Mae Marsh’s career post-1916 is often dismissed as unworthy of study but Polly of the Circus proves this notion to be wrong. A tight little circus melodrama, Polly also delivers some surprisingly deep questions about faith, religious hypocrisy, love and loyalty.
Mae Murray stars as the devil of the title, a nice Irish girl who pretends to be bad to land a job on the stage. Rudolph Valentino (under two tons of pale greasepaint) is her nice Irish boy love interest. Oh brother.
Polly is a spunky circus lass who falls off her horse and into the waiting arms of the local minister. Tongues wag, of course, but can this mismatched couple find true happiness? A heaping helping of nostalgia with Mae Marsh’s winsome orphan routine thrown in.
Villainy is afoot in ancient Israel, the Assyrians have laid siege to a little mountain town. All seems to be lost. But the Assyrians didn’t count on a young widow named Judith (Blanche Sweet), who wields a mean saber. Will the charms of the enemy general (Henry B. Walthall) derail her plans? Or will our Assyrian lose his head over the comely widow? This is an early feature film and the start of director D.W. Griffith’s big, Big, BIG! period.
Continue reading “Judith of Bethulia (1914) A Silent Film Review”
This time, we have some trivia from one of D.W. Griffith’s more obscure films. The White Rose was a return to themes that he held dear: spiritual crises, single motherhood, poverty, Southern gentility and abused waifs. The White Rose is also of interest as it marks the return of Mae Marsh to the Griffith banner. The whole thing is very much a throwback to the storytelling of five or ten years before.
(You can read my review here.)
Marsh’s leading man is Ivor Novello, a Welsh leading man who was wildly popular both as an actor and a composer. He, of course, achieved screen immortality (at least on this side of the Atlantic) for his title role in Hitchcock’s first Hitchcock film, The Lodger.
Availability: The White Rose was released as a budget disc by Alpha. While not pristine, it is miles ahead of the previously released version by Classic Video Streams, which is badly faded and expensive to boot! The Alpha release can be had for just a couple of bucks.
Status: Missing and presumed lost
Mae Marsh is remembered as one of D.W. Griffith’s most vulnerable actresses. Her tragic roles in The Birth of a Nation and Intolerance have been named again and again as the very essence of the art of pantomime. And yet for all her talent, Marsh’s career sputtered after she struck out on her own.
The Face in the Dark was one of Marsh’s vehicles when she was signed on with the Goldwyn (before Metro and Meyer joined the party) motion picture company. An experienced and famous tragedienne, Marsh welcomed lighter fare.
It’s a tearless Mae Marsh in “The Face in the Dark,” her Goldwyn production, from the story by Irvin S. Cobb. It doesn’t follow that “The Face in the Dark” is not without sad moments. In fact, as Jane Ridgeway, a motherless girl. Miss Marsh has one of the most appealing roles she has yet been called upon to portray.
“I welcomed the opportunity to go through a play without shedding tears,” remarked Miss Marsh, to whose eyes tears can easily be brought. “I don’t mind playing parts where tears are necessary, but it’s a relief when you don’t have to cry.”
Moving Picture World praised the cast:
Strong Goldwyn cast in “The Face in the Dark”
For the drama of the secret service, “The Face in the Dark,” in which Mae Marsh appears April 21, Goldwyn has assembled an uncommonly interesting cast of contributing players. A leading man new to Goldwyn pictures plays opposite Miss Marsh. He is Niles Welch. He has played with practically every star, his last production before supporting Miss Marsh being Metro’s “Her Boy,” in which he was co-starred with Effie Shannon.
Alec B. Francis essays the role of Miss Marsh’s father, a retired secret service man who chooses to sacrifice his daughter’s love rather than reveal the truth about himself. Harry C. Myers, another screen favorite, adds to the excellent ensemble in the Irvin S. Cobb play. Mr. Myers plays a gentleman crook. Isabelle Lamon emerges from several years in a convent school to resume her work before the camera. She was a great favorite before she began to grow up, and now that she is again among personalities of the screen some of the stars will have to look to their laurels.
Others in the cast are Donald Hall, Willard Dashiell, Gladys Fairbanks and Inez Marcelle.
The story involved a secret service man, a bank robbery and a girl detective (I wonder who?):
To weave more tightly the net of the law around a gang of counterfeiters Charles Ridgeway, a secret service man, becomes one of them. The crooks do not suspect he is spying. The country bank in which Richard Grant, the sweetheart of Jane Ridgeway, is employed as paying teller, is robbed, and circumstances so shape themselves that the young man is convicted and imprisoned. Jane makes a startling discovery, and it would now seem that Ridgeway himself is the thief. Jane denounces her father, who at the next council of the thieves puts the situation before the leader, who is known as “the face in the dark,” because at conferences of the counterfeiters he has his face shielded by a shadow. Ridgeway is offered money to get out of the country when suddenly the secret service man throws the light on the face of the master mind of the gang. The crooks are taken prisoners, Richard is released, and Jane learns that her father was a secret service man all the while. Feature Mae Marsh as Jane Ridgeway and Niles Welch as Richard Grant.
Photoplay, however, was unimpressed:
Just another Goldwyn movie; Mae Marsh needs a good director; the story — Irvin S. Cobb at his movie worst.
The film sounds like a fun little thriller to me. I hope it turns up so I can judge for myself.
D.W. Griffith tried to break his slump by casting Mae Marsh and scrumptious Welsh heartthrob Ivor Novello in this tale of single motherhood and spiritual crisis. Minister-to-be Novello seduces and abandons orphan flapper Marsh, who must face the cruel world, etc. etc. Griffith has done all this before (and better) but his leads try their hardest and almost manage to put it over. Almost. A mixed bag.
How does it end? Hover or tap below for a spoiler.
Marsh and her baby wander into Novello’s neck of the woods, where he promptly realizes the error of his ways and he makes an honest woman of our heroine on her sickbed. Happy endings for all.
If it were a dessert it would be:
Cheesecake rice pudding. Variation on a very old theme. Tasty enough but hardly earth-shattering.
Read my full-length review here.
Availability: Released on DVD.
Child neglect, single moms, personal crisis… Just another day D.W. Griffith-land. Mae Marsh is Teazie, a young orphan who flirts as way to get much-needed attention. Ivor Novello is Joseph, a freshly ordained minister who mistakes her flirtations for an immoral character. What follows can best be described as Way Down East meets The Scarlet Letter.