In this five-reels South Seas melodrama from 1914, McVeagh (played by Harry Carey) has abandoned San Francisco and "civilization" to inhabit one of the Solomon Islands. He spends his time diving for pearls, drinking to intoxication and torturing the natives by chaining them to his "torture cross". He trades booze and beads for the daughter of the neighboring island's chieftain, only to later abandon her when the woman he left San Francisco for conveniently shows up shipwrecked. The natives become upset with the white man taking one of their women and with the fact that their chief no longer allows them to collect the heads of the white men, so they raise arms and set fire to McVeagh's cabin.
Such exotic (and racist) melodramas were common in the silent era, and "McVeagh of the South Seas" (or "Brute Island") contains many of the requisite elements of the genre: love triangle, exotica and miscegenation, sensational story lines, a poor love-torn girl who ends up being tossed aside (if not killed), unlikable characters and bad acting where characters constantly avoid eye contact and stare at nothing. Carey, who was a leading man of mostly Westerns during the silent era, including in some of the first films by John Ford, and, later, was nominated for an Oscar for "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" (1939), is no exception here. Additionally, as in many other such films of the day, the principle native characters are portrayed by white actors in inadequate makeup, while the extras are played by black actors.
The picture also suffers from the outdated filmmaking practices of the time. The camera-work is, as was typical in 1914, static. Only one camera setup is used for a locale, which is especially evident in the many scenes that take place in McVeagh's room. The version I saw available from Grapevine actually features relatively brisk and sometimes choppy editing. I suspect that this was the result of reediting for the 1921 reissue of the film. Movies moved at a much quicker pace by 1921 than they did in 1914. The art titles were also likely added later. The first few minutes of the feature are the best: there are some picturesque shots of sunlight coming through clouds and waves crashing on beeches, and a quickly-edited storm scene that features innovative flashes of light and varied shots of the ship and its crew. It's a boringly formulaic and static melodrama after that.
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