Posted in 1920s, Movies, Silent film

A powerful story of hope, faith, and love in the face of great tribulations

Note: I wrote the first section of this post in December 2022, but was unable to squeeze it into the remainder of the year.

Mary Pickford loved Tess of the Storm Country so much, she filmed it twice, in 1914 and 1922. She decided to remake it because her previous film, Little Lord Fauntleroy, hadn’t done so well at the box office, and she wanted to redeem herself. She also realized she needed to play the kind of character audiences had grown to expect from her.

Not only did Mary love the character and story of Tess, she also felt the story could be done greater justice with improved filming technology and a bigger budget. The source material was a 1909 novel of the same name by Grace Miller White (née Mary Esther Miller).

The 1914 original is one of the few known surviving films starring Harold LockwoodTess was remade again in 1932 (with Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell) and 1960 (with Diane Baker and Jack Ging).

The version being discussed here was released 12 November 1922.

Elias Graves (David Torrence, brother of Ernest Torrence) has another think coming if he believes he can easily expel the squatters living at the bottom of his hill. These poor fishers proudly cling to their way of life and their shabby homesteads, even in the face of cruel hostility.

Graves’s daughter Teola (Gloria Hope) is being courted by a young law student, Dan Jordan (Robert Russell). Though Dan and Graves share their hostile views on the squatters, Graves doesn’t approve of Dan and Teola’s relationship. Dan hopes to change that opinion by finding a way to get rid of the squatters.

Graves’s son Frederick (Lloyd Hughes) doesn’t share their opinions. He knows the squatters would have nowhere to go if they were evicted.

The putrid scent of rotting fish carries all the way up to the top of the hill, greatly offending Graves. Hoping to butter him up, Dan goes to take care of the matter. Graves also sends Frederick on this mission.

When they arrive, spunky 17-year-old Tessibel “Tess” Skinner (Mary Pickford) jumps on Dan and tangles him up under a fishing net, giving him a scratched cheek. She also chases Frederick away. Despite this violent meeting and Tess’s unkempt appearance, Frederick is charmed by Tess.

Dan decides to try another tack, stealing the fishing nets. If the squatters can’t fish, they’ll have nothing to eat, and will have no choice but to scram.

Frederick goes down the hill to see Tess, bringing chocolates. Though Tess is initially suspicious of his intentions, she’s quickly won over. Frederick also apologizes to Orn (Daddy) Skinner (Forrest Robinson) for his dad’s hateful views and says he doesn’t share them.

Tess also has another suitor, physically powerful, mean-spirited bully Ben Letts (Jean Hersholt), who won’t take no for an answer, despite her constant refusals.

When the thugs come to steal the nets, Tess and Daddy hide theirs in a mattress. It goes undetected until a tiny bit falls out at the last minute. Dan decides to leave well enough alone and wait until he can catch them using it. Meanwhile, the other families’ nets are burnt, with no concern for how the squatters will eat.

Driven by hunger, the squatters take a chance and go fishing under cover of darkness. Tess is terrified of trouble, and her fears come true when Dan is shot and killed by Ben. The nightmare increases when Daddy is falsely accused and arrested. He admits that’s his gun, but professes his innocence.

Ezra Longman (Danny Hoy), another guy with a crush on Tess, tells Ben he’ll keep the secret if he agrees to quit sexually harassing Tess.

The situation is even more complicated because Teola is pregnant out of wedlock, decades before single motherhood became socially acceptable.

Tess asserts her father’s innocence when Graves comes to the shanty, and prays for God to save her father, which Graves condemns as blasphemy. Graves says he’ll make Daddy pay the penalty, and Tess leaps on him in rage.

Frederick advises her to cool her temper, and reassures her that no prayer is blasphemy.

Tess and Frederick’s friendship continues to grow, and they begin studying the Bible together (with a copy Tess stole from church). A major theme of the film is that some unbaptised people who never go to church, with no formal religious education, are better Christians than people who put on a public show of piety but have no regard for even basic religious teachings.

Graves disowns Frederick when he discovers Frederick is raising money for Skinner’s defence.

