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A bare outline of this film's plot suggests that it must be some kind
of pulpy melodrama, a B-movie with a touch of the lurid. Our handsome
hero is (initially) a passive, brooding figure who has withdrawn from
the tumult of life, having retreated to a tropical island where he
lives a secluded existence. He wants nothing to do with human affairs,
especially where women are concerned, preferring to puff on his pipe
and read philosophy. Before long, however, he becomes involved with a
young lady who works at a hotel on a nearby island, a woman who is
friendless and mistreated, and he gallantly provides her with shelter
in his home -- on a platonic basis, of course. Soon, three sinister men
arrive on the scene, sent by her former employer. To avenge himself on
her, he has told the trio that our hero is hoarding a stash of loot on
his island. When the woman is imperiled, our hero must rise above his
passivity and fight. The violent climax of the story unfolds
concurrently with the eruption of the island's volcano.
The plot may sound a little absurd spelled out like that, but the film itself is surprisingly enjoyable, and its source material is more than respectable: Victory is an adaptation of a 1915 novel by no less than Joseph Conrad, and it generally follows the action of Conrad's story, aside from the Hollywood-style happy ending. This was no B-picture, it was a major release from Paramount with first-rate production values, an excellent cast, and sensitive direction from Maurice Tourneur, a top director at the peak of his career. French-born Tourneur began his career as an artist and scenic designer, and his films are marked by striking compositions that differ sharply from the prevailing flatness of so many routine movies of the time. The cinematography in Tourneur's films is always beautiful and often surprisingly sophisticated, highlighted by dynamic shots that utilize the background, foreground, and middle range of the image. For example, watch the early scene in Victory when leading man Axel Heyst (played by Jack Holt) returns to the hotel with Alma (Seena Owen) to retrieve her belongings and escape. Where other directors of the period might direct this scene as it would be done on stage, with the two characters simply entering from one side and crossing the lobby, Tourneur keeps the hotel's staircase in the left foreground as Axel & Alma enter from the right background and slowly move forward. It's night, the wind is blowing hard, and we can see tree branches rustling through the windows; Axel & Alma must creep down a corridor toward the camera, not laterally across a "stage." It's very cinematic, a composition that doesn't resemble other movies of 1919 so much as the work of Orson Welles at RKO in the early 1940s, and the many shadowy crime dramas which followed.
Still, all the innovative camera angles in the world won't carry a film if the actors aren't up to the task, and happily Victory features a number of first-rate players. The primary reason this film is remembered today (and certainly the reason it's been made available on DVD) is the presence of Lon Chaney as Ricardo, one of the trio who arrive on Axel's island to menace our hero and heroine. Chaney may not be the first actor one might think of for the part of a knife-wielding Hispanic thug, but he brings his unique charisma to the task and makes the role his own, deftly stealing the show. Today Chaney is generally pigeonholed as a horror star, but it's worth noting that he spent most of his career in roles like this one, certainly villainous but in no way touched by any element of the supernatural. Chaney threw himself into his portrayal of Ricardo with his customary energy, at times moving like a dancer and always drawing our attention in any grouping of actors.
Jack Holt is stolid and frankly not too interesting in the lead role of Axel Heyst, but in fairness the part is a thankless one, as the demands of the story force our protagonist to be little more than gentlemanly and laid-back until the climax. Seena Owen makes a stronger impression as Alma. Prior to seeing this movie I was aware of her primarily for her amazing performance as the Mad Queen in Erich Von Stroheim's notorious Queen Kelly, a role vastly different from the one she plays here. Owens' Alma is a more demure (to put it mildly!) and complex figure, and she's especially impressive in a sequence when Ricardo mauls her. Alma must fend him off while pretending to be flattered, even "turned on" by his brutish attentions, only allowing her genuine feelings to become clear after he has gone. Wallace Beery, who generally played slimy bad guys at this point in his career, sports an amusing beard and is as unpleasant as ever in the role of August Schomberg, the despicable hotel manager whose lust for Alma sets the plot in motion. Finally, I was very much taken with an unfamiliar actor named Ben Deeley, who played "Mr. Jones," the leader of the trio who invade the island. Jones is a fey, feline, and startlingly modern looking villain. For today's viewers his slicked-back white hair and dark shades suggest the star of a Euro-pop rock video of the 1980s. Deeley gives an understated performance that goes with his appearance. Over all, the acting here is remarkably low-key; the arm-waving histrionics often associated with silent drama is nowhere to be found.
