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This 1916 film stars Norma Talmadge as an artist's model and Tully Marshall as the artist. He struggles to find inspiration to complete his painting and is looking for a new model. Talmadge is already hooked on morphine and keeps a stash in her little dressing room. Talmadge is secretly in love with Marshall.
One day a man (an art patron?) and his fiancée come to look at the paintings. Marshall is taken with the girl (Marguerite Marsh) and she is excited by the bohemian lifestyle. As the man, oddly named Sir Gordon (played by Howard Gaye) is about to propose, he discovers that Marshall has married Marsh. It's also shown how Talmadge has turned Marshall onto morphine.
One year later, Marshall is a total drug fiend. He's even tried to get Marsh hooked on morphine. She has gone back to her father. Talmadge, meanwhile, has kicked the habit. She devotes her life to getting Marshall of drugs. He goes to a farm and works in the fields as hard physical labor is the only "cure." One day Marsh is looking for Marshall and goes to his old studio. He's not there but Talmadge spies her and follows her. Marsh is suspected of being a "reformer" and is tricked into going to a sleazy bar where she is thrown into a cellar and locked in. Talmadge gets hold of Marshall and they set off to rescue Marsh.
At 67 minutes, this is the most complete version of the film. Indeed, this version is from the 1923 re-release in which the characters' names have been changed. There is one missing scene but the story flows nicely. Lots of decomposition in a few places but still quite watchable.
The film was re-released by Tri-Stone in part because Norma Talmadge had become by 1923 a major film star. It was common to re-release early films of actors who later became big stars. Probably by coincidence, the film was released after the morphine-related death of Wallace Reid in January 1923. Morphine was much in the news. Indeed, Dorothy Davenport (now billed as Mrs. Wallace Reid) produced, directed, wrote, and starred in (with Bessie Love) HUMAN WRECKAGE, a film about the evils of drug addiction. This film was released in June 1923.
Norma Talmadge, Tully Marshall, and Marguerite Marsh (sister of Mae Marsh) are all excellent in THE DEVIL'S NEEDLE. The story is very good and the rescue is exciting. Howard Gaye is good as the staid Sir Gordon. I don't know the names of the actors who played the janitor and the drug pusher.
This film is now available on DVD and is well worth looking for.
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