Thomas Ince Creating Organized Production Methods in his Studio
Thomas Harper Ince came to films in 1910, age 30, with a background as a jack-of-all-trades in the stage. Beginning as a film director, Ince then created the function of a producer, something new to movies. He realized that the haphazard way films were made, planned simply in the director's mind, needed to be far more organized—and economical. Ince introduced the concept of a carefully planned script and shooting schedule, so every day the needed cast, extras, sets, costumes, and locations were all prepared.
You will see all these phases of production in this promotional film. It goes beyond earlier such studio tours with their star snapshots and behind the scenes glimpses, to convey a full day's studio work. Even as the film supposedly captures stars informally, it oscillates to the technical departments and the artists, carpenters, electricians, and laboratory, to indicate just how much the studio is like an actual factory.
Getting ready for work are Lloyd Hughes, Enid Bennet, Louise Glaum, J. Parker Read, and Douglas MacLean, who is stopped by a policeman who wants to join him in the movies. The secret of photographing a chase is shown. Hobart Bosworth relaxes by painting. Upon arriving at work, MacLean receives a batch of fan mail--even a package from Japan, for Ince films have global exhibition. Even if not all the stars shown were under contract to Ince, their presence along with the professional filmmakers add to the importance of the facility itself. The only real luxury is at the end of eight hours, when the workers relax in the studio pool.
Ince had personally designed and privately owned this studio facility, for making both his own films and those of other independent producers (including Read and Bosworth). With these other filmmakers, in 1919 Ince set up a firm, Associated Producers, and Ince hired Hunt Stromberg as head of publicity and advertising. Special arrangements were made with one newspaper in each city to promote this studio tour film and distribute it to theaters where it was shown as "an added attraction." (The date of release given on IMDb is incorrect; the film was in release by 1920 as proved by reviews.)
Ince himself is shown undertaking vigorous exercises and making time for his wife and three sons. This was not vanity; there was a second and very important audience, bankers. No longer releasing through Paramount, who had paid a weekly sum paid to finance productions for their release, Ince had become a completely independent producer. Ince needed to constantly borrow for his next production, using as collateral films already in release. Just as important was his own reputation for commercial success, and the studio he owned. The presence of big name players, and the demonstration of coordinated, professional production methods, offered reassurance to backers of Ince as a financial investment.
It was just that health of Ince's that began to fail him, and he died in 1924 from ulcers and angina (as opposed to the rumors, laid to rest in my book on Ince). The good news, however, is that his studio shown here is still in place and remains a center of production.
Ince presents Aoki and Hayakawa in the first American films with Asian stars
From the beginning of his film career, producer Thomas H. Ince (1880-1924) realized the importance of authenticity in filmmaking, as I outline in my biography of the pioneer. After directing in Cuba, then in creating Inceville, he noticed a demand for realism which most of his contemporaries overlooked. In particular, as the star system began to take hold, he chose to reach beyond his own race. As he explained in an article for the May 1915 issue of Motion Picture Magazine: "Public preference runs toward real Chinese, or real Japanese, or real Hindus, to the exclusion of the 'made-up' brand." In 1913, Ince saw a single short movie from a rival producer, The Oath of O Tsuru San, and promptly hired the lead, Miss Tsuru Aoki, and her company of 20 Japanese players, for a series of Japanese-themed films, both shorts and features. Ince set about making stars of the pair, and a public interest in this new team was amplified by a real-life romance that soon resulted in marriage. The Aoki-Hayakawa series continued in production at Inceville throughout 1914, primarily two-reel films and two features, The Wrath of the Gods and The Typhoon.
The first of the shorts, by Richard Spencer, O Mimi San uses standard plot structures—a struggle for the throne, the subplot, set against the tragic love between a commoner and a royal—but the Japanese setting, and the cast, transform the familiar fable into an entirely different context. Constantly amplifying this is not only the Japanese leads and most of the supporting cast, but also elaborately designed settings, from the interior and exterior of the palace, to the Japanese garden idyll so essential to the love story, along with the elegant period costumes tailored for all the players.
In naming his son Yorotomo (Sessue Hayakawa) as Crown Prince, the aged Shogun makes arrangements for a royal marriage, leaving the younger brother, Tokogawa, jealous and contemplating a coup. Not only is there the threat of political conflict, but there is an immediate dissonance in the casting that signals the tragedy to come. While the actors playing both the Shogun and the bride are obviously whites in yellowface, the rest of the cast is entirely Asian. The Crown Prince's designated bride is an obvious mismatch, her appearance clashing with his, as played by Mildred Harris (first of Charlie Chaplin's four wives).
The reason for this casting becomes clear when the Crown Prince is sent in disguise for his safety to a farm, in disguise, lest he became a victim of Togokawa's conspiracy to usurp the throne. There the Crown Prince meets the farmer's daughter, played by Tsuru Aoki, and from the initial exchange of glances, it is clearly an instance of love at first sight. She is flirtatious, and he clearly is entranced by her beauty and their Edenic surroundings, a tropical garden where nature, not politics, governs emotions.
In a sequence of crosscutting between palace and garden, the potential danger to the state from the royal rival is resolved, while a new peril emerges, the love of Yorotomo and the farmer's daughter. Upon receiving news of his father's death, Yorotomo's immediate concern is not with the burdens of state—but with what it will mean for his love. O Mimi San finds the document, dropped amidst the reeds, that summoned Yorotomo to his office, and suddenly she understands all. For both, the death of the Shogun is not a matter for the nation, but one understood in terms of the love each has for the other. O Mimi San is tearful, but he will not let her fall to her knees, as they try to help one another accept the inevitable; "you will ever be in my thoughts, he tells her," he tells her.
He is as true to his word as possible. A year later, the royal wedding takes place, to the bride selected by his father, and who by Caucasian casing is evidently not compatible in the way O Mimi San was; this is a marriage of state, not a love between two hearts. After the ceremony, Yorotomo seeks isolation, saying "Tell your mistress I will be there presently." The new husband must first recall and resolve the memories. He looks out a window and dreams of O Mimi San, showing an earlier scene of the couple framed within the window. At last, Yorotomo gently close the shades, metaphorically placing these recollections behind him, at last accepting his responsibilities to the perpetuation of the monarchy.
The plot has a condensed feel; it presents its story in shorthand and symbols, with its use of casting. Love is the primary element, although the contrasting violence of the attempt to take control of the palace occupies much of the two reel length, and contrasts with the peace and beauty of the garden where love flourishes. The motives and emotions are universal; criticism that the film may be less than accurate as to Japanese customs is simply irrelevant. Rather, Ince's Aoki-Hayakawa series sought to introduce American films with Japanese stars, presenting a series of stories with Japanese settings, and the Japanese players themselves clearly perform in a style more redolent of American acting than the national traditions they would have known. In this Ince succeeded, and he retained an interest in films with Asian settings throughout his career. However, after such a number of similar films, as a single producer he could not indefinitely continue such similar stories as a major part of his output. Moreover, Hayakawa became such a major star as to command a salary beyond what Ince was able to offer, and he went to a larger studio and ultimately became an independent producer. Aoki largely devoted herself to sharing her husband's career as long as he remained in the American cinema until 1924, although she did return once to the Ince studio playing an East Indian in a colonial romance.
