15 August 2013 | robert-temple
A partially preserved Norma Talmadge silent melodrama
This is an impressive melodrama which is now difficult to see, because the DVD is made from a very poor print, apparently the only one surviving, with about a third of its footage lost. The modern subtitles which have replaced the originals are also partially illiterate, which does not help. For instance, 'adversity' is spelled 'adversory'. Some idiots at work there! But the film is worth watching for those interested in cinema history and in Norma Talmadge as a sparkling star of the silent screen. She does very well in the lead role here, playing a character named Mary Carlton. The story begins with her as an old woman in the 1920s. Her husband is lying ill in bed, believed to be dying. As he sleeps, she goes to rest in her room and gets her diary out of a drawer, and reflects upon her dramatic and perilous life history. Suddenly we are back in 1865 in England, and she is a young girl from a wealthy family getting ready for a ball. There is an amazing scene, largely satirical, of her dressing for the ball. Anyone interested in costumes really must see this to believe it! Words fail me in attempting to describe it! Then she has a confrontation with her stern parents who have discovered that she has been writing love letters to John Carlton, an employee in her father's business, whom her father has consequently just fired. Her father says: 'No daughter of mine is going to marry such a nonentity!' So Talmadge elopes and does so, rather impractically, in her hoop skirt. She and John go off into the darkness. Then suddenly we are in the wild northwest of America in a log cabin, having lost a huge amount of footage. John has somehow antagonised some ruffians called 'Jack's gang' and they come riding through the snow to 'get' him. Talmadge's baby has been ill and the doctor has just left. A huge gunfight takes place, with John and one other man besieged in the cabin, and as Talmadge retreats to the back room to see how her baby is doing, she holds a small mirror to its mouth and sees that there is no breath, and that her baby has died. She sits there holding the dead baby in a state of shock while the gunfight is proceeding. Talmadge is very effective in her acting throughout the film, and in this scene she portrays the tragedy and pathos very well. Then a huge loss of footage occurs, but an inserted title informs us (from notes or perhaps the script) that John won the fight and defeated Jack's gang, despite being hugely outnumbered, and becomes a local hero. Then we are suddenly back in England again years later, where John's infidelity with another woman is exposed, and the woman comes to confront Talmadge and demand his freedom, saying that John and she love one another. However, Talmadge sees her off and reclaims the penitent John, who sheepishly admits that he has lost all his money 'again' (we missed the earlier occasion or occasions in the lost footage) and that they are penniless once more. Talmadge says they will fight together to survive, as they have always done. She has meanwhile met up with her parents again, and satire once again rears its head as the father says to his daughter that he had always wanted her to marry John Carlton. She looks at him with a mixture of amazement and contempt. Soon we are back with her as an old woman, as the doctor enters to speak of her husband's condition. As IMDb does not permit discussion of endings, I cannot say how it all turns out. Considering its poor state of preservation, this film now is very much a specialist's viewing experience and the general public would not wish to put up with the missing sections and the bad print. But for those of us who see beyond such things, it is worthwhile, and would have been a very impressive film at its time of release. It is also a particularly fine example of Norma Talmadge's talent as an actress.