Tuesday, January 07, 2014


In 1840, young Anson (Lars Hanson) returns to the New England coast town of Maple Harbour fresh from the seminary, ready to join Phillips, the local pastor, as an assistant, and also ready to renew his romance with Phillips' daughter Mary (Marceline Day). But because he dresses so informally (and perhaps because he seems so healthy and full of life), some townsfolk think he's not ready for a life at the pulpit. Even Anson seems vaguely aware that he may not be ready to settle down yet. When a ship founders during a storm, an injured woman on board named Bess (Pauline Starke) is denounced as a whore and no one is willing to help her until Anson arrives. He takes her to a shack where he tends to her and finds out about her rough life—she says her stepfather got her pregnant and that it was "a damn good thing the baby died." The townsfolk shun her, so when a ship bound for Rio arrives, Anson manages to get her passage on it, and at the last minute, disgusted by the local attitudes, he joins her. But the ship turns out to be a convict ship helmed by a disgusting captain (Ernest Torrence) who threatens to force Bess to have sex with the prisoners and later has Anson whipped for insubordination. What will happen to our odd couple? This silent melodrama reminded me a bit of The Scarlet Letter, partly because Lars Hanson played the Reverend Dimmesdale is a silent version of that story opposite Lillian Gish. The acting is generally adequate with some of the typical overacting (Hanson) and underacting (Day) of the era, but Torrence makes a fine and nasty villain, worthy of the phrase "slime-jowled skunk" which Starke uses against him. There is some nice camerawork, and a battle on the ship up in the riggings is quite exciting. The struggle that Hanson undergoes between the traditional pious but intolerant church people and the more inclusive feelings he has makes the movie feel fairly modern. [TCM]

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