For several generations, Citizen Kane (1941) has molded public memory of William Randolph Hearst. For younger film goers, however, another, newer movie, The Cat's Meow (2001), has begun to supplant Citizen Kane in etching Hearst. Citizen Kane at least implied a fictional side by inventing new names for the characters loosely inspired by Hearst and actress Marion Davies. Unlike Citizen Kane, The Cat's Meow makes no concession, offering a panoply of actual historical characters by name, leaving viewers to expect at least a basic reconstruction of events. In truth, The Cat's Meow continues the distortion of Hearst and Davies, but is even more egregiously misleading about the other figures depicted, especially producer Thomas Ince.
On a November weekend in 1924, Ince and Hearst had met to finalize plans under discussion for years: producing Hearst's movies at Ince's privately owned studio, one of the finest in Hollywood outside of the majors. Since 1910, as revealed in my Ince biography, he had written, directed, or produced some 800 movies, a prolific output that won him fame but was also resulting in ulcers and angina. Outside of his family, only Ince's closest associates suspected; as an independent in Hollywood, often depending on bank loans, Ince had to conceal his ill-health.
He had a long weekend with little if any sleep. It began at his home with a Saturday visit from Hearst, and a a preview that night of one of Ince's new films to gauge audience response. The next morning Ince to San Diego and boarded Hearst's yacht for negotiations. After snacking on salted almonds, and unwilling not to join in the toasts (despite his doctor's orders to avoid alcohol) for both his own and his son's birthday, Ince was stricken. In the dawn hours, complaining of fatigue and pain from his ulcers, he went ashore and consulted nurses and a doctor. Ince's wife Elinor and eldest son (age 15, and who would take up the practice of medicine as an adult) hastened to Ince's side and brought him home where, despite the attention of his personal physician, a thrombosis ended his life two days later.
The untimely death of a 44 year old Hollywood pioneer is insufficient dramatic premise for The Cat's Meow. Instead of examining his medical record, it amplifies rumors whispered by Hearst's most reckless enemies at the time; Ince had also irked many in the press because he had just produced a cinematic expose of yellow journalism (Her Reputation, 1923). Viewers of The Cat's Meow are shown a libidinous Hearst, jealously believing Davies was involved with Charlie Chaplin, firing a pistol in his rage, yet mistaking the burly Ince for the slight comedian. Supposedly Hollywood columnist Louella Parsons was a witness and so gained her position with his syndicate.
On the other side are the facts. Parsons was in New York at the time, and had already been under contract with Hearst for a year. If Hearst were gunning for Chaplin, it is unlikely they would have remained friends until the late 1930s, only becoming disaffected as a result of political clashes. The Cat's Meow erases the Chaplin-Ince friendship and Ince's nautical experience; he had loaned his own racing yacht to Chaplin for a honeymoon cruise. The movie also alleges that Margaret Livingston accompanied Ince, but there is no contemporary evidence; moreover, while she acted in nine movies for him, she was starring in 30 movies for other companies.
Elinor would hardly have been complacent in the death of the father of her three young boys. She in no way blamed Hearst, and continued to visit San Simeon; the Inces had been frequent guests in earlier years. Nor did she secure Hearst hush money, since she had a million-dollar estate derived from the sale of her husband's studio and corporate assets, and real estate the couple had already bought.
The conspiracy-theorists even suggest that Ince's cremation somehow confirms their beliefs, unaware that the Inces were theosophists, opposed to burial. In fact, the body was examined by police and the case was thoroughly investigated both in the journals and by legal authorities at the time, and no grounds for suspicion were found—even from Hearst adversaries.
The slander about Ince's death in The Cat's Meow is exceeded only by the fabrication of his career. Ince himself is shown as a sycophant, enduring peevish insults from near-stranger Hearst, and lucky to make a film a year. In fact, that year, 1924, fifteen Ince feature movies were released to theaters. At the time of his death, he had nine more productions already before the camera, completed in the following months. He was a major, commercial producer, with several ongoing distribution deals to fulfill, and there was every reason for Hearst and Ince to link; they were natural allies as independents against the ongoing consolidation of Hollywood corporations. Not content with falsifying Ince, The Cat's Meow even maligns Elinor, showing her as not joining her stricken husband, and denigrating her active role in the Ince company, publicly and behind the scenes.
The Cat's Meow joins fanciful stories to be found all over the internet about Ince's death, incredible concoctions that invoke every possibility this side of extra-terrestrial intervention—and which share one element in common: not one is sourced in reliable or contemporary accounts. Hearsay is all that is needed. Thanks to Citizen Kane, and later The Cat's Meow, Hearst, Davies, and now Thomas Ince are known more for fiction than history. At least Citizen Kane had the merit of its artistry; The Cat's Meow is simply a tawdry imagining of dissipation, murder and cover-up, and there can be no question how it diverges from the truth. By blighting the memory of filmdom's early titans, The Cat's Meow belittles the cinema's pioneers in fantasizing a scandal in a Hollywood never-never land.
The Filmed Autobraphy of the Pioneer of Undersea Photography
John Ernest Williamson (1881-1966) was active in motion pictures for nearly fifty years. His father had been a sea captain and inventor of a deep-sea tube, made of a series of concentric, interlocking iron rings, that, when suspended from a specially outfitted ship, created a shaft into the sea allowing easy communication and a plentiful supply of air down to depths of up to 250 feet. In 1912, young Williamson realized that his father's mechanism, intended for underwater repair and salvage work, could be adapted for undersea photography. To facilitate the tube's new purpose, Williamson designed an attachment, a spherical observation chamber with a five-foot funnel-shaped glass window which he called the "photosphere." With a light hung from the mother ship to illuminate the sea in front of the tube, still photographs of the depths off Hampton Roads, Virginia, proved so successful that Williamson was urged to try motion pictures.
The equipment was taken to the Bahamas, where the sunlight reached down to a depth of 150 feet in the clear waters, enhancing photographic possibilities. His first feature was known as the "Williamson Expeditionary Picture" and ingeniously titled THIRTY LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA. Released in 1914, the film demonstrated how the photosphere functioned and the manner in which the Bahamas islanders depended on the life in the sea, climaxing with scenes of Williamson's fight with a shark, which he killed with a knife while remaining within the camera's range.
Through 1955, Williamson continued to shoot both documentary and fiction films in the Bahamas. He realized that fictional films could be a popular and lucrative outlet for films made with the photosphere, and was inherently involved with the scripting and directing of underwater scenes that could be shot with the photosphere. Producing independently whenever sufficient backing was obtainable, among his own fiction films were THE SUBMARINE EYE (1917), GIRL OF THE SEA (1920), and WET GOLD (1921), with such themes as sunken treasure, sea monsters, mermaids, and shipwrecks. He was also willing to work for the major studios when they commissioned his type of picture, such as Universal's TWENTY THOUSAND LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA (1916) and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND (1929).
With the development of Technicolor, Williamson and his Submarine Film Corporation undertook to photograph the bottom of the sea in the new process in 1924 with THE UNINVITED GUEST (1924), and WITH WILLIAMSON BENEATH THE SEA includes a silent, minute-long two-color insert in the second reel of some of these scenes. The popularity of Williamson's lecture tours, which included the screening of underwater footage, led to the 1936 publication of his autobiography, 20 Years Under the Sea, which was translated into many languages.