The plot thickens when Daddy is found guilty. Now Tess is all alone, and Ben breaks his promise to leave her alone. Not only that, but Tess saves Teola from a suicide attempt and brings her to the shanty to give birth.

Will Daddy be proven innocent? Will Tess and Frederick’s unlikely love succeed? And what will become of Teola’s baby?

Posted in 1920s, Antagonists, Boris, Historical fiction, holidays, Russian novel sequel, Writing

WeWriWa—Antagonistic Christmas

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. The rules have now been relaxed to allow a few more sentences if merited, so long as they’re clearly indicated, to avoid the creative punctuation many of us have used to stay within the limit.

Because Russian Orthodox Christmas was 7 January, here’s one final holiday-themed snippet. This comes from The Twelfth Time: Lyuba and Ivan on the Rocks, which is set from 1924–1930. It’s now Orthodox Christmas 1925, and antagonist Boris is having a terrible holiday with his parents. They have a knack for pushing one another’s buttons, and have a difficult time seeing the other side.

Tanyechka (Tatyana) is Boris’s only blood child, whom he had with Lyuba and was forced to sign over all paternal rights to.

“So you gave dollar bills out like candy to all the kids in your religious school, and gave a ten-dollar bill to your assistant,” Mr. Malenkov says in distaste. “I suppose that’s why you couldn’t afford better presents for your mother and I. What do I want with a raccoon skin coat, and what does your mother need with a dress that looks like a slip? You expect either of us to wear these ridiculous things in public?”

“All the guys wear raccoon coats nowadays, and I want Matushka to look beautiful and fashionable when she goes out. See, the dress comes with a headband with a fake feather and glovelettes.”

“Why do I need a feather in my hair and these strange lace things around my arms unless I’m going to a costume ball or working in a brothel?” Mrs. Malenkova asks. “I’m surprised young women are able to wear such revealing dresses in public and not get arrested.”

“Your mother and I are forty-three years old, and we’d be the laughingstock of the city if we ventured out in public wearing young people’s fashions! Meanwhile we both made sure to get you presents with practical value, not things you’ll stuff in a dust-covered chest in another few years when the fad ends!”

The ten lines end here. A few more follow to finish the scene.

“Oh, yes, because every modern young man wants nothing more than long flannel underwear, bath towels, sheepskin boots, and a duffel bag for Christmas. Those are gifts you’d give your dedushka or uncle, not your young son! I dropped off my gift for Tanyechka last week, and made sure to buy her cute stuffed animals and religious storybooks. You know, age-appropriate things she’ll actually want, need, and use.”

“I suppose it’s okay if you’re not trying to see her or speak to her,” Mrs. Malenkova sighs. “The judge did say you’re allowed to deliver presents.”

“Lyuba and Ivan have the most beautiful baby girl,” Mr. Malenkov goes on, rubbing salt into his son’s wounds. “It’s a pity you’ll never father another child. It would be nice to see what a future child of yours would look like, besides the one you abandoned before she was born.”

Posted in 1920s, Movies, Rudy Valentino, Silent film

A lost and found flop with steamy costumes

The Young Rajah, released 12 November 1922 and based on John Ames Mitchell’s 1895 novel Amos Judd, is a sobering lesson on the importance of film preservation. For decades, it was considered a lost film (one of the few lost films from Rudy’s stardom years). Then a near-complete print was discovered in a chicken coop in Italy in the 1960s.

The silent film community immediately began raising funds to transfer the original, delicate nitrate to safety stock and enlist the film preservation services of Leslie Flint, head of London’s Valentino Memorial Guild. Alas, by the time the money was ready, about two-thirds had deteriorated beyond repair. Only a 26-minute fragment was left.

In the early 21st century, efforts to restore what remained of the film were undertaken again. The Library of Moving Images in Los Angeles won the surviving footage from a London auction, and intense preservation began. To fill in the many tragic gaps, the missing intertitles were recreated and other intertitles were inserted to explain missing events. Every effort was made to copy the look of other 1920s Paramount intertitles.