In sum, Maurice Tourneur's Victory is an unexpected treat for silent film buffs, a well-made, well-acted and entertaining melodrama featuring a number of unusual touches that lift it well above the realm of the ordinary. And hey, it boasts an action finale set against the backdrop of an erupting volcano! What's not to like?
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Maurice Tourneur and Lon Chaney collaborated on several films in the
late teens/early 20s, but this is the first I've had the privilege of
seeing. I was not disappointed; I think it's a fine film and really has
some very interesting visual aspects and performances.
Maurice Tourneur was known as a master director in the silent era, and though not many of his films survive (I would be very curious if anyone sends me a list or responds with names of films that can be found) this film bears out his reputation. The only earlier Tourneur film I've seen is the gangster film "Alias Jimmy Valentine", and in this one Tourneur shows a similar penchant for geometric compositions and heavily contrasted shadow-play, at many points actually using silhouettes to tell the story when the action becomes intense and violent. There isn't the same kind of feeling from the way he uses these techniques however as what you get from the German masters of expressionism. Tourneur is creating an effect that emphasizes not only the formal aspects of the characters' environments but also the animal-ism of the characters themselves, whose bodies are often weirdly distorted when we do see them in silhouette. At other points Tourneur uses a kind of extreme geometric contrast to evoke the natural beauty of the world and the loneliness of nature, as in the scenes showing Alma and Heyst sailing out of town, their boat proceeding to the left at a sharp angle while a bunch of rocks rises up in the opposite direction on shore and a lone fisherman holds his rod at a sharp angle on the right. This type of shot occurs at several points in the film and seems to be a trademark Tourneur style judging from the famous still photos I've seen from "Peter Pan" and "Treasure Island" (both of which are lost if I'm not mistaken).
There are some scenes in the film that I thought were incredibly graphic for the time, such as the scene where Mr. Jones pushes Pedro's brother in the fire head first, and we actually see a model of the man practically exploding in the fire. Very convincing effect, still packs some shock value because the graphic nature of the shot is so unexpected. Likewise in the later scene where Ricardo tries to kill Heyst and in the film's final moments with Pedro and Mr. Jones.
Now, the performances. Might as well start with Lon Chaney's masterful turn as Ricardo. His makeup is always convincing but I've never seen him in a Mexican makeup, and it was so well done that I wouldn't have even recognized him in the early shots where the camera isn't very close if I hadn't seen the name of his character on the cast list. I've never seen Chaney so animalistic as he is in this role. While for the most part the other characters walk around very upright with creased pants and so forth, Roberto has his pants slung low around his waist and he walks with a stoop. There's a great shot of Chaney when he comes back to Heyst's house to retrieve his precious knife (he has a very fetishistic attachment to that knife), he creeps on all fours to the edge of the window and leaps through the window without raising his frame at all, landing inside the house still crouching down like a cat. In the "flashback" scenes where he's about to kill Pedro, he dances around the man's vulnerable body with his knife like a demon. Chaney projects a menace and a kind of sordid evil that is remarkable even among his many excellent film performances.
His master, Mr. Jones, by contrast is a kind of quiet menace, a man who projects a kind of evil that's reptilian to Chaney's apelike brute. It's interesting that Jones and Chaney are both defined by their weapons. Jones relies on his gun, and when his gun stops working he basically is neutered. Chaney relies on his knife but as stated is much more personally attached to it. The knife is a somewhat more intimate weapon, even though Chaney throws it, and that suits the difference in style between the two villains. Bull Montana gives a remarkable performance also as Pedro as well, a man who's hidden his emotions from the world very successfully, by pretending to be evil while awaiting his chance for revenge.