In 1922, Williamson had written, directed, produced, and even portrayed himself in WONDERS OF THE SEA, a combination fiction and non-fiction film about Williamson's search, using the photosphere, for a sea monster in the West Indies. WONDERS OF THE SEA became the basis for WITH WILLIAMSON BENEATH THE SEA, which he produced and narrated ten years later for release by Sol Lesser. In addition to demonstrating his filmmaking techniques, WITH WILLIAMSON BENEATH THE SEA also reveals the scientific uses of the photosphere in exploring the deep, with some of the footage was taken from his FIELD MUSEUM-WILLIAMSON UNDERSEA EXPEDITION TO THE BAHAMAS, particularly the gathering of coral specimens. From inside the photosphere, Williamson and his wife patiently study the life of the creatures of the bottom, making photographs, sketches, and paintings of the fish and plants seen through the window. As a documentary, WITH WILLIAMSON BENEATH THE SEA heightens its impact by presenting the undersea footage in a concentrated fashion, without the interjection of a distracting melodramatic surface plot line found in so many of his fictional features. Added entertainment in WITH WILLIAMSON BENEATH THE SEA was provided by including the daughter of the Williamsons, the baby Sylvia. (Williamson's last film was a 1955 half-hour condensation of WITH WILLIAMSON BENEATH THE SEA for the syndicated television series, I SEARCH FOR ADVENTURE, with entirely new on-camera interviews and narration by Williamson).
The movie was described in advertising as "Adventure among the mysteries and monsters of the deep," and announced with the banner headline, "a lost world fathoms below recovered in savage splendor." WITH WILLIAMSON BENEATH THE SEA is emblematic of a period in filmmaking, long past, when pioneers were part-scientist and part-promoter on endeavors that involved as much adventure as technology, and it demonstrates both the scientific use of the photosphere as well as its application in filming motion picture entertainment under the sea. Incorporating both previously-filmed footage along with new material, many of the scenes are from Williamson productions that otherwise seem to be lost; his other original movie negatives were stored in Florida and destroyed in a hurricane. The two concluding reels of WITH WILLIAMSON BENEATH THE SEA feature a series of incidents between divers in the deep, and used some of the highlights from such films as THE SUBMARINE EYE, THE WHITE HEATHER (1919), the quicksand scene from WET GOLD, and the battle with the moray eel from WONDERS OF THE SEA.
In search of authenticity, Williamson always strove to take his camera to the actual ocean floor, never settling for the ease of shooting in a tank, a method increasingly used for supposed undersea scenes in Hollywood productions. However, Williamson never approached the idea of actually taking cameras into the deep. When Walt Disney used this new method to remake 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA in 1954, the Bahamian locales were utilized that Williamson had found almost forty years earlier, and he advised the new crew facing the same practical problems he had overcome in almost forty years earlier.
Hunt Stromberg, who had begun as a publicist for producer Thomas Ince in 1921, was involved in finishing two movies that had were in progress by Ince at the time of his death in November 1924: THE LAST FRONTIER and OFF THE HIGHWAY. With Ince's death, there was initial uncertainty as to the best course of action; his will barred his wife from investing in motion pictures, to prevent the loss of the fortune they had accumulated and was held in trust for their young sons. Moreover, much work remained to be done on THE LAST FRONTIER.
THE LAST FRONTIER had originated as a novel, by Courtney Ryley Cooper, partly written while on the Ince payroll, and published in 1923 by Little Brown, with Ince also officially purchasing rights for a film version. Initially THE LAST FRONTIER was part of a larger plan for a multi-film saga of American history; only SCARS OF JEALOUSY (1923) and BARBARA FRIETCHIE (1924) were completed. An earlier western had been planned, set in the 1830s, written by Talbot Mundy in the James Fenimore Cooper style; it was to be entitled When Trails Were New. Ultimately Ince decided that rather than two, only one western would be produced, the one using the more traditional post-Civil War setting.
The plot of THE LAST FRONTIER would relate, according to the trades, "the laying of the first great trans-continental railroad, and the fight made by the pioneer men and women of the sixties as they pushed that road through the heart of the vast buffalo lands. Many historical characters, including 'Buffalo Bill' Cody and General Custer, are woven into the central theme; which with the tender and intimate love story of Tom Kirby and his sweetheart, offers a thrilling romance of adventure and action." Cody and Custer of course had also figured in CUSTER'S LAST FIGHT, Ince's 1912 movie that was released in expanded form in 1925.
The footage of the buffalo stampede which was to form the climax of THE LAST FRONTIER had already been filmed in 1923 at the Wainwright National Park in Alberta. The Canadian government was thinning its herd on their plains, killing 2,000 tubercular bison, allowing filming of the rapidly growing herd of 10,000 "under conditions which never again will be available for picture production...." Publicity would further explain that 12 cameras and their operators were hidden at great peril in steel underground pits with small openings, and behind stout barricades camouflaged with brush, as the buffalo were stampeded, to get the most remarkable scenes possible. Cree Indians from the Hobbema reservation also provided a contrast.
John Ince and B. Reeves Eason directed, but the results had proved so disjointed that, when Lambert Hillyer was asked to take over, he did not think he could salvage the project. Nonetheless, in September 1924, Moving Picture World announced that principal photography would soon begin, with Ince himself perhaps taking the megaphone. There was abundant evidence of industry and exhibitor interest in what would have been Ince's biggest production in years. Already $84,000 had been spent, as I note in my Ince biography.
Stromberg contracted to sell what had been completed of THE LAST FRONTIER (along with the studio's stock footage library), with advertising noting it as begun by Ince, finished by Stromberg as Ince's personal choice, with publicity to be approved by Mrs. Ince. $5,000 was to be paid upon signing and $10,000 upon beginning principal photography, not later than August 1. That $15,000 was to be an advance against 7% of the total gross receipts, increasing to 10% after expenses had been paid. No further sale of the footage could be made until one year after the release of THE LAST FRONTIER. Stromberg shared a half interest with Metropolitan Pictures Corp., ultimately selling out to them. THE LAST FRONTIER was ultimately produced in 1926, following the traditional formula of a trader who has been selling to Indians. Only the presence of Jack Hoxie as Cody provides a hint of the original intentions. The agreed balance due to the Ince Corp. by 1927 was only $8,642.
An Expanded Version of a 1912 Thomas Ince Production
CUSTER'S LAST FIGHT, was cobbled together posthumously but still credited with producer Thomas Ince's personal supervision. Quality Amusement Corp. released the new version of his 1912 Bison movie, which had been expanded from three to five reels. Spectacular in its own time, the new version may have included footage already shot for THE LAST FRONTIER, incomplete at the time of Ince's death—as noted in my Ince biography. THE LAST FRONTIER would ultimately be completed in 1926.
Whether there was actual new photography for CUSTER'S LAST FIGHT is uncertain; it is not listed on Ince production charts. Among the original scenes in this version were an opening of bison and some glimpses of Buffalo Bill near the end. Other footage added included a fort under siege, skirmishes with Indians, troop movements, an Indian village and dances, and an extensive postscript on the fate of Sitting Bull. All of this provided an element of spectacle undercut by the lack of expected stress on the personalities of individuals, yet this simultaneously enhanced the factual tone, with intertitles providing dates, military movements, and the names of historical individuals.
On May 3, 1925, Playing With Souls was released by First Nationals as their last Thomas Ince production, as noted in my Ince biography. C. Gardner Sullivan adapted the novel of the same title by Clara (Longworth) Comtesse de Chambrun, which was also reissued as a "photoplay" edition by Grosset & Dunlap. The scenario cost $9,683, with $3500 for the story.
The plot had resemblances to BLACK IS WHITE, a 1919 Ince production for Paramount in which a husband meets his divorced wife under a new identity, marries her, then becomes jealous of his son's relationship to his new wife--not realizing she is his son's mother. PLAYING WITH SOULS was no less improbable. A couple, Amy and Matthew, played by Clive Brook and Belle Bennett, separate, placing their son in a British school and keeping him ignorant of their identities.
