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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
EAST LYNNE (1916 Fox)
EAST LYNNE was written in the 1860s and quickly became the most popular Victorian potboiler ever written. For sixty years the play version was always being performed somewhere in the world the staple of repertory companies and Mississippi river showboats. Over a dozen silent film versions were made, only two of which survive. There were three talkie versions, a substantially plot-changed 1931 film with Ann Harding, which earned an Oscar nom for Best Picture, and two color BBC productions in the 1970s and 1980s.
Until now none of these has been commercially available in any video format.
The 1916 Fox production with Theda Bara has surfaced and is now available on video. I will be reviewing that product. I am not sure if I can mention the video company that is releasing this, so feel free to contact me if you are interested.
SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT!
Since the plot has been around for 155 years, a spoiler alert hardly seems necessary, but to protect IMDb's rules, I note it here.
This print is badly out of focus, stemming from a source called forgetthetalkies.com, which is emblazoned in red in the lower right hand corner of the screen with a timer band on the left both of these are very annoying and disturb the viewing experience as much as the blurry picture. There is no musical accompaniment provided.
Since only six of Bara's forty-four films survive, this has some import for her alone. She plays with dark black circles round her eyes as if she were suffering from a severe bout of constipation. Her only facial expression is one of intense worry, as if she were afraid that the end of the world was imminent. It is hardly acting by any definition, but there is no one else in the cast who does any better, so this may have been standard for 1916.
It involves three families, the Carlisles, the Hares and the Hallowells. The villain is Captain Levison, a wastrel son and scoundrel.
Levison covets Isabel, who prefers to marry Carlisle, who has newly purchased the estate of East Lynne. They are happily married with two children.
Barbara Hare covets Carlisle, but must give him up to Isabel.
Barbara's brother, Richard, is falsely implicated in a murder the father of the girl he was courting the villain is actually Levison, who bribes a witness, Ottway Bethel, to secrecy.
Hare flees the law but returns in secrecy. Barbara seeks Carlisle's clandestine help in seeing and helping her brother. Levison uses a series of seemingly compromising positions to convince Isabel that her husband is two-timing her with Barbara and convinces her to run away with him.
A divorce is granted. Levison and Isabel separate. She is hurt in a railway crash. In the book she is facially disfigured.
Barbara marries Carlisle, but is jealous of the children, making her an unfit mother.
Isabel decides to be governess to her own children, in the film wearing a wig and dark glasses (which makes her resemble the dragon, Ollie, in the old puppet program, Kukla, Fran and Ollie). This is the most preposterous part of the book.
She is able to reveal herself to her son before he dies and suffering an immediate heart attack, herself dies in the nursery.
Meanwhile, the sheriff has overheard Bethel blackmailing Levison who has inherited his uncle's fortune, so both are arrested as murderer and accomplice.
It is amazing that the 75 minute film is able to incorporate all the plot points of the 800 page novel. As a film it is typical of the period. Most shots are medium range with a very few close- ups used for emphasis. It seems the outdoor shots are filmed in New Jersey the forests used are similar to those seen in other films of the period before the industry went to Hollywood.
Interior sets are cheap and shabby a few curtains and upholstered pieces to indicate small lived in rooms.
This print runs to the ends of each reel with a title card proclaiming when that reel end has been reached:
End of part one 13 minutes End of part two 26.5 minutes End of part three 41.5 minutes End of part four 52.5 minutes End of part five 1 hour, 15 minutes
This EAST LYNNE is a curiosity, interesting only for Bara's presence. It is routinely acted and directed otherwise.
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