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Edith Hardy uses charity funds for Wall Street investments in hopes of buying some new gowns. She loses all the money and borrows from wealthy oriental Tori. When her husband gives her the amount she borrowed, Tori won't take it back, branding her shoulder with a Japanese sign of his ownership. She shoots him. Her husband takes the blame. In court Edith reveals all to an angry mob. Written by
Ed Stephan <email@example.com>
Pretty good for the era, though it will no doubt offend many today.
Given that the film came out in 1915, it's a brilliant film despite its MANY deficiencies. The story was complex, featured excellent (for the time) production values and was quite entertaining---and was a heck of a lot better than the average feature-length film of the day. Unfortunately, it is also filled with stereotypes that would no doubt offend people. While not as bad as his glorification of slavery in BIRTH OF A NATION (also 1915), the image of the Asian in the film is quite vile--though at least DeMille does have an actual Asian actor play the part--something very unusual in Hollywood through the first half of the 20th century.
A well-to-do man is frustrated at his shallow and awful wife, as she spends far in excess of what he earns. She is constantly trying to keep up with her rich society friends and MUST have all the latest fashions. Despite her being told by him that they can't afford it, she spends and spends and the audience no doubt comes to hate the woman. Later, she gets an idea to take money entrusted to her as treasurer of the Red Cross Relief Fund and invest it--thereby getting enough to keep buying herself clothes and returning the money, no one the wiser. Unforuntately for this idiot, her investment tanks and she now owes the fund $10,000!! Not wanting to get caught, she goes to her Asian friend (Sessue Hayakawa) to borrow the money.
Shortly after this, the lady's husband announces that his investments paid off handsomely and they are now rich enough for her to afford all her extravagances. So, she takes $10,000 and tries to pay off Hayakawa--who then tells her he does NOT want the money. Instead he announces that he owns her and is going to brand her to prove she's his property!! This leads to an intense, frightening and violent fight scene where he ultimately brands his mark on her shoulder! In retaliation, she grabs a gun, shoots him (non-fatally) and runs. Her husband then finds the bleeding man and is accused of having tried to kill him. Why Hayakawa doesn't tell the truth is beyond me and the innocent and stupid husband goes on trial. I say "stupid" because he knows his wife did it, but he decides to take the rap instead. Now had she NOT been a selfish fool, I might have understood this, but in this case he just seemed like a chump. I would have let the court hang her had she been my wife!
When the hubby is found guilty by the court, the wife jumps up and announces her own guilt--showing the judge the brand on her shoulder. The judge dismisses the case and the couple is left to live happily ever after. However, at this point, every "decent white man" in the courtroom attempts to kill the evil foreigner and the film ends as a riot ensues!!!
Technically speaking, this is a wonderful and entertaining film. The implication that Asian men are "white slavers", that wives can be shallow idiots and that it's up to decent white men to ignore the law and beat the Asian guy to death is pretty sick--and pretty indicative of the times. That same year brought Griffith's BIRTH OF A NATION, in which the "good white men" in the film can't get justice from the courts so they resort to forming the KKK and teaching the Blacks a lesson, and in this one they don't even bother with the robes--they try to kill the man right in the courtroom!!!
UPDATE: I just watched the 1931 remake of the film and was not the least bit impressed. The silent is clearly a better film--mostly because the crazy plot worked better in the old days. By 1931, it seemed very dated and a lot less scandalous...and a bit silly. So who says that talkies are always better than silents?!
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