The child, becoming an adult, as played by William Collier, Jr., becomes obsessed with learning about his paternity. Going to Paris in search of information, he meets a woman of dubious morals, Bricotte (Jacqueline Logan). Collier's father learns of his dissipation and comes to him as a friend, having Bricotte in his own apartment so his son will believe she is cheating on him. Also in Paris is Amy, who vamps her son.
The father discovers them and reveals their true identities. The son attempts suicide, but is saved by his father and returns to England and his fiancée, played by Mary Astor. Amy and the father are also reunited. Thomas Ince's younger brother Ralph Ince directed in seven reels and the production cost $167,630.
Hunt Stromberg, who had begun as a publicist for producer Thomas Ince in 1921, was involved in finishing two movies that had were in progress by Ince at the time of his death in November 1924: THE LAST FRONTIER and OFF THE HIGHWAY. OFF THE HIGHWAY recounted how a miser exchanges places with his lookalike servant when he dies, to see whether his spendthrift nephew handles his inheritance better than another nephew who had spurned the demand that he give up art.
Ince was originally listed as producer of OFF THE HIGHWAY on internal production charts, and it was advertised as a Regal Production starring Jacqueline Logan. Regal Pictures was an umbrella for a series of lower-budget movies produced by Thomas Ince, at his studio, but without putting his name on the movies, as I note in my Ince biography. At one point Ince scenarist C. Gardner Sullivan was said to be supervising OFF THE HIGHWAY for Robertson-Cole Pictures release. Ultimately, OFF THE HIGHWAY was a Stromberg production for P.D.C., with Logan replaced by Marguerite de la Motte, and the movie was released on August 15, 1925.
On April 5, 1925, Charles Ray's second movie for Pathé, Percy, was released. However, his producer in his prospective new series, Thomas Ince, had since passed away. This ended the brief revival in Ray's fortunes, as outlined in my Ince biography.
In Percy, Ray played a mollycoddle, who only knows how to play the violin, but his campaign manager offers to make a man of him when he runs for the Senate. The movie was retitled Mother's Boy in England (and is not to be confused with a similarly-titled 1917 Ince picture with Ray), and in fact was based on the 1921 novel The Desert Fiddler by William H. Hanby, which had been originally prepared in scenario form for Ray by Ince when they were previously under contract for Paramount.
Within weeks of Ince's death, Ray was negotiating with a group of Chicago men for a salary of $100,000 per movie, but a year later he was bankrupt, and the rights to income from his films (including the two for Ince) held by trustees. Ray tried to be the sophisticate in several later movies, rather than his traditional role, but audiences could not adjust to him in a tuxedo.
On November 23, 1924, the Regal Pictures production THE CHORUS LADY was released by Producers Distributing Corp. Margaret Livingston stars as a chorus girl whose fiancée's prize filly is blinded in a stable fire, forcing postponement of the wedding. Livingston returns to New York with her sister to work in the Follies. When the horse still wins a race, the fiancée follows her, only to apparently discover that she is having an affair with a gambler. However, he learns that it was her sister who had become romantically involved, and a reconciliation ensues.
Ralph Ince directed the six reel production from Bradley King's adaptation of the successful 1904 play of the same name by James Grant Forbes, which proved equally popular on the screen. $12,000 had been paid for the screen rights (with a $600 commission to the American Play Company). The total cost of the movie was $105,920. Regal Pictures was actually an umbrella for a series of lower-budget movies produced by Thomas Ince (elder brother of Ralph Ince), at his studio, but without putting his name on the movies, as I note in my Ince biography.
On December 28, 1924, THE MIRAGE, a Regal Picture, was released by P.D.C. Florence Vidor starred as a woman who leaves her family and sweetheart to seek an opera career in New York. Clive Brook plays the man who hires her to perform for guests, and when her old sweetheart tries to find her, he assumes she is a fallen woman. Brook, realizing his error, asks Vidor to marry him, which she accepts upon realizing his love is genuine.
Regal Pictures was actually an umbrella for a series of lower-budget movies produced by Thomas Ince, at his studio, but without putting his name on the movies, as I note in my Ince biography. Vidor had appeared in a number of his more prestigious, bigger-budgeted personal productions, and Brook was becoming a regular as well. Ince scenarist C. Gardner Sullivan adapted the 1920 play by Edgar Selwyn, for which $17,500 had been paid. George Archainbaud directed the six reel production from August 27 to September 7, for a total of $85,741. According to the pressbook, A.L. Burt issued a novelization of the play with a dust jacket and interior illustrations derived from scenes from the movie.
On February 1, Enticement was released by First National as the first of producer Thomas Ince's posthumous films to actually carry his name as producer. Bradley King adapted the previous year's novel of the same title by Clive Arden; the rights cost $25,000. Two "photoplay" editions were issued in conjunction with the movie, by the original publisher, Bobbs-Merrill, and by Grosset & Dunlap. George Archainbaud directed in seven reels, at a total cost of $215,924.
Mary Astor starred as a free spirit caught in a love triangle between Ian Keith as an opera singer and the Englishman she marries, Clive Brook. Two years after World War I, former relief workers in Belgium, Leonore (Mary Astor) and Richard (Ian Keith) meet again when they vacation together platonically in the Swiss alps. Although married already, he now falls in love with her. When he cannot control his passion when they are alone in the Swiss Alps and she suffers a skiing accident, she ends their friendship and marries an Englishman, Henry (Clive Brook).
Although Leonore loves him, his London family regards her as too independent. Leonore is named as co-respondent in a divorce filed by Richard's estranged wife, causing Henry to lose faith in her. Richard realizes she still loves Henry and Richard walks in front of an oncoming automobile. Dying in the hospital, Richard happily sees Leonore and Henry reconciled and saved from scandal. Enticement also followed the trend in 1920s Ince films to explore the changing social roles of women, as outlined in my Ince biography.
On February 16, 1925, THE GIRL OF GOLD, the last Regal Picture, was released by Producers Distributing Corporation. Regal Pictures was actually an umbrella for a series of lower-budget movies produced by Thomas Ince, at his studio, but without putting his name on the movies, as I note in my Ince biography. Kate Corbaley adapted the 1920 Snappy Stories magazine serial, with Eve Unsell supplying the scenario; Thomas Ince's elder brother John Ince directed the six reel production.
Florence Vidor, veteran of many of Thomas Ince's bigger budget personal productions, plays Helen, the daughter of a mine owner who is snubbed by New York society. Using an assumed name so her wealth will remain secret, she falls in love with an impoverished member of an elite family. He is seduced into meeting a married friend at a roadhouse, but Helen lies to maintain his honor. She learns that her father had wanted the poorer man to marry her, but refused when it was merely an arrangement. Trapped by a mine cave-in, they realize their true love and are rescued.
On November 11, producer Thomas Ince's IDLE TONGUES was released by First National. Percy Marmont was cast as a doctor who returns to his home town and its gossip after serving jail time for stealing church funds, taking responsibility for an act committed by his wife. He believes a typhoid epidemic is caused by a pond that his late wife's brother, Judge Copeland (Claude Gillingwater), wants to use as the municipal water supply.
Only one resident, the judge's daughter Katherine (Doris Kenyon), the woman the doctor has always truly loved, supports him until biologists prove him correct. The doctor then confronts Copeland with proof that he went to prison to save his wife. Copeland allows the marriage of his daughter to the son of his enemy, and Katherine and the doctor are united.