Film stills and two promotional trailers from 1922 were used in place of absent footage, with abovementioned explanatory intertitles. To figure out what went where, storyboards were laid out. When this laborious process was completed, film scholars at UCLA and the Academy Film Archives in L.A. reviewed it and made suggestions for improvements and additions.

After the final restoration and recreation was finished and given official approval, Jon Mirsalis was tasked with writing a new musical score. Many people who haven’t watched a lot of silents, or any, may not understand just how important the right music is for setting the proper mood, drawing the audience in, evoking certain emotions at the right moments, giving the action smooth flow. A generic piano or organ on a loop does a film no favors, and watching without any music at all is even worse.

The restoration made its network début on TCM in May 2006, along with several other of Rudy’s newly-restored films. In 2007, Flicker Alley released a two-disc set with The Young Rajah (now 52 minutes), A Society Sensation, Moran of the Lady Letty, and Stolen Moments.

When the film was originally released, it was a huge flop with both critics and regular moviegoers, and was one of the many reasons Rudy went on strike from acting for almost two years. Prior to its reconstruction, the most memorable thing about it was the costume design from Rudy’s second wife, Natacha Rambova. Some of Rudy’s costumes leave almost nothing to the imagination!

Joshua Judd (Charles Ogle) is the leading citizen of Daleford, Connecticut. Fifteen years ago, he and his wife Sarah (Fanny Midgley) adopted a son, Amos (Rudy Valentino), with mysterious origins.

One night, a letter is delivered to Joshua from his brother Morton in Calcutta, with papers enclosed to establish Amos’s identity. Joshua is instructed to not reveal anything to Amos. We learn Amos has an uncanny ability to forecast future events, which runs in the family, and a peculiar birthmark on the forehead.

This letter prompts Joshua to explain how Amos was brought from India to their family’s farm when he was a little boy, along with a package of rubies worth several hundred thousand dollars. Those rubies rightfully belong to Amos.

We then flash back to the night Amos came to live with Joshua and Sarah. The two Indian men who accompanied him explained the throne of Amos’s father, Maharajah Sirdir Singh, was seized by usurper Ali Kahn (Bertram Grassby). General Gadi (George Periolat) rescued Amos after the Maharajah was mortally wounded in a palace coup.

Amos insists he’s happy with the Judds and considers them his real family, regardless of his birth.

Back in India, Gen. Gadi consults with mystic Narada (Josef Swickard). He knows Amos is about to leave his home for Harvard, and wants advice on how and when to bring Amos back to his people. Because there’s currently peace in the kingdom, it’s decided that it’s best to leave the boy where he is for the moment.

Four years later, Amos is competing in a Harvard–Yale boat race. Naturally, Harvard wins, and there’s a big party to celebrate.

Three guys who aren’t part of the rowing team are at the party. They refuse to drink a toast to athletic hero Amos, convinced he bought his way into the team instead of fairly qualifying. Amos insists they’re liars, and Austin Slade (Jack Giddings) throws wine in his face. It turns out Slade was beaten by Amos when they tried out for the team.

A big fight with chair-throwing erupts, and when Amos dodges Slade, Slade falls through a window to his death.

We then shift to a summer party with a reincarnation theme on Long Island. Guests wear costumes of the people they believe they were in prior lifetimes. Here we meet Molly Cabot (Wanda Hawley). She’s dating Horace Bennett (Robert Ober), one of the guys who started the huge row. Horace wants an answer to his marriage proposal, but Molly insists on waiting till the end of summer.

When Horace sees Amos, he begins trashing him to Molly. Though Amos has never met Molly before in person, he’s seen her in his dreams, and feels they’re destined to be very good friends.

Molly’s dad, Judge Cabot (Edward Jobson), suggests a summer trip to Daleford, which he’s heard is delightful.

Amos is very happy to go home for the summer, and even more delighted to discover Molly is staying nearby. He’s determined to prove he’s not the evil guy Horace painted him as.

Horace sends Molly a letter, furious to learn she’s so chummy with Amos, and says he’s returning for her answer in August regardless. Meanwhile, Molly goes on a trip to Boston with her aunt. Amos correctly foresees her early, unexpected return, and Judge Cabot asks him to predict what will happen tomorrow.

