Annabelle Lee (1921) A Silent Film Review

Based very, very loosely on a poem by Poe, the film tells the tale of lovers torn apart by parental disapproval, a mutiny and a handsome book publisher… Oh, all right. It pretty much has nothing at all to do with Poe and the name of the heroine was just borrowed to add a literary touch.

Home Media Availability: Released on DVD.

New England Boiled Romance

As far as story is concerned, Edgar Allan Poe’s poem Annabel Lee is a little lean. Childhood sweethearts are separated by family disapproval and then by death. The narrator continues to worship his beloved Annabel in “in her sepulcher down by the sea”. The theme of love perfected by death is par for the course as far as Poe is concerned but it isn’t particularly easy to make a film about.

That’s probably why the writer, Arthur Brilliant (really), opted for a somewhat more upbeat tale. Annabelle Lee (Lorraine Harding) and David Martin (John O’Brien) have been friends since childhood and have just discovered that they are in love. Annabelle’s father, Colonel Lee (Louis Stearns), is a wealthy man and does not want his daughter unhappily married to a fisherman.

The young lovers will not be denied so Col. Lee proposes a deal: David and Annabelle will separate for a year with no contact. If they are still in love by that time, they will be allowed to marry.

David decides to use the year to search for the sunken treasure ship that bankrupted his family. He leaves a sheaf of poems for Annabelle to read while he is away and sets sail.

“Oh, yeah, David, I’ll read your poems, suuuuuure!”
“Oh, yeah, David, I’ll read your poems, suuuuuure!”

Col. Lee decides to use the year to introduce his daughter to other eligible young men. Donald Grainger (Ernest Hilliard) is a good-natured publisher who loves Annabelle but her interest in him is purely professional. She wants him to publish David’s poems.

David’s insistence on discipline and on running a teetotaler ship has led to discontent among the crew. They mutiny and set David adrift. He lands on a desert island with little hope of rescue. Meanwhile, the mutinous crew manages to burn the ship down.

David’s mother (Florida Kingsley) receives a letter that David’s ship burned with all hands lost. Annabelle refuses to believe that David is dead and wants to wait for him. But Grainger still loves Annabelle and her father reminds her that she can’t mourn forever.

Annabell mopes on some admittedly beautiful rocks.
Annabell mopes on some admittedly beautiful rocks.

Annabelle Lee is not a well-known film. It boasts no major names in front of the camera or behind it. The story also lacks dramatic punch. The romantic rivalry between Grainger and David for the hand of fair Annabelle has got to be about the most polite I have ever seen. Everyone behaves like mature grownups and while that may be a good way to go about the matter in real life, the film suffers. Even the lost-on-a-desert-island scenes seem a little flat.

Stories of New England fisherman lost at sea remained popular through the twenties but Annabel Lee has the feel of an old Biograph two-reeler.

The florid intertitles and the stagey performances gave me the feel of 1912, not 1921. How florid?

“As the poet wanders through fertile fields of fancy, so must we follow in the quest of love, romance and adventure. The nymph of our imagination flits before us to a kingdom by the sea, the village of Martha’s Vineyard”

Only William S. Hart could get away with that one.

So, why is it worth seeing?

The scenery, my dear, the scenery! The picture takes full advantage of its Martha’s Vineyard locations and shoots them gloriously: silhouettes against the ocean, ships coming in to port, picturesque wooden houses, the whole ball of wax.

Annabelle Lee isn’t for you if you want a dark and dreary Poe-inspired film. It isn’t for you if you want some fast-paced action. It’s as dull as dishwater, though the beautiful scenery is slight compensation.

Movies Silently’s Score: ★★

Where can I see it?

The folks at Grapevine Video have released a DVD of Annabelle Lee.  It also includes the short  Billy Bletcher comedy Dry and Thirsty.


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