C. Gardner Sullivan adapted the previous year's novel, Doctor Nye of North Ostable, by Joseph Crosby Lincoln, the rights to which were bought for $12,000. Lambert Hillyer directed the six reel production from July 19 to August 25, 1924. The director received $9,682, with $41,701 to the cast, $22,862 for sets, and $14,631 for prints, for a total of $176,780 with a $45,000 allowance for overhead, as I reveal in my Ince biography.
The Changing Roles of Women and Marriage in the 1920s
On October 12, 1924, Christine of the Hungry Heart was released by First National. Producer Thomas Ince had selected the Kathleen Norris story to film even as it was being serialized in Hearst's International Magazine as "The Love Story of a Restless Woman." With production beginning in April, it took roughly eight months to bring to the screen at a cost of $185,408.
Ince wanted to film other stories initially appearing in Hearst journals; the rights to Christine of the Hungry Heart had cost $25,000. This was, ironically, one of the reasons for Ince and Hearst to meet aboard his yacht in November 1924, which ended tragically when the filmmaker, already ill with ulcers and angina, would be taken fatally ill.
John Griffith Wray had been the first choice to direct Christine of the Hungry Heart, but the First National release was helmed in eight reels by George Archainbaud. Archainbaud, who had inquired about joining Associated Producers, producer Thomas Ince's short-lived 1920-21 organization, remained to direct two more Ince productions, The Mirage and Enticement.
Bradley King's adaptation of Christine of the Hungry Heart related how the title character (Florence Vidor) is spurned by her drunken husband, Stuart (Warner Baxter), for another woman. Christine thereby gains her divorce and marries her wealthy, aristocratic physician, Alan (played by Clive Brook in the first of several films for Ince). They have a son, but when her new husband leaves her to assist a patient she is enraged. She finds companionship with the unsympathetic writer Ivan (Ian Keith), and they elope to Rio, accompanied by her son. Alan gains custody of the boy, and Christine decides to care for the desperately ill Stuart. Just before his death, Alan and their child convince their mother to reunite the family.
Wray explained that with Anna Christie, a new type of screen woman had emerged, who was found in Ince melodramas, as I outline in my Ince biography.
"The woman who sins is the woman who holds deepest interest for the screen audience of the day ... Time was when only the sweet young thing could find any place in the film world as a heroine. But the taste of audiences has matured with the more complex psychology of the day and a woman who once would have been labeled a shameless creature will prove ... acceptable ... Audiences will forgive a woman almost anything providing she acts under emotional strain. Men are coming to realize that women go through emotional stresses which practically are unknown to males. They can sympathize with a woman even if she breaks a cardinal commandment providing there was no mental calculation before she acted. But an audience never forgives a woman who sins after mental conflict, for then they feel she is a cold-hearted, calculating, malevolent creature. "
Christine of the Hungry Heart was the logical culmination of a trend that had been clear since Ince's What a Wife Learned, and was promoted in Ince publicity as indicative of the "new" woman and love, her privileges and the results of emancipation, suggesting that the issue of gender roles "is more vital than that of the League of Nations or any other discussion that fills the front page columns of the daily press." "Marriage," it was noted, "under the complex conditions of the twentieth century, has become one of the outstanding problems of the day ."
THE MARRIAGE CHEAT was produced by Thomas Ince for First National release on April 5, 1924. On a yacht in the South Seas, Bob (Adolphe Menjou) jeers with his loose companions about whether his bride of a year, Helen (Leatrice Joy), might be pregnant. In fact she is, and in despair flings herself into the sea.
The natives of a rain-soaked island save her from drowning and take her to a religious missionary, the only white man there, Paul (Percy Marmont). (Chicago censors forced him to be portrayed as not an actual member of the ministry.) Helen demonstrates to Paul how to correct his methods of teaching the natives. She wants to stay, so he hides her presence when a supply vessel makes its visit.
Helen and Paul fall in love, and she gives birth to her child, a scene of special concern to censors around the country. When Bob returns, the missionary again lies to conceal her presence, but an attractive half-caste girl whose overtures he has resisted reveals the truth. Paul is ready to relinquish Helen when a storm breaks. He has the opportunity to let Bob drown but rescues him, although Bob later dies anyway. Paul and Helen are finally united.
C. Gardner Sullivan adapted the Frank R. Adams story, "Against the Rules." Ince changed the original ending of the husband committing suicide, to instead force the wife to chose between him and her child as she can only save one from the waves. Ince took a major role in the production, providing careful oversight and making creative suggestions.
THE MARRIAGE CHEAT had been originally estimated to cost $209,000, including $24,768 for the staff, $29,056 for the cast, $5,000 for publicity, $12,251 for the scenario, $2,157 for the wardrobe, $42,492 for the sets, $22,500 for 100 release prints, and a $45,000 allowance for overhead. The final cost was $266,322, with $71,365 in overhead, with director John Griffith Wray requiring four months to finish the seven reel production. (These figures come from the Ince company papers at the Library of Congress, a major source of documentation in my Ince biography.) Some of THE MARRIAGE CHEAT was shot on location in San Pedro, Laguna, and Palm Canyon, with Tahitian locales photographed by Max Dupont and Buddy Erickson included briefly.
On April 27, 1924, THOSE WHO DANCE, originally titled PROHIBITION INSIDE OUT, was released by First National. Just as producer Thomas Ince's HUMAN WRECKAGE sought to expose drug activity, his THOSE WHO DANCE attempted to do the same for bootlegging, as I reveal in my biography of Ince. Arthur Statter and Lambert Hillyer adapted George Kibbe Turner's story, with previous continuities by Statter and Elmer Harris, and Maurice E. Kivel, and an adaptation by Elliott Clawson.
Liquor causes an automobile accident that kills the sister of the driver, Bob (Warner Baxter). He resolves to stop the menace, becoming a prohibition agent. He helps Rose (Blanche Sweet) save her brother, who joined the trade for the thrill, until a crime boss shoots a government agent and her brother is framed for the crime. Using information the brother told his wife, Vida (Bessie Love), Bob poses as one of the crooks, overhearing the boss threatening her.
Lambert Hillyer directed the eight reel movie, which won high praise from the New York Times in its review of June 30, 1924. However, the movie failed to make a significant profit. A year after release, the gross receipts were $305,758, of which the producer's share was $212,964, while the actual cost, together with prints, exploitation and other expenditures was $256,894. This left the movie in the red for $44,929, according to the Ince company papers. Ince executives suggested that, although the movie was very good and had an excellent cast, the exhibitors were against a movie with propaganda, even in a good cause. Despite the disappointing receipts, the Turner story was remade in 1930 by Warner Bros., in versions in the English, Spanish, German, and French languages, paying the Ince Corp. $3500 for the rights and all prints.
An accompanying episode was entirely in keeping with the content of THOSE WHO DANCE. Legal action was brought by owners of the Rose Room Dance Hall for photographing the entrance of their establishment as a place frequented by bootleggers and criminals. After some investigation, including shady details of the operations of the establishment, its owners accepted $375 in payment on August 24 to end the suit.
North and South and a Family Representing Each Are Dramatically Intertwined
Only one of producer Thomas Ince's Regal releases for P.D.C. bore his name, Barbara Frietchie, which entered theaters to acclaim. Del Andrews had begun preparations on the venerable property in September 1923. Barbara Frietchie is an ode to America and its history, opening in 1620 with the disembarking of the Pilgrims from the Mayflower. A series of tableaux leads through the outbreak of the Revolutionary War, the opening of the west, up to President Lincoln. Some of these scenes are from previous films Ince had made or now owned.