Wallace Beery gets all of his bits in the first half of the film. His character is just as evil as Jones and Roberto but he is the type who gets others to do his dirty work for him. He is certainly cunning as he discovers a way to get revenge on Heyst while ridding himself of the loathsome lodgers. The scenes with Beery and Chaney have a crackling kind of energy, which Tourneur highlights by concluding the scene with a shot of the 2 of them cackling conspiratorially while framed in the same shot. Beery's Shoemberg strikes me as a hypocrite, a man who hides his evil while Roberto wears his lack of morals like a badge of honor.
Owen is effective as Alma, but Holt comes off a bit weak as Heyst. I guess a lot of that is just part of the role, he's quite a stick in the mud in a lot of ways.
This is a good atmospheric melodrama that successfully adapts a Joseph
Conrad story of human needs and emotions, and it adds a memorable
supporting performance by Lon Chaney as a bonus. The first part moves
at a nice, deliberate pace, allowing the characters to define
themselves and the tropic island atmosphere to sink in. Then, once it
gets moving, it produces some tense moments of suspense, action, and
Jack Holt plays a moody recluse who is drawn into helping out a musician played by Seena Owen. Just as things start to work out for both of them, the villains - Wallace Beery, as a brutish hotel manager, and a ruthless gang that includes Chaney's character - take over the course of events. The story is rather simple in itself, but (as is often the case in Conrad's novels) the key is to watch the characters as they respond to developments.
Holt is actually rather bland as the hero, and this is the main thing that keeps it from being one of the finest pictures of the late 1910s. Owen is quite sympathetic in her role, and often effectively underplays her character's emotions. Beery is well-cast and performs well, but it is Chaney who grabs the attention from everyone else whenever he is on the screen. Even in a supporting role like this, his attention to detail and his understanding of his character's nature come across clearly.
The cast and story work well together and with the setting. The smoldering volcano not only provides atmosphere, but is also an appropriate image for the changes taking place inside the characters, as the tense story movies towards its conclusion.
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.
After watching Maurice Tourneur's "Victory", the first movie of a Joseph Conrad novel, it makes one lament the loss of Tourneur's "Treasure Island" which also was photographed by Rene Guissart and had Lon Chaney in a great make up. Long thought lost, a beautiful pristine 35 mm print of "Victory" was located in a European film archive. Along with Chaney the cast has pretty Seena Owen looking quite seductive, suave but dull Jack Holt, menacing Wallace Beery, frightening Bull Montana and odd Ben Deeley. Deeley is the least known of the cast. He was married to Barbara LaMarr and would die in 1924 two years prior to Barbara. Deeley made several silent films but "Victory" is one of his few that survive & he gives a memorable creepy characterization. In addition to "Victory", several classic Tourneur silents survive ie Alias Jimmy Valentine(1915), The Wishing Ring(1914), Pride of the Clan(1917), Poor Little Rich Girl(1917), A Girl's Folly(1917), The Blue Bird(1918), Prunella(1918), Last of the Mohicans(1920), The White Moth(1924) and parts of the Mysterious Island(1927-29). Thankfully "Victory" survived the decades, in great condition, and is a great silent film to introduce a newcomer to the genre. A very high & enthusiastic recommendation. Maurice Tourneur, Paramount.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Minor Spoilers ahead. Maurice Troureur is one of the great directors of
early cinema, and one of the least well known. He was particularly
adept at creating atmosphere and composing his sets and shots (this
skill is called "mise-en-scene"). Many of his films are lost and many
others are simply unavailable except on bad bootleg VHS copies.
"Victory," is an exception.
The film, has many interesting elements, but one of the most interesting is how it foreshadows both film noir and Hitchcock. With deft touches of mise-en-scene, Tourneur, creates a steamy, sordid atmosphere in this creepy film. The three villains are perfectly cast. There is the cold emotionless intellectual criminal who kills as a means to an end (Ben Deeley), the strong brute, who has deep loyalties and deeper hatreds (Bull Montana), and finally the sadistic, killer who loves to see his victims squirm (Lon Chaney). The first shot of this charming threesome shows them looking down from the deck of a ship. The camera hangs on them, giving us time to study their personalities written so plainly on their faces. You won't see another scene like this until the 30's.