Things happen exactly as Amos foretold, despite Judge Cabot trying to change his plans. Now Judge Cabot knows Amos has a true gift.

We then see the Indian court, where Ali Khan and his prime minister Ahmad Beg (J. Farrell MacDonald) learn about the existence of Amos and plot to have him and all of his supporters killed. To try to prevent this bloodshed, Narada returns to the world.

Horace sends Molly a telegram, alerting her to his imminent arrival. Though she likes Amos much more than Horace now, she feels she has to marry another white man instead of someone with Indian ancestry. (In the film, Amos has an Italian mother, though he’s 100% Indian in the novel.)

Amos and Horace have a fight which culminates in Horace trying to murder Amos. Molly cradles Amos’s bloody head in her arms and dumps Horace. While Amos is recovering, they set a wedding date.

Amos has a terrifying premonition of being murdered the day before their wedding, and is afraid nothing can be done to prevent it. Judge Cabot suggests Amos hide in a friend’s sanitarium under heavy guard.

This plan goes awry when Ahmad Beg and his thugs kidnap Amos. Will Amos’s horrific vision of the future indeed come to pass, and what will happen to his rightful throne?

Posted in 1920s, Movies, Rudy Valentino, Silent film

From San Francisco playboy to sunburnt sailor

Released 22 February 1922, Moran of the Lady Letty was based on Frank Norris’s 1898 novel of the same name. In an attempt to woo more of a male audience, Rudy Valentino was cast in a stereotypical man’s man role. Though the film includes a romantic subplot, it’s not the main focus of the story, and it’s definitely not a traditional film romance by any stretch. At one point, tomboyish leading lady Dorothy Dalton declares she wasn’t made for any man, nor for any woman.

In 2007, Moran was released on DVD with The Young Rajah, Stolen Moments, and A Society Sensation, in a beautifully-restored print. The difference between the clean-up and the VHS version I first watched in 2005 is like night and day! That earlier print was borderline unwatchable, since it was so blurry, faded, and deteriorated. When I saw the new and improved print for the first time on TCM, it was almost like watching the film for the first time all over again.

A girl who comes from a long line of sailors is born and raised on the high seas, while a boy is born with a diamond-encrusted silver spoon in his mouth, “heir to the aimless life of a rich man’s son.”

Many years later, in Norway, the trading vessel Fru Letty (Lady Letty) is preparing to sail for the North Pacific. Her captain, Eilert Sternerson (Charles Brinley), is devoted most of all in this world to the ship and his motherless daughter. Said daughter (Dorothy Dalton), an only child, was raised like a hardy seaman and is known in every port as Moran of the Lady Letty.

Months later, in Nob Hill, San Francisco, idle playboy Ramon Laredo (Rudy Valentino) is at a house party. He complains to his girlfriend, Josephine Herrick (Maude Wayne), that he’s so tired of this lifestyle, and wishes he could just escape it all already.

Also in San Francisco is Lady Letty, who needs to get additional freight. The ship came from British Columbia with coal for Valparaiso.

Ramon meets Moran and her father while he’s on his way to a yacht party, just after the Herricks set sail out of impatience at waiting for him. Apparently he has a habit of always being late. Moran thinks Ramon is a softy in minstrel clothes, and that he’ll be really reckless and sail around the harbor.

Ramon is told his friends left a few minutes ago, and he gets to talking with an old sailor by the docks. They decide to go for a drink.

The sailor asks the bartender to drug Ramon’s grape juice, and Ramon passes out cold. He comes to himself on The Heart of China, a notorious ship of pirates captained by Slippery Kitchell (Walter Long). Kitchell is none too pleased with the pathetic new recruit, and Ramon likewise wants out of this situation.

Cook and steward Charlie (George Kuwa) takes Ramon below decks and gets appropriate sailing clothes for him after Kitchell punches Ramon for talking back and trying to disobey orders.

Two weeks later, Ramon’s absence has made the newspaper, but the search goes cold by the waterfront. Josephine remembers how he spoke of running away from everything, and wonders if he didn’t leave on purpose instead of being kidnapped.