At Frederickstown, Maryland, home of the Frietchies, the father, a veteran of the Mexican War, raises the flag of the United States every day. Yet he and daughter Barbara also regard themselves as Southerners first. For Florence Vidor in the title role, Barbara Frietchie offers another magnificent lead provided by Ince. The Fitch play, from John Greenleaf Whittier's poem, had been inspired by a real person, who was actually an elderly woman at the time of the Civil War.
Brother Arthur Frietchie (Charles Delaney) and his friend William Turnbull (Edmund Lowe) are returning from their West Point graduation. No sooner has William made his long-planned proposal of marriage to Barbara than news arrives of the declaration of war, sundering the nation and the couple. Her family supports the secessionists, while he will fight for the Union, and Colonel Frietchie (Emmett King) takes down the American flag. Hence the conflict of the Civil War in Barbara Frietchie analogously divides one nation and family.
A year later, William returns leading the Yankee forces attacking the outnumbered Confederates in Frederickstown. From the Frietchie home the battle resembles a fireworks display, appropriate considering that the underlying seriousness of the war has barely begun to be felt. Despite her father's objection, Barbara and William plan to wed the next day in Hagerstown.
Again the war separates the couple, however, for that very town is to be the sight of a major battle, the central action sequence of Barbara Frietchie. Similarly, the hitherto amusing Gelwek and Greene, who escaped prison to turn traitor and join the south, now become serious as they are part of the sharpshooters positioned to fire on the Union invaders—and they are aiming for revenge on William. Arthur sees William shot in the battle and takes him in his arms, then back to the Frietchie home. Barbara must convince her father, in another emotional confrontation, to take William into his home.
The complexity of the war and its involvement with family and honor spirals with an order to search the home, Gelwek steps forward to deny that William is there, and Colonel Frietchie obtains an order from General Stonewall Jackson that negates Colonel Negly's instructions. Jack, jealous of Barbara's devotion to William, tries to kill him.
For William's sake, she decides to fly the Stars and Stripes he loved so well from her balcony as Jackson parades by victoriously. (This echoes a scene in Silent Heroes -- Broncho, 1913 -- Ince's last Civil War short, in which from the same height a father denounced the townspeople who had accused his dying son of cowardice. Similarly, Ince's The Battle of Gettysburg the same year had woven together the story of a family split by the Civil War, following the convention of a southern woman whose lover fights for the Union but whose brother is a Confederate.) The crowd begins to jeer her and hurl threats for spoiling their celebration, but Jackson warns that anyone who harms a hair of Barbara's head will die like a dog—thus cementing the esteem for both sides in the conflict, and echoing the poem that had served as the basis for the Fitch play. However, Jack, marching by, shoots Barbara—and his father must carry out Jackson's order on his son. Barbara, apparently dying, crawls to William's bedside.
This is where Barbara Frietchie should end, as Variety noted, but instead a classic Hollywood coda is in store, despite the dramatic crescendo. William's eyes open, and Barbara revives, and with the peace of Appomatox the flag is raised once more. As the nation heals and returns to life, so too is there a re-birth of the couple representing north and south. A double wedding follows for William and Barbara, and Arthur and Sue (Gertrude Short, who has provided comedy relief throughout). The grandchildren of the protagonists are united in fighting for their nation in the Great War, with the spirit of Lincoln superimposed over the image of battle.
Running eight reels, well over 90 minutes, this was a near-epic production, with a cost of $174,979, as I reveal in my Ince biography. The facade of the pillared administration building of the Ince studio, and its surrounding grounds, were liberally used for exteriors of the antebellum mansion as well as a southern village and military camp. Lambert Hillyer and Agnes Christine Johnson adapted the play, and the Motion Picture News commented that Hillyer, also "the director, has brought out the full force of the conflict that tore the nation asunder." Barbara Frietchie was retitled Love of a Patriot for its release in England.
Star Charles Ray Returns to the Guidance of Producer Thomas Ince
By 1922, until his death in 1924, many of producer Thomas Ince's former associates were returning to the fold, as I reveal in my Ince biography. Most prominent of these, at the end of March, 1924, was Charles Ray. After departing Ince and Paramount, he had entered independent production in 1921, climaxing in 1923 with the failure of his self-financed The Courtship of Miles Standish. The movie, also featuring former Ince player Enid Bennett as Priscilla opposite his John Alden, had cost $600,000. In its wake, Ray had to move out of his house and into an inexpensive apartment, while his wife opened a dress shop.
For his part, Ray admitted publicly what many felt about him and his departure from the Ince fold.
"I know I have been called stubborn, self-willed, bull-headed, presumptuous, a 'fool and his money,' a know-it-all-guy, and all sorts of harsh and uncomplimentary things, simply because after seven years of professional work under the guidance of one producer--and good guidance, too!--sticking pretty closely to one type of portrayal, I felt an overwelming urge to 'do something different.'"
However, he now recognized "I had waited too long. The public would have none of me in some of the things I most cherished; and if I had kept on, I suppose I should have found myself, as in my boyhood days, acting to an empty room."
Ray retained warm feelings for Ince as a result of letters sent during his discouraging days as a star-producer. Ince felt he knew better than Ray himself how to salvage his stardom, and believed it could be accomplished inexpensively. Although he need no longer play country boys, the theme of innocence triumphant over evil was still viable, despite a recognized need to adjust to changing mores. Ray was ready to return to happy, wholesome roles.
Pathé Exchange was taking on a few feature films on various terms, and a contract was signed on April 21, 1924 for Ray's exclusive screen appearances. Pathé was to advance up to $100,000 for each movie of 5-7 reels in length, and 50% of the cost beyond that up to $25,000 more, and could decide whether to accept the film, and could withdraw at any time. Ray was to receive 40% of the profits for four movies (eventually only two were produced, because of Ince's death: Dynamite Smith and Percy), along with $15,000 for five weeks during each production as part of its cost.
On October 12, Pathé released the first of the Ray movies, Dynamite Smith, and simultaneously with his comeback, lengthy autobiographical articles appeared in the November issues of Motion Picture Magazine and Photoplay Magazine. Ray starred as Gladstone Smith, a timid San Francisco reporter assigned to a murder case. Sympathizing with the killer's abused wife, Violet (Bessie Love), he flees with her to Alaska, where she dies. The husband, Slugger (Wallace Beery), follows them, finally captured in a bear trap, and the reporter escapes with her baby and meets Kitty (Jacqueline Logan). Like Ray's star-making role in The Coward, he plays a young man who must discover moral and physical courage. Ralph Ince directed C. Gardner Sullivan's scenario in seven reels for $113,086. In the words of Picture Show Annual in England, "Cinema patrons all over the world welcomed the return of Charles now that he has come back to his old roles he will soon regain his position, for the simple reason that he has never had a rival in his own particular line."
Wandering Husbands was one of a series of Regal pictures which Thomas Ince produced without taking credit, to lower studio overhead, as I outline in my Ince biography. The movie was a minor masterpiece of mood and tempo, filled with small but eloquent details. At the breakfast table opening, Diana (Lila Lee again playing opposite her real-life spouse, James Kirkwood), is anxious and waiting, while opposite, his place set, her husband George's chair remains unoccupied. He is upstairs, coping with the visible effects of a hangover. Despite the claim of having been at a company director's meeting, she knows he has been philandering.
