdlerized 1960 version which also totally deletes the author's trenchant attack on smug, middle-class Christianity. Notice how the well-washed priest here moves forward a pace or two in surprise at the interruption, but then makes no attempt whatever to assist our plucky little heroine in the performance of duties that he himself was supposedly ordained to administer. This is a very moving scene indeed because it is so realistically presented.
"Tess" also provides an insight into the work of another fine actress, Gloria Hope, whose work was entirely confined to silent cinema. She married Lloyd Hughes in 1921 and retired in 1926 to devote her life completely to her husband and their two children. Lloyd Hughes died in 1958, but she lived until 1976, easily contactable in Pasadena, but I bet no-one had the brains to interview her. Another opportunity lost!
To me, Forrest Robinson only made a middling impression as Skinner. I thought he was slightly miscast and a brief glance at his filmography proves this: He usually played priests or judges! But David Torrence as usual was superb.
In all, an expensive production with beautiful photography and marvelous production values.