Despite his rough early beginnings, Ramon takes to life on the ship and comes to impress Kitchell with his surprisingly excellent work ethic and manliness.

Things aren’t going so good on Lady Letty, where a coal and gas fire has broken out. Captain Sternerson gives orders to flood the hold, but Moran insists the introduction of air will blow everyone to bits. The other efforts to put out the blazes aren’t a success, and orders are given to abandon ship. Moran is the only one who stays, disgusted at the cowardice of the men.

At dawn, Kitchell and Ramon see Lady Letty with distress flags raised. This seems like a perfect chance for looting, so they sail out and go aboard, where they discover evidence of the fire and assume everyone was killed. Everyone, that is, except Moran, whom Ramon is shocked to see is a woman.

Ramon brings Moran back to his ship while Kitchell and other sailors collect loot. Since the fire is still going, the pirating expedition is necessarily, unhappily cut short. All they bring back is rum. However, they’re gone just long enough for Ramon to hide Moran.

Moran emerges, very confused and shocked, to the equal surprise of Kitchell. Because of her reputation as Captain Sternerson’s daughter and a fine sailor in her own right, she’s recognised and respected by the other sailors. Ramon also recognises her, and reminds her of their brief meeting.

Kitchell has lecherous designs on Moran, but the rest of his sailors refuse to let that happen. They’re all equal shareholders on this vessel, and they don’t want their arrangement ruined because their captain couldn’t keep his pants buttoned up.  Ramon is assigned to guard Moran.

Kitchell sails to Mexico, where he has seedy dealings. After he goes ashore to conduct business, Moran and Ramon decide to go ashore too and explore the beach. When they’re alone, Ramon declares he’s happier than he’s ever been, after being bored to death only a month ago.

Ramon also declares romantic feelings for Moran, but she says she’s not that type of woman or made for that kind of life. Her entire life is the sea, and she’s a proud tomboy.

Then trouble starts brewing with Kitchell and his thugs, and a fierce battle between crew and captain is launched. Will the evil captain be defeated, and will Ramon decide to return to his old life in San Francisco or remain at sea?

Posted in 1920s, Movies, Rudy Valentino, Silent film

A lost and found treasure with a dynamic pairing

Released 7 May 1922, Beyond the Rocks was considered a lost film for decades. In her final years, leading lady Gloria Swanson longed for the chance to see it one more time and screen it for a modern audience, esp. since there was a renewed interest in leading man Rudy Valentino after his 50th death anniversary in 1976. Sadly, she passed away in 1983 without getting her wish. Only a one-minute snippet was known to survive.

Miraculously, a complete print turned up at the Nederlands Filmmuseum between 2000 and 2004. At first, in 2000, only two reels surfaced among the over 2,000 rusty cans of film donated by collector Joop van Liempd. Over the next few years, museum archivists painstakingly located the entire film among the generous inventory and pieced it together.

An international search was launched to find the original English-language intertitles and the 32-page continuity script, which included details of every scene. They were located in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences archive in Beverly Hills.

With this important material in hand, Filmmuseum archivists and Hagheflim Conservation conservators began restoring, cleaning, repairing, and duplicating the film. They saved the restoration and duplication of the most deteriorated elements till 2003.

Had the film been recovered just a few years later, it likely all would’ve been deteriorated beyond repair, like a large portion of one of Rudy’s other formerly lost films, The Young Rajah.

Beyond the Rocks was screened on TCM and at various film festivals in May 2005. It was such an exciting moment to see the network broadcast première of a miraculously rediscovered lost film! Particularly because it stars my beautiful Rudy Valentino. The film was released on DVD in 2006, with lots of bonus features. Of course, I immediately bought it.

The source material was Elinor Glyn’s 1906 novel of the same name. In 1922, the book was reissued with photos from the film.

Theodora Fitzgerald (Gloria Swanson) is the beautiful, spirited youngest daughter of kindly old Captain Dominic Fitzgerald (Alec Francis), a retired guardsman living on a meagre pension. Though she’s adored by her doting father, Theodora’s much-older spinster halfsisters Sarah and Clementine see her only as a means for restoring the family’s fortunes. They want her to marry a millionaire, even if she doesn’t love him.