However, always patient, and softened by the love of their daughter Rosemary for her father—"the tie that binds"--Diana agrees that her husband should take a day off to go duck hunting. In fact he goes to a nightclub where businessmen behave in a manner unbecoming their age. The same evening friends ask Diana out, coincidentally going to the same fashionable spot. There she spots George with Pearl Foster (Margaret Livingston), a woman who believes that beauty may attract a man but what keeps him is "pep": bounciness and non-stop adolescent games. George sees his wife, and tries to get away; he is wearing a tiny costume top hat, forgotten after Pearl placed it on his head but making him look absurd. George is so frustrated that he ends the relationship with Pearl, buys some ducks, and tries to convince Diana that he was indeed hunting. She refuses to tolerate further humiliation, and the acrimony upsets Rosemary. This leads to Diana offering forgiveness, and George to pledge reform.
However, when Pearl feigns illness, George is once more in her clutches, even though he is beginning to tire of her. When a Road House visit to Pearl causes him to miss Rosemary's birthday party, Diana resolves to force the issue: she will only tolerate George as long as he is a good father. Diana manipulates a man to take her to the road house and invites Pearl to visit them, much to George's aggravation. She imitates Pearl's "pep" in a devastating commentary on the appeal that captivated her husband.
Paralleling but also offering a contrasting relationship is Rosemary and her beau, little Fatty, who truly cares about his companion and snubs Pearl. Only when the adult relationship returns to the devotion the children have for each other will it be restored. Learning that Pearl can't swim but loves boats, Diana takes her and George out into the ocean in their speedboat, knowing it has a leak. When it begins to sink, George must choose which to save, his wife or Pearl, hysterically screaming at him to rescue her. He chooses his wife, to her comfort, while the rescue vessel Diana had secretly arranged picks up Pearl. The parents are reunited back ashore with Rosemary, while Pearl repeatedly falls into the surf, and becomes covered with sand. Thoroughly spurned, she flounces into the distance, the "other woman" and flapper who has become an object of derision—and it was in this "madcap" role that Livingston found her specialty. After three years of accepting whatever parts that had come to her, she noted that in Wandering Husbands she had found her one possibility for screen success in a role "that picture goers had unconsciously waited for."
C. Gardner Sullivan provided the story, which William Beaudine directed in seven reels; expenditures were about $102,600. While there are signs of lower production values than the First National releases, such as fewer artistic decorations on the intertitles, which only cost $700, overall the quality throughout was high; $2,500 was spent on the wardrobe and the elaborate sets required an expenditure of $21,500 to depicting the family's wealth. Variety believed Wandering Husbands was intended for the first-run houses, and the studio produced it with this in mind; according to a production memo, Ince "felt confident that Hodkinson would allow him the excess cost, as he knew he was going to turn out a good box office picture."
Mrs. Reid's Anti-Drug Expose Via the Thomas Ince Studio
Unique in all respects was Human Wreckage, released on June 17, 1923 by Film Booking Offices (F.B.O.), a production and distribution company that had emerged a year earlier as a result of a reorganization of Robertson-Cole (R-C Pictures). F.B.O. catered to independent theater chains, usually offering lower-budget product.
Dorothy Davenport Reid (1895-1977), the daughter of a family of noted thespians, had been married to Wallace Reid for almost ten years when he died on January 18, 1923 as a result of drug addiction induced by morphine first given as medication after an accident. She had left the screen in 1917 after the birth of their children, but now decided to resume her career and to also go behind the camera, first as a producer, and later as a director and writer as well, continuing in these capacities until 1955. The decision was a necessity; Reid had died leaving debts and almost no estate.
Wallace Reid had worked at Inceville for producer Thomas Ince, and the Ince and Reid families struck up a friendship that continued through the years. Dorothy too had worked in Inceville, and it was not to Reid's former studio, Paramount, that she turned. Mrs. Reid and Elinor Ince had long been close friends, and her boys were friends of her son.
"One day, Nell drove over to see me, in her kindly, sweet way, to see if she could help me in my hour of bereavement and affliction. As we talked, it came to me that Tom Ince, her husband, was the one man I knew in pictures who would help me to do this thing.
"I asked her if she would take him that message from me, if she would tell him it was an idea born of the demands of others and of my great grief that seemed yearning for some expression."
As I outline in my Ince biography, an interest in the subject matter was compatible with the concern shown for alcoholism in Ince's earlier movies The Family Skeleton (1918) and Partners Three (1919). Elinor conveyed Mrs. Reid's idea, and within days of Wallace Reid's death a deal was signed for two films that would give her a 50% share of their profit. She was to become "the Jeanne d'Arc against 'dope'," according to Ince publicity.
Human Wreckage was originally entitled The Living Dead, and Ince resolved to produce and direct himself before deciding to turn it over to his primary director, John Griffith Wray. C. Gardner Sullivan was engaged to assist in the writing, based on a story by Will Lambert, entitled "Dope," and a novelization of the final script was written by Don H. Eddy. Mrs. Reid was paid $500 a week during the production, and recalled, "I did a great deal of work on the script; the supervision, trying to keep it as realistic as possible. I thought it came out well. I thought it accomplished its purpose. It was not just a contribution to the picture business, but a contribution to a cause." She also toured to promote the movie.
Mrs. Reid, introduced in a prologue, explains how she has chosen the screen to convey her message, as the story begins. In depicting the evil of narcotics, Human Wreckage opens by showing the route from the poppy fields of Asia, through Mexico, into the hands of smugglers, to dealers selling to children and soldiers, and a mother using opium to quiet a crying child. A hyena symbolizes the menace and an addict's vision is shown through a nightmarish set design recalling Das Kabinett des Doktor Kaligari (1920).
James Kirkwood portrays a lawyer who suffers a nervous breakdown and becomes addicted to morphine. When his wife, played by Mrs. Reid, is unable to cope, and encouraged to also take up the habit, he is finally able to shake it. Bessie Love also starred, and a number of prominent inhabitants of Los Angeles appeared. The total cost was $254,907, and by the beginning of February 1924, Human Wreckage had already grossed $628,270. During release, as profits quickly mounted, F.B.O. was frank in acknowledging, that the distributor's accounting department had been careless and excessively eager to count a vast number of excess charges against the movie, over $40,000.
GALLOPING FISH, a six reel comedy, was released on March 10, 1924, the first comedy for First National by producer Thomas Ince after completing his series of the Douglas MacLean vehicles. Like the elephant in SOUL OF THE BEAST, GALLOPING FISH had its own novelty, in this case a trained seal.
Sydney Chaplin starred as a man whose new bride sends him away, and he seeks solace in a vaudeville theater. There he meets a performer and her fiancée, played by Louise Fazenda and Ford Sterling, who are trying to hide the trained seal she uses in her act. They end up at the home of his rich uncle, when a flood carries away the seal. By the end, Chaplin's character is reunited with the seal and reconciled with his wife. (Charlie Chaplin was also a friend of Ince, who loaned him his yacht for a honeymoon cruise upon his marriage to Mildred Harris).
The flood was "the big Ince scene," filmed on the Colorado River, with a circus full of animals. Will Lambert wrote the scenario from the short story, "Friend Wife," by Frank Ramsay Adams, assisted by four "gag men." Del Andrews directed for a cost of $281,785, with $89,225 overhead, as noted in my Ince biography. In 1929, rights to GALLOPING FISH were sold for $1000 to S.A. Rosenfeld, and in 1930 Selected Pictures reissued the movie with new "talkie" sequences.
On October 19, THE HOUSE OF YOUTH, was released by P.D.C., one of a series of Regal Pictures produced by Thomas Ince but without using his name, as outlined in my Ince biography. The movie cost $80,697, with $18,163 in overhead, and Thomas Ince's brother Ralph Ince directed the seven reel production. C. Gardner Sullivan adapted the previous year's novel of the same title by Maude Radford Warren, the rights to which had already been sold by the publisher, Bobbs-Merrill, to Schenck Productions.
