27 October 2014 | mukava991
awkward start, then gets powerful
Walter Lang directs this gripping if somewhat contrived saga adapted by Dorothy Arzner from a story by Adela Rogers St. Johns about fallen woman Gabrielle Darley (Priscilla Bonner). The first moments are bizarre, as we see Mrs. Wallace Reid (nee Dorothy Davenport), the film's producer, turning the pages of a bound collection of archival newspapers from 1917; she pauses at a story about Darley. She then turns to the camera and "talks" to the audience. This being a silent film, of course, we hear nothing but see her spoken words as text. I have never seen this device in a silent film before.
We then enter the Darley saga at mid-point in the red light district of New Orleans as the heroine learns from a fellow prostitute that the man who lured her into sin (Carl Miller) has deserted her to go to Los Angeles to get married. After some embarrassingly awkward histrionics by Bonner, whose emoting improves remarkably as the story progresses, we see her in the streets of L.A. and bingo, she just happens to run into Miller at a jeweler's shop as he is about to buy a wedding ring for the other woman! (Perhaps continuity scenes were filmed but cut here.) She confronts him, he shrugs her off as if her sudden appearance from hundreds of miles away is minor and unsurprising annoyance, she shoots him on the spot, sinks to her knees in penitent prayer and is promptly arrested and sent to jail.
Her case becomes a cause celebre, attracting hordes of curious sensation seekers, among whom is a then-common social-uplift type (Virginia Pearson) which was also satirized in Griffith's "Intolerance," who takes Darley in as a sort of trophy to show her trendy friends. And we are gradually drawn into the plight of this character by good acting, excellent photography (despite a few lapses into proscenium arch-ism), vivid characters as we root for Darley whose efforts to redeem herself seem to be crushed at every turn due to societal disapproval of her sordid past. Overall, the fashions and hairdos are very 1925 despite the fact that the whole story wraps up by 1917. In the beautifully preserved print I saw there is an appropriate and unobtrusive score by the prolific Robert Israel. The title derives from a hand- tinted garment owned by Darley which plays no important role in the story and seems to be a crude attempt at symbolism.