Lon Chaney appears here in one of his early roles. This film was a bit of a break for Chaney. Prior to this, his roles were not as interesting, but in this film Tournour brought the best in him and from here on out he would develop his famous acting persona.
The malevolent atmosphere and suspense builds in a way that is so Hitchcockian that you have to recheck the date of the film to decide who influenced whom. The lecherous, cowardly and vindictive innkeeper is perfectly played by Wallace Beery, but it is Lon Chaney who stands out as he sadistically plays mind games with anyone who has the misfortune to be around. You feel as if he might suddenly kill someone for no better reason than to improve his boredom.
The other major player is Seena Owen. Largely forgotten today, probably because she made so few films. She shows herself to be a noir heroine that is easily the equal to Lon Chaney in this film. Beautiful, sensuous and knowing, the scenes between her and Chaney are priceless. In one, Chaney attempts to rape her. She successfully fights him off. As they look at each other from different parts of the room, panting from the fight, Chaney compliments her on being able to resist him. She smiles, as she adjusts her clothing, and thanks him for the compliment. A scene like that in 1919! You wouldn't see another to match it until the mid 1930's.
Is it the first film noir? Did the film influence Hitchcock? Who can say? But one thing is certain, the film is well worth watching.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Maurice Tourneur was a gifted and sensitive director, who also directed
Lon Chaney in "Treasure Island". Tourneur's films had great visual
appeal through his mastery of set design and lighting. It is very
apparent in "Victory".
Lon Chaney was on the brink of stardom in 1919. He had just given a break through performance as "the Frog" in "The Miracle Man" and in 1920 would shock everyone with his role as "Blizzard" in "The Penalty". In "Victory" he was surrounded by established players - Wallace Beery, Jack Holt, Bull Montana and Seena Owen, who had starred as Princess Beloved in "Intolerance" (1916), but he still managed to make his mark.
Axel Heyst (Jack Holt) lives on a solitary island, surrounded by his father's books. He feels that only by being an observer of life rather than a participator, can he find true peace. While staying on another island to finalize some business, he comes to the aid of Alma (Seena Owen) who is a violinist in the local band. She is being pursued, not only by Schomberg (Wallace Beery) but the band leader as well and begs Axel to take her to his island so she can escape. Axel agrees.
Schomberg goes on a thorough search of the island and as a last resort, hires 3 thugs who have been causing havoc at his hotel. He wants them to go to Axel's island to search for Alma and lures them there with tales of hidden treasure. Lon Chaney is almost unrecognizable as Ricardo, a knife carrying crazy, who tells how Pedro (Bull Montana) can "snap men's back's like rotten sticks". Bull Montana is scary as the cretinous Pedro, who throws a boat boy overboard and carries his luggage around between his teeth!!!
When they reach the island, Ricardo attacks Alma but she fights back with such force that Ricardo is full of admiration and asks Alma if she wants to come in with them for a share of the treasure. Ever since she has been on the island she has felt lonely. Axel is not interested in getting to know her so she pretends to throw in her lot with the thugs hoping to save Axel.
With the smoldering volcano as background violence is let loose. Ricardo is shot on the roof and falls into a pit - in real life Chaney, who did all his own stunts, missed the pit when he fell, knocked himself out but still insisted that he complete the scene when he came to!!! Pedro throws Mr Jones into the fire because "when you killed that man in South America - he my brother"!!!
It ends conventionally enough with Axel realizing that Love is the most powerful emotion.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Director Maurice Tourneur was one of the great pioneering filmmakers of
the 1910s, and he ended the decade with one of his best: "Victory". His
films are noted for their pictorial beauty. With the death of John van
den Broek, René Guissart takes over the cinematography duties here.
Clarence Brown, who worked as editor and assistant director on many of
Tourneur's films, isn't credited here--he was beginning his own
successful career as a director at about this time. Ben Carré, one of
the best of early set designers, did work on this film, though.