Billed as a "gripping drama of the morals and marriages of the younger generation," Jacqueline Logan portrayed a woman of an old family, not rich but thrown in with the intoxicating current of society, "a typical girl of the hour ...." She becomes reacquainted with a British writer she had nursed during the war. Then she is arrested in a roadhouse with a married cad who is forcing himself upon her. The Englishman breaks the engagement, only to regret it when she starts a retreat for slum children and eventually marries another friend.
Producer Thomas Ince had an instinct for what would please audiences, although this awareness did not always please him, as I outline in my Ince biography. The greatest exception was Anna Christie; Blanche Sweet, who would play the title role, later gave him "great credit for producing Anna Christie. He was a very commercial man. Well, lots of people are—they like to have their films reach large audiences and that's all right. But Tom put his own money into making Anna, and it had been controversial in New York ...."
Eugene O'Neill's Pulitzer-prize winning play had premiered two years before, and Ince's production marked the first of his theatrical presentations brought to the screen. Anna Christie is delivered with intensity, sometimes to the point of overacting, but John Griffith Wray's direction avoids any sense of the stage origins. In adapting the play, Bradley King merely rearranged some of the chronology and cut all but the most essential dialogue for intertitles. As one reviewer noted, "The notable success of the picture lies in the fact that it has done precisely what Mr. O'Neill did, in terms of motion pictures. There is no padding, no change of characterization, no tampering with the author's intention. Every scene that enlarges the horizon of the play by virtue of the greater mobility of picture-making is a legitimate expansion of what is suggested by the text.... As far as is humanly possible they have been faithful to the spirit of the play in story, setting and acting." After seeing the movie, O'Neill telegrammed Ince to say, "Your motion picture of Anna Christie is a fine, true representation, faithful to the spirit and intent of the play."
The sea is the motif, and its backgrounds constantly add to the mood, echoing the emotions. The movie opens on atmospheric shots before cutting to the coastal village seldom visited by Anna's father, Chris Christopherson. (The role is played by George F. Marion, who originated the role on Broadway and worked for five weeks at $1,000, then would reprise it in 1930 in the M-G-M remake. ) The 5-year-old Anna plays on the shore, her naiveté with a small boat almost causing her to drown. Simultaneously, her father breaks a doll he had bought for her during a spree in Shanghai. It is a forecast of the years to come. A sailor, he can never save money because of his drinking, and blames "that old devil sea" for all his misfortunes. He arranges for Anna and her mother to live with relatives, believing she will have a life a sailor could not provide.
Fifteen years later, Chris, although captain of a coal barge, is little changed, and his drinking buddy is Marthy, a floozy. Chris idolizes Anna, and when he learns she is coming to visit following her mother's death, he believes nothing is too good for her. Marthy is first to recognize Anna; she is hardly the girl Chris imagined.
During a fog, an ocean liner is wrecked, and Chris's barge picks up some of the survivors, stokers from the engine room. One of them, Mat Burke (William Russell), is injured, and Anna takes pity on him, to her father's consternation; he fears she will pair off with an unlucky man of the sea little different from himself. By contrast, Anna regards herself as unworthy of Mat; she bemoans not having met him four years earlier. While a storm rages outside the barge's cabin, she tells Mat she loves him but will not marry him. The two men fight, but Anna tells them she is not "furniture," and that relatives treated her and her mother like slaves. She was beaten and worse by the father and his sons, finally dropping her in town with $5 in her pocket to make her own way. Anna tells Mat that he made her feel clean for the first time, but he responds by telling her he'll get drunk until he washes off the stain of her kiss.
Chris stops Anna from drowning herself, and in turn she finds him carrying a gun—he planned to ship out and shoot himself in despair. Mat's, having tried to forget his sorrows in drink, returns to the barge and kneels before Anna, assuring her that if she will swear she never loved another, he could forget the rest. Her affirmation is sufficient. Anna compels the two men to drink to their friendship, for they are sailing out on the same boat.
Despite receiving no unusual promotion, Anna Christie won widespread critical praise. It also proved a sound investment. The movie cost $225,000, with $314,715 net. Today, Anna Christie only survives in a version that was recut for a U.S.S.R. release in 1930 by Evgenii Chvlev, with intertitles recreated by the Museum of Modern Art from a translation and the original play, with restoration by George Eastman House.
Soul of the Beast was released by Metro Pictures Corp. on May 7, almost a year after it was produced, under a unique contract signed on March 8, 1923. Marcus Loew was attracted to Soul of the Beast by its novelty value. Madge Bellamy plays "the Cinderella of the Circus," Ruth. Owning the show is her stepfather, who cages and exhibits her as "the wild woman from Borneo," so that only Oscar the elephant can save her when a fire breaks out. Fleeing to the Canadian woods, she meets a handicapped young musician (Cullen Landis) and both are bullied by Caesar (Noah Beery). Fortunately, Oscar, no matter how out-of-place, finds his favorite human companion, and he pursues Caesar into a raging river. With Paul cured by surgery, the movie ends as Oscar rocks the crib containing the baby of the virtuous couple.
John Griffith Wray's direction does nothing to reduce the absurdity, with the occasional bits of humor falling flat. Outrageous elements in Ralph H. Dixon's scenario from C. Gardner Sullivan's story that might have succeeded as pure farce are handled seriously. Sullivan's outline, as indicated by the working titles Someone To Love and Ten Ton Love, was bizarre, even at barely five reels in length. Bellamy recalled, "Soul of the Beast did me a lot of harm . I was disreputably coy in it. I gave a worse performance than the elephant. We both simpered in the picture." Publicity stills showed Bellamy in the embrace of Oscar. The idea to combine the youthful actress with a gigantic "pet" was regarded as valid by at least one Ince competitor, Cecil B. DeMille, who complimented Ince after watching the movie with his family. "'Soul of the Beast ' is ten tons of laughter. The kids pronounced it the best they had ever seen and the grown-ups were just as enthusiastic." Just before shooting was about to commence, Wray contracted with Howe's Great London Circus. Early in the planning, Ince decided that rather than building sets for the "big top" sequences he would rent an entire circus in order to secure the most realistic atmosphere. Further, he ordered that the cast—Bellamy, Landis, Beery, Vola Vale, Bert Sprotts, Harry Rattenberry, Carrie Clark Ward, and Lincoln Stedman—should travel with the circus, joining them in meals and learning their habits before shooting began. Henry Sharp and Gus Boswell went along as cinematographers and all of the movie was shot as the circus played for a week in May in San Rafael, Vallejo, Oakland, Richmond, San Jose, Lodi, Martinez, Fraser, and Antioch.
Circus attendance broke all records with the filmmakers accompanying them, and the performers of the big top were eager to demonstrate their talent for the camera. Many of their costumes were purchased by Ince for possible future circus-related productions. Endless difficulties were encountered in transporting Oscar, and the High Sierras served for the forest scenes, giving the pachyderm the space he needed to behave naturally. Oscar was covered by two $10,000 accident policies throughout production, and he consumed hundreds of pounds of lump sugar in order to be convinced to do his tricks. Soul of the Beast was shot from March 24 to May 20, 1922, and cost $206,982.
Whatever the truth, by 1927, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer reported a mere $150,000 in paid business. However, its family appeal made it one of the first late Ince movies to be released on the 16 mm. home movie market, with the result that it is perhaps the most widely-seen Ince film made during his final years. This is doubly unfortunate since, as I outline in my Ince biography, it is very atypical of his product during these years.