Monday, October 04, 2010


This silent film, once considered lost, is an adaptation of Somerset Maugham's novel which was loosely based on rumors about the real-life occultist Aleister Crowley. Margaret, who sculpts gigantic, rather grotesque busts, is injured when one collapses on her. Dr. Burdon saves her life on the operating table, and the two begin dating. At the same time, alchemist and hypnotist Oliver Haddo (the Crowley figure) has found an ancient formula for creating life and all he needs now is "the heart blood of a maiden," and he fixates on Margaret as the source for his missing ingredient. In a stunning sequence, he shows her a vision of hell that might have sprung from an acid trip; soon, she is under his power and he forces her to marry him, though he refuses to sleep with her. Burdon comes after her and spirits her away to a sanitarium to recover from his evil influence, but of course, it's not that easy and soon Haddo has abducted her and taken her to his tower on a hillside where, on a stormy night, he intends to bring his unholy experiment to fruition. The climax must have been an influence on James Whale when he was crafting the lab scenes in the 1931 FRANKENSTEIN--not to mention the Disney animators who worked on the "Night on Bald Mountain" sequence in FANTASIA. The film moves along at a good pace and the romantic leads (Alice Terry and Ivan Petrovich) are fine; Paul Wegener, best known as the title character in the 1920 GOLEM, is a little disappointing; his main acting style consists of opening his puffy eyes very wide to express evil thoughts. The Hell scene, tinted and featuring an almost naked male dancer as a seducing Pan figure, doesn't have much to do with the plot, but is remarkable for its sensuality and suggestion of depravity. [TCM]

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