Axel Heyst, an uncommitted wanderer, has settled on an island in the South Seas. He takes pity on a troubled young woman, Lena, and gives her refuge on her island. But the piratical Mr. ... See full summary »

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Axel Heyst, an uncommitted wanderer, has settled on an island in the South Seas. He takes pity on a troubled young woman, Lena, and gives her refuge on her island. But the piratical Mr. Jones, who believes Heyst has treasure buried on his island, leads his cohorts in an invasion of Heyst's haven. Written by Jim Beaver <jumblejim@prodigy.net>

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7 December 1919 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Le secret du bonheur  »

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1.33 : 1
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This was the only film version of one of his novels or stories that Joseph Conrad actually saw. See more »

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Version of Victory (1996) See more »

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A taut, beautiful thriller
16 September 2005 | by (Seattle) – See all my reviews

I had to watch this movie three times before I finally started to catch the plot details, because it's just so beautiful to look at that I don't really care about the story. All of the Maurice Tourneur films I've seen are visually fascinating to one degree or another, but this one takes the cake, even over THE BLUE BIRD (which is admittedly a far different kind of movie). I can imagine Josef von Sternberg studying this movie for clues on how to create an exotic look out of papier mache and shadows. (Okay, that papier mache volcano looks pretty silly, but that's about the only major lapse I've noticed.) Griffith may have taught people how to edit, but I'm beginning to think Tourneur taught them how to compose the frame for depth effects and complex texture. The tinting is very beautiful, too, and I love the effect when Heyst blows out the lamp.

But once I focused on the plot, I was impressed on how well-constructed it was. The story moves along at a smooth, smart pace, and the tension builds very nicely. This is a pretty generic thriller in many ways, with a generic romance at the heart of it, but it's put together so effortlessly and with such visual charm that it seems fresh. Still, the real dramatic motor is the bad boys, particularly Lon Chaney as the psychopathic but strangely good-natured Ricardo and Ben Deeley as the cold, creepy Mr. Jones (looking like he stepped out of a Fritz Lang movie). There's also a good twist in the history and brute plan of Bull Montana's Pedro. Seena Owen's role is underwritten, but her weary, vulnerable resolve is beginning to grow on me.

Maybe this is where the movies start for me. Certainly it's the earliest movie to hold me entranced from stem to stern, although the German classics begin full-bore within a year of this. But there's still a lot more to see from the era.


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