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5 out of 5 people found the following review useful:

A Fascinating Oddity

Author: Glenn Miller (boo_squib) from Colton, CA
13 January 2002

This is one of those many films of the era that almost was lost. I could tell because the print that I viewed was unfortunately almost unwatchable.

Sidney Drew, who directed and starred in this fascinating domestic drama, was the uncle of John, Lionel, and Ethel Barrymore. He had a long and distinguished career on stage himself, which shows in a very professional and subtle performance in this film. Since he fills the screen with his presence so often, it is his thoughtful and, sometimes literally, multifaceted performance that keeps your attention throughout this rather farfetched and melodramatic scenario. His young wife, who plays his young and restless spouse in the film, wrote the scenario filling it with great gobs of dialogue, but also with some unexpected twists as well as some interesting asides to socialism and feminism.

Overall, this was a well worth viewing of a rather rare era in filmmaking with an actor who should be valued to this day, but is often overlooked.

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Author: Cineanalyst
30 October 2009

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This old silent film, "Playing Dead", has an odd and ridiculously convoluted plot. It begins with some strange standpoints against feminism and socialism--since the wife (played by Mrs. Sidney Drew, whose addressed name alone suggests being antagonistic to feminism) of our protagonist (played by Mr. Drew) leaves him for Maddux, who's called a feminist and socialist and convinces the wife that being a housewife is undesirable. Then, things really get weird. The supposedly loving and selfless husband decides to grant his wife's wishes to break up their marriage--after buying her a pony doesn't work! (Remember, this was 1915, when women weren't even allowed to vote in the US, and so patronizing patriarchy was rampant.) Yet, the husband desperately wants to avoid the "gossip" that a divorce would cause, so he plans to fake his own suicide. But still, he also wants to avoid the "scandal" his suicide would ensure, so he pretends to go blind, which, I guess, means that suicide over blindness is understandable.

This whopper might've worked if these absurdities had been played for laughs, but, instead, this seems to have been intended as a drama. I looked for any light treatment, especially since Mr. and Mrs. Sidney Drew seem to have made mostly comedies; at least, the few films I've seen by them, including "A Florida Enchantment" (1914) and a couple shorts, were, indeed, rather comedic. One of their films, "Goodness Gracious" (1914), which I haven't seen, is said by others to have lampooned such ridiculous movie plots. But, I didn't see that here; instead, it plays as an overly drawn-out, straightforward melodrama.

This film does display slightly superior film-making over Drew's earlier feature, "A Florida Enchantment", which I also recently reviewed, but that's not saying much. There's more editing based on what characters are looking at. In one scene, an entrance is first made through the character's mirror image. The technique of using iris wipes before and after intertitles was feckless and disruptive, though.

(Note: The old, out-of-print video I saw was of awful quality, although not the worst, since at least all the title cards were legible. The reduction print transfer had exceptionally low contrast, with bleaching in parts and darkening in others (the image full of white or black). The frame constantly jittered and flickered, and there was even some decomposition to the print.)

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