The Darkest of Charles Ray's Films for Thomas Ince
Under producer Thomas Ince, his films starring Charles Ray were usually hopeful, but were sometimes bleaker, as I outline in my Ince biography. The Family Skeleton (1918) opens with a series of title cards on heredity, described as disputed, and on hypnotism and auto-hypnotism, labeled as functioning by suggestion or self-suggestion. Actually, the movie's subject will be alcoholism. At his 21st birthday, his guardians warn Ray's character from drink, long the family weakness. He and a doctor laugh at their warning, but there the comedy ends.
In fact, Ray's character proves to have just such a proclivity, not by heredity but by his self-fulfilling conviction. Soon he has left for the mountains of Vermont, drinking himself senseless. His girlfriend tries to jolt him back by hiring a plug-ugly to abduct her. Ray's protagonist is not aware that he has been set up, and his return from the edge is agonizing. Nonetheless, the redemption is far from convincing, and there seems little reason to believe it is permanent.
Indeed, if Ray is a symbol of the hopeful, positive traits of American youth, The Family Skeleton offers disturbing evidence of a miasma at its base. Moreover, there is nothing accidental about its production; The Family Skeleton was a screen story Ince penned himself.
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