Status: Missing and presumed lost.
Every lost film is a tragedy but some hit your gut worse than others. The Abysmal Brute is one of those movies that makes me want to cry. True, it’s a boxing film and I am not a fan of the sport but it also has my beloved Reginald Denny (who was a the champion heavyweight boxer of his brigade during the first world war) and it boasts of some gushing reviews.
While The Abysmal Brute is a straightforward drama, its star is best remembered for his comedic roles. Denny’s career as the champion of witty suburban comedies was damaged by sound. As an Englishman playing extremely American parts, he found himself in need of a career change once his accent could be heard. Denny continued on in character roles and was disarmingly modest when his brilliant silent comedies were rediscovered. (You can read Kevin Brownlow’s interview with the ever-charming Denny in the classic The Parade’s Gone By…)
The rather silly title for this film is taken from its source material, a 1911 novella by the famous Jack London. London’s tales were ideally suited to the outdoorsy and gritty world of silent film and his novels and stories were adapted numerous times. (The Abysmal Brute is in the public domain and may be read online for free.)
Photoplay was ecstatic and lavished praise on the picture:
This is the story of a boy who was raised, by his ex-prize fighting father, to be a champion. A woman-shy young man with a wallop in his right fist and a come-hither in his eye. When he falls in love he falls hard — though the object of his affection is the daughter of a rich man and something of a social light herself. The boy, despite his lack of polish, is both a gentleman and a real person. He proves it by winning the girl without sacrificing the career that was planned for him. The picture was taken from a yarn by Jack London — and the characters are all drawn so well that they might have stepped from the original manuscript. Reginald Denny makes a hero who is both manly and appealing. And Hobart Henley’s direction is practically flawless. This is a picture for everybody.
The trade journal Motion Picture News was equally enthused, encouraging theater owners to book the film immediately.
A genuinely human document of the prize-ring which carries a most realistic atmosphere and picturesque incident and which gets under the skin because of its life- like plot and characterization is “The Abysmal Brute,” founded upon Jack London’s story of the same name. There is something about tales of the roped arena which fascinate the spectator. For one thing they are usually rich in local color and present real adventure and a spark of romance which account for their popularity.
Hobart Henlev has never given the screen a more entertaining subject than this, his latest effort. He has caught the true psychology of the character who is reared among the California hills to become a prize- fighter like his father before him and who, coming down to Frisco, finds adventure, romance and success awaiting him. There are no gaps here — no convenient touches added to give it a ” kick.” This quality it has in abundance without any recourse being made toward the lengthy arm of coincidence. It may be a trifle long and there are some sequences which if shortened would quicken the action and heighten its appeal.
“The Abysmal Brute” is mostly a character study of a shy mountain youth whose modesty makes him his own worst enemy. He is afraid of the opposite sex but still he obeys his father’s advice — ” If you love a girl, don’t give up ’til you have won her!” So he is thrust into a strange world — the world of society, this uncouth pugilist. He is ashamed of his profession and the girl doesn’t learn of his association with the manly art until he has conquered her heart. Yet his sincerity has brought such a deep appreciation that she doesn’t waver except for a brief instant. Then his courage and determination to conquer her, for he applies cave- man tactics. This is the story in a nutshell — a story punctuated with considerable by-play as it concerns the prize-ring.
Henley’s atmosphere and incident are exceptionally good. And his scene when the youth calls on the girl, unannounced, is a gem. The guests are in evening dress and their table manners are perfect, yet they do not become Ritzy before the boy. Who could be a better choice for the title role than Reginald Denny, the actor that made the “Leather Pusher” tales so entertaining? He gives his best performance here, acting in character throughout every scene. Some of the Latin favorites had better watch this fellow Denny. He is stealing some of their thunder. A capital picture, capitally staged, directed and acted. A fine box-office attraction. Get it quick.
Such hearty praise was echoed by the newspapers of the day:
Are you starting to see why I am so anxious for this film to be found? I realize that tastes change and that contemporary critics can be wrong but Reginald Denny has rarely failed to please and it sounds like this story is right up his alley.
And the advertisements for the film are quite amusing in their breathless promises of passion, strength and brute force.
Makes it sound rather like a bad romance novel, no? Well, I am still confident that Denny can save the day!
Even if he doesn’t, this promises to be amusing.
As usual, check those vaults and attics!