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The Market of Vain Desire (1916)

A parson, in love with a girl who is betrothed to a rich Count in her family's hope of partaking in the Count's fortune, uses his pulpit in a scheme to shame the family into allowing the ... See full summary »

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John Armstrong (as Henry B. Warner)
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Charles Miller ...
Count Bernard d'Montaigne
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Mrs. Bladglley
Leona Hutton ...
Belle
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A parson, in love with a girl who is betrothed to a rich Count in her family's hope of partaking in the Count's fortune, uses his pulpit in a scheme to shame the family into allowing the girl to break the engagement and marry him instead. Written by Jim Beaver <jumblejim@prodigy.net>

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Drama

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28 May 1916 (USA)  »

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1.33 : 1
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Warner's bloodless performance
18 September 2007 | by (Minffordd, North Wales) – See all my reviews

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, an unusual symbiosis developed between the social circles of Europe (including Britain) and the United States. Nouveau-riche families in the States had money but were self-conscious about their social status. European blueblood males with noble titles but no money (and often heavy debts) would marry the daughters of American arrivistes, receiving huge dowries in exchange for putting some titled nobility into the American family's pedigree. One product of such liaisons was no less than Sir Winston Churchill himself, whose mother Jennie was an heiress from Brooklyn.

'The Market of Vain Desire' is a crude drama dealing with such an arranged marriage. IMDb's synopsis of this movie contains a crucial error; at least it contradicts the print which I viewed (intended for British distribution): the Badgley family are well-to-do, not poor ... and the Count d'Montaigne is poor, not rich: these are major factors in the dynamics (and motivations) of the various characters.

H.B. Warner plays a simple humble vicar named John Armstrong, which sounds more a name for a John Wayne character. The Badgleys are a family of social climbers in his parish. Armstrong is in love with Helen Badgley, although her interests seem to be elsewhere. Helen's mother (an excellent performance by Gertrude Claire) has arranged Helen's betrothal to the much older Count d'Montaigne, who practically oozes oil as he slimes his way across this movie's plot line. Too bad he can't sell any of that oil, because the Count is skint. This no-account count has no money, and he's eagerly hoping to latch onto Mrs Badgley's bank balance.

Fortunately for Deacon Armstrong, his parish also includes young Belle, who is ... erm, ahem ... a 'girl of the streets'. At Sunday's sermon to a packed congregation, Warner brings the scarlet harlot Belle up to the pulpit in order to humiliate her in front of the entire parish (she seems surprisingly amenable to this; perhaps she's trawling for new clients). Then Warner expounds a long sermon (in some unwieldy title cards) about how this jezebel who sells her charms to strangers is no worse than (in other words, no better than) a woman of proper society who would barter her soul in (here it comes) "the market of vain desire". Close-up of inadequate actress Clara Williams in a pew, as Helen Badgley twigs that this sermon is about HER! Warner's sermon achieves its intentions: Helen calls off the betrothal, despite her mother's protests.

SPOILERS NOW. Later, Warner is relaxing in his rectory, having exchanged his clerical collar for a smoking jacket. Into the rectory ponces the count, who clobbers Warner and skulks out again. Somehow, this causes Helen Badgley to realise that she loves Warner after all. Fade out.

Oh, blimey! This Mills & Boon tosh might have been more believable with some other actor in the lead role. H.B. Warner was an excellent character actor, but as a romantic lead he consistently fails to convince me that he has any passion (physical or spiritual) for any woman. There was a bloodless and sexless aspect to Warner which I suspect was the main reason why Cecil DeMille cast him as Jesus Christ in 'King of Kings' (for which Warner gave an excellent performance). When Count d'Montaigne punches Armstrong (Warner), it's implied that Armstrong is enough of a man not to need to retaliate, or at least gentlemanly enough not to hit an older man. However, Warner's performance is so bloodless that he seemed to me simply too cowardly to fight back.

Further, because the Badgleys DO have money (at least in the British prints of this movie), Armstrong's motives for wooing Helen Badgley are likewise tainted, even though he doesn't make this as obvious as the count does.

This film suffers from too many close-ups of H.B. Warner giving his facial muscles a work-out. On the favourable side, I did enjoy some very beautiful title art on some of the intertitles. There wasn't nearly enough humour to relieve the histrionics. They should have called this movie 'The Market of VEIN Desire', since Helen's mother clearly wants to get some blue blood into the family's bloodline. Aye, that's a horrible pun, but it would have been welcome in this deadly-dull movie. My rating for this clinker: just 4 out of 10.


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