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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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This film, now available in pretty much complete form, is a really good film. I first saw a fragment of this film on a VHS tape called "The Films of Norma Talmadge". Based on what I saw, I thought it would be a tragic film and that Tully Marshall was the Meany, which he often was in his films. I was wrong. In this film, the only one I've ever seen in which his hair was almost entirely black, he plays an artist and Norma is his model. She gets him started on drugs, which caught me by surprise. At the same time, Margurite Marsh plays a younger girl, engaged to Ronald Gay. However, she is enamored with Tully Marshall's character. Tully becomes hooked on the drug and eventually he and Marguerite are married A title card, perhaps the next one after that, says "One year later". Marguerite looks haggard and Tully doesn't look much better. Somewhere in-between this time, Norma has gotten off the stuff and works to get Tully off of it. Part of Tully's treatment is to work on a farm. He's eventually cured, but the movie is far from through. I won't say how, but I will say that things do end well and any bad guys go to jail. This film was so good I'm giving it a "9". I will tell you that there's quite a bit of decomposition in it, but at least it's now in a nearly complete form.
This film is housed at the Library of Congress in its 1923 re-release version. Only excerpts are available at this time on video. The plot involves a model who turns an artist on to drugs to the dismay of his wife. The above information was supplied by Greta de Groat from her website devoted to Norma Talmadge.
Only a fragment is available on DVD - 9 minutes worth of a badly
decomposing reel. This features Norma as the wife of an artist, who
when frustrated, resorts to heroin to calm her nerves. She recommends
it for her uptight husband, played by Tully Marshall. Soon he is
addicted, hallucinating and forcing himself upon her with the needle to
induce a mutual experience (she protests as it is only a recreational
drug for her). He runs off in a state of madness.
A complete print exists at the Library of Congress - 35 mm - 5 reels. Original running time is 59 minutes.
More information about this and all films of Norma Talmadge, both extant and lost, can be found online at Stanford University's Greta DeGroat web site, devoted to Norma.
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