A rather strange film about a yachtsman who discovers that the woman he loves is about to marry another… so he bandages his face and tricks her into marrying him instead? Mm-kay. This is one of those Sheik pictures, isn’t it?
Ship of Fools
Okay, you know I love a nice, trashy silent film but when they go wrong, oh boy do they go wrong. This is one of the wrong ones. I am still actually in shock that it was made and I am used to stuff like this. I mean, I saw The Great Divide, for Pete’s sake!
There’s no way to preface this so let’s dive right in because lordy, we have a lot of ocean to cover.
The hero of the tale is Peter Rosslyn (House Peters), a wealthy guy who spends his entire life aboard his yacht, the Patricia. It is manned by an all-Chinese crew who communicate in cringe-inducing fake Chinese intertitles and anyway, all the actors playing them seem to be Chinese. (h/t to Donna Hill for checking this out for me.) Peter keeps them in line by beating them and shouting in his own fake Chinese intertitles.
Oh, we are off to a roaring start here, my friends. Yes, I am sure he is the hero. No, we can’t trade him in. I agree, Philip Ahn would have been much better but he was still in school and so we’re stuck with House Peters, who tended to play walking red flags. (Seriously, I am still not over The Great Divide. I do not think I will ever be over The Great Divide.)
I know you may be worried about this picture being racist but don’t worry, it’s also sexist! Peter is in love with Patrician Van Pelt (Patsy Ruth Miller), a rich young lady who doesn’t like to be told what to do by (checks notes) Peter Rosslyn. Of course, in the very first scene of them together, Peter is ordering her to stop wearing high heels at parties so I am very much Team Patricia. She doesn’t tell him to stop wearing navy togs and pretending he’s a real captain, now does she?
Patricia is about to marry Templeton Arnold (Richard Travers), a fortune hunter. At least he’s said to be a fortune hunter. We are told all the faults in his character but what we see on screen is a fairly normal young man. Granted, he does not beat a single person in his employ or tell the woman he is courting that her shoes are silly, so maybe that is why Patricia’s brothers are determined to get her married to Peter instead.
Veteran character actors Arthur Hoyt and William Austin play the Van Pelt brothers and I wish they had been given more to do and a fairer share of the screentime but, alas, these are blink-and-you-missed-them roles.
When one’s twoo wuv is set to marry another, the generally accepted movie action is for the hero or heroine to race to get to the church before the final I Dos are said. Harold Lloyd is probably the champion of this and for good reason. It’s cute and suspenseful. Well, Peter isn’t about to break a sweat in order to win Patricia over. Instead, he conspires with her brothers to do the following:
- They will pretend they were in an automobile accident with Arnold.
- They will say that Arnold was injured and is waiting for her on his hired yacht.
- The yacht will really be the Patricia and Arnold will really be Peter with his face bandaged.
- Patricia will marry Peter and he will sail away with his bride.
Okay, you know me, I like to know the facts. So I looked up Marriage by Deception in the California Penal Code (in the film, the Patricia is docked in the San Francisco Bay) and here is section 528:
Every person who falsely personates another, and in such assumed character marries or pretends to marry, or to sustain the marriage relation towards another, with or without the connivance of such other, is guilty of a felony.
Incidentally, this is the first entry and earliest law under the False Personation and Cheats heading. It’s still on the books, so what they are trying to do would have been a felony in 1925 and it doesn’t matter whether or not Patricia decides to go along with the marriage because “with or without the connivance of such other” i.e. whether or not the bride is in on it or accepts it, you cannot marry somebody while impersonating their real fiancé.
Anyway, the plan works perfectly and the Van Pelt brothers take the added precaution of imprisoning Arthur because felonies are like potato chips: you can’t stop at just one. Peter sails away with Priscilla, who is still none the wiser about the trick that has been played. Her first inkling that something is wrong is when she runs into one of the Chinese sailors. Her reaction is literally “A CHINESE MAN!!! HELP!!! HELP!!!”
