I saw this short romantic drama at the 1998 Cinema Muto festival in Pordenone; they screened a print from the Library of Congress with the original intertitles missing.
There don't seem to be wards any more. Even Robin the Boy Wonder is no longer Batman's "youthful ward". Old-time novels, plays and films are chock-full of plot lines about wards (usually female) and their guardians (usually male). For those who came in late: a ward is a minor who is legally in the custody of an adult guardian who is not the ward's natural parent, yet who has also not formally adopted the minor. The guardian is responsible for the ward's welfare until adulthood. In old-time mellerdrammers, the guardian also has responsibility for a fortune that the ward is meant to inherit on reaching adulthood.
SPOILERS THROUGHOUT. I was distressed by "His Ward's Love" for the same reason that I dislike so many other old-time ward-guardian stories: once again, the male guardian falls in love (or in lust) with his female ward, to the extent of wanting to marry and/or have sex with her. This troubles me for a couple of reasons: a ward is by definition a minor, and therefore should not be the target of lustful urges. Also, the guardian is the surrogate parent ... making such a relationship tantamount to incest. I suppose that this is why, in all these stories, the emotional object is always an unadopted ward rather than a formally adopted stepdaughter: to distract us from the incestuous overtones.
In "His Ward's Love", the man who loves his own ward is a reverend, which only made things worse for me: priests are certainly entitled to have romantic or sexual urges, but they're supposed to be able to deal with them intelligently. Here, the Reverend Howson is aware of his urges but at least he manages not to give in to them.
Griffith stages the first sequence so that the beautiful young ward (Florence Lawrence; a bit too old to be playing minors) casts a long glance at the reverend, with an expression of ardour on her face, while he is turned away. This is meant to notify us that she has romantic feelings for HIM, making it all right that he reciprocates. But Florence is the reverend's unofficial daughter; is it not possible that the love she feels is for him as a father figure, rather than as a husband?
The reverend's friend Gerald Winthrop (handsome Owen Moore) shows up in the reverend's garden, hoping to court Florence. The reverend encourages her to go to him. So we're meant to feel sympathetic towards the reverend: he loves her, yet he unselfishly tries to guide her into another man's arms.
SPOILERS COMING. In a surprisingly fetishistic ending, Florence sees the reverend kissing an item that she dropped ... so at once she Knows All. They discover they love each other, and here comes the fade-out. Diabetes alert!
Audiences in the lavender-and-old-lace era likely thought that this movie was deeply romantic. I found it well-made and adequately acted (in outmoded dramatic techniques), but it distressed me for the reasons I've noted. I enjoy many old-fashioned films because they convey the charm of their era, so I seldom mean it disparagingly when I say that a movie is 'old-fashioned'. In this case, I do mean it that way. My rating for this one: just 3 out of 10. It's taken me longer to write this review than it took me to watch this brief movie.
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