One day while rowing near their house on the Dorset coast, Theodora is pitched overboard and rescued by Hector, tenth Earl of Brancondale (Rudy Valentino), who’s on a nearby yacht. After Theodora is safely returned to her worried father onshore, she gives Hector a narcissus flower for his lapel.

Times passes, and Theodora unhappily marries a much-older, short, stout man, Josiah Brown (Robert Bolder), who rose from a grocer’s assistant to a multimillionaire. Before the wedding, her father says she doesn’t have to go through with this marriage if she doesn’t want to (which infuriates Sarah and Clementine), but Theodora feels she has to keep her word to Josiah and pull her dear papa out of poverty.

Sorry about the obnoxious watermark on a PUBLIC DOMAIN image!

Theodora and Josiah’s honeymoon begins in the Alps. This isn’t the romantic honeymoon Theodora always dreamt of, but her mood turns around when she meets Hector at her inn. Also with Hector are his mother, Countess Bracondale (Edythe Chapman), and Morella Winmarleigh (Gertrude Astor), an heiress his mother hopes he’ll marry.

Theodora and Hector’s first meeting is recalled when a waiter gives Hector a handkerchief doused with narcissus perfume that fell on the floor, assuming it belongs to his mother or Morella. Hector sees it being returned to Theodora at the next table, with her back to him, but doesn’t immediately realize their past connection.

Theodora’s new friend, rich young widow Jane McBride (Mable Van Buren), proposes a mountaineering expedition for the next day. Josiah needs the exercise to build up his weak constitution. However, Josiah begs off because he can barely catch his breath sitting still.

While climbing the Alps, Theodora trips backwards while trying to take a photograph, falls over the ledge, and dangles precariously by her safety rope. Hector, climbing nearby on a lower section, comes to her rescue and stays with her until she can be lifted back up to her friends. During their time alone, Theodora reminds him of their prior acquaintance, and they start falling in love.

Josiah insists they leave the Alps and go to Paris. This is no exciting, romantic getaway for Theodora either, since she’s not only in an unhappy marriage, but Josiah constantly begs off going out and doing anything with her.

Theodora’s mood dramatically improves when her father visits their hotel and invites them to dine tonight. Josiah typically insists on staying in, but Captain Fitzgerald insists Theodora come. Also at dinner that night are the Bracondales and Jane.

Theodora and Hector’s love blossoms from there, and increases when they all go to Versailles (where again Josiah insists on staying in all the time). But out of duty to Josiah, Theodora refuses to abandon her marriage and start a new life with Hector. She says they must be stronger than their love and never see one another again.

Back in England, Hector confides his troubles to his sister, Lady Anna Anningford (June Elvidge). He knows a relationship with a married woman is impossible, so he begs Anna to become Theodora’s friend.

Anna invites Theodora and Josiah to a Whitsuntide party at her home, where there’s going to be a lavish historical pageant on the lawn. Theodora is undone by love when she sees Hector, and begs to leave with Josiah, who has to finalize the purchase of a townhouse. Josiah says she can’t leave, since she’s in the pageant.

At this party, Josiah agrees to finance his friend Sir Lionel Grey’s expedition to North Africa and accompany him. Both Hector and Theodora think going there is madness, since the journey is difficult and the desert tribes are dangerous. Josiah takes Hector’s advice and decides to stay in England, though he’ll still finance the trip.

Hector locks a friend in a closet when he discovers this guy is going to play Theodora’s lover. He takes off his planned costume, puts on his friend’s costume, and races to Theodora’s side in the pageant. Hector begs her to run away with him, but Theodora again insists she must keep her word to Josiah.

Theodora writes to Hector and Josiah, informing each of her final decision, but Morella finds the letters and absconds with them. She steams the envelopes open, switches the letters, and sends them to the wrong recipients. For a long time, she’s been suspicious about Hector’s true feelings for Theodora.

Can scandal be averted before something terrible happens, and will Theodora and Hector ever be able to live happily ever after and get beyond the rocks?