Sigh. (This is especially unfortunate if you happen to have read Patsy Ruth Miller’s memoirs because, um, yeah, she really had opinions about Asian people. Horrible, horrible opinions.)
So, Peter announces that he’s master, he will tame her, yadda yadda yadda, and pretends to have his crew torture the absent Arthur in order to win Pauline’s cooperation. As one does. But then he receives news that Arthur has broken lose and is threatening to send the authorities after Peter for (checks notes) felonies he actually committed.
Will Peter win Pauline’s love? Will he ever escape his legal tangles? Watch Head Winds to find out.
Oh good lord. (Pours stiff drink of sparkling cider.) Let me tell you, this one is terrible. I mean… What… How… Why is this a thing and who made it a thing and who thought it was a good idea to make it a thing and why… WHY?
This picture opened to generally favorable reviews and was praised as being a “different” kind of love story. Um, yeah, we figured that one out on our own, ace, but thanks anyway. Damn you, Carl Laemmle.
The film went through a couple of title changes. Universal’s internal trade periodical stated that it would be called The Love Cargo, whatever that means, and, later, Overboard. (Ironic considering the rather squicky nature of another film called Overboard.) In the end, it retained the title of the novel upon which it was based.
Interestingly enough, the author of that novel wrote in to Laemmle’s office to let him know that she approved of the casting of House Peters, who was actually the performer she had in mind when writing the part. So one person was happy at least.
The preamble to the letter lists Wilt as a “Mr.” but A.M. Sinclair Wilt was actually Anna Marguerita Sinclair Wilt or Mrs. Frank T. Wilt, as she sometimes signed herself. Her husband was a Stanford educated physician specializing in “mental and nervous diseases.” I could not ferret out whether or not she had penned another story but the 1930 census lists the family as living in Seattle, Washington and Frank gives his occupation as “nerve specialist” while Marguerita claims she is a writer of fiction, so we know she was still had her hand in it at the time. (The census also lists one teenage Filipino servant in the household and I certainly hope that life did not imitate art. This was also a mere three years after armed mobs sought to drive Filipinos out of Washington’s Yakima Valley.)
Given the classic push-pull between studios and authors, it is interesting to see a well-pleased author, I must say. Right now, the pendulum has swung toward control-freak authors (as opposed to philistine studios) but it was unlikely that a first-time author of an okay-selling book would have had much authority over the film process.
I have to admit that I feel a bit of affection for the enthusiastic Wilt but I can’t muster up much for Head Winds. It’s one of those Sheik pictures in which the heroine secretly longs to be dominated and includes some major story cheats, at least in my opinion.
Spoilers: There is an elaborate sequence in which the U.S. Navy tracks down Peter, arrests him, tries him and hangs him on the spot. I actually would not have minded the film ending at this point but no, it turns out to be All a Dream™. And then Patricia tries to escape and is dragged back to the ship but gets a Convenient Movie Illness® that makes her very ill but also beautiful and ends up making her forget Peter’s weird behavior I think? This film does tend to be a muddle.
And, of course, it’s all terribly disturbing as it is established that Peter has been hanging around (and bossing around) since Patricia was a baby. So this story is really about a young lady whose marriage partner was chosen when she was a baby and whose family commits several felonies to prevent her from making her own choice. Charming. Or we could say that the story is about an obsessed outsider who insinuates himself into a family to maintain control over a little girl he has determined to marry. What we have here is the setup for an Agatha Christie mystery, not a romance.
The direction by Herbert Blaché (the ex-Mr. Alice Guy) gets the job done but there are times when the cut corners show. While this was marketed as a Universal Jewel (high budget, in other words), the climactic storm scene shifts between harrowing stuff on the deck and a rather phony looking model bobbing around in a bathtub.
Head Winds is a strange, strange picture without much to recommend it beyond its strangeness. See it, by all means, if you are a fan of one of the leads. See it out of morbid curiosity. It’s kind of like a car crash, really. It’s awful but you can’t look away.
Where can I see it.
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