There are some impressive chiaroscuro effects here, as well as good use of tinting, in addition to Tourneur's trademark silhouettes. The film moves quickly, and the careful timing of the editing is visible in one scene where the cuts are in unison with gunfire. The film contains pictorial beauty, but also ferocity, which corresponds well with the film's narrative and intriguingly drawn characters. It climaxes in the film's volcanic dénouement.
There's also a flashback in one scene, which is rather breezy; it setups Lon Chaney's character Ricardo, who narrates it, at the center of the film. There are several characters in this picture, each at some time pulling the narrative: Wallace Berry's character, who owns the hotel and tries to own Alma; the mistreated and fickle Alma herself, whose questionable loyalties turn the film's suspense on her; and even the protagonist who doesn't want to influence anything. Berry's nosey busybody, with the beard and glasses, the bestial physicality of Pedro, and the dark sunglasses and white suit of Mr. Jones make them visually intriguing characters, too--causing viewers to focus on them without the story having to.
Heading all of that, however, is Chaney, whose feats in movie makeup invented the trade. Without credits, I wouldn't have known he played Ricardo. Chaney was also at the forefront of introducing cinematic acting, subtler than the theatrical and, more importantly, a fully convincing embodiment of a character. In that way, his character becomes the center of the film, and the rest of the characters unravel with the climactic events on his cue.
Tourneur often adapted his pictures from literary sources, but using a novel by Joseph Conrad surely helped to make this one of his best works, as does Chaney. One of the things I like most about "Victory" is that it's more cinematic than some of his other films, although he referenced theatre in interesting and self-aware ways in such films as "The Wishing Ring: An Idyll of Old England" (1914) and "The Blue Bird" (1918). "Victory" has both a consistent visual and cinematic style, in addition to the rarity (in Tourneur's films and in movies in general of the time) of intriguing characters convincingly and cinematically portrayed.
Maurice Tourneur's VICTORY was made only four years after the publication
the source novel by Joseph Conrad, and features silent film sensation Lon
Chaney in an early co-starring role.
When pre WWI isolationist Jack Holt steals a girl away from predatory hotel permitee Wallace Beery, Beery sics a trio of island-hopping fortune hunters on him. Lon Chaney steals the film as the shiv-shoving Ricardo, but Seena Owen is his equal as the desperate but clever Alma. Jack Holt is the jut-jawed hero, Bull Montana (the "ape man" of 1926's THE LOST WORLD, which starred Beery) a simian heyboy and Ben Deeley is the languid, almost Ernest Thesiger-like villain of the piece.
Jules Furthman's script simplifies Conrad's novel, and provides a much happier ending, but it's still surprisingly faithful and Conrad's witty but
fatalistic voice rings loud and clear.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Axel Heyst (Jack Holt) is a strange would-be author. Instead of the
usual way of writing a book, he movies to a Pacific island and lives
the life of a hermit to get inspiration. My wife is a very successful
writer, though she has never needed such inspiration (thank goodness)!
One day, he has to take a trip to civilization and goes to another
island. There, quite unexpectedly, the hermit comes upon a beleaguered
lady (Seena Owen) who is being abused by a band leader (Wallace
Beery--hiding under a lot of fake hair and a beard) and his nasty wife.
While Holt wanted to remain alone on his island paradise, he can't
stand to see the lady being treated this way and helps her sneak off to
The reaction of Beery didn't make a whole lot of sense. Sure, he might have been mad that this lady ran off and left his band, but it was just one lady--yet he vows vengeance and goes to incredible lengths to find her. Later, when he learns where she is, he sends a gang of scum (which included Bull Montana and Lon Chaney) to get her by lying to them about a treasure on the island--saying they should torture the man and woman to learn where it is! The problem is that Holt is an avowed pacifist and he cannot bring himself to fight these ruffians when they arrive. What will happen? What will become of the love that is blossoming between Owen and Holt? Tune in and find out--though I will say that part of the ending (having to do with a fire) was 100% unexpected and shocking! This is an agreeable little adventure film-romance. While it's not one that will change your life, it is worth seeing for its odd plot, a chance to see Chaney playing a Hispanic man and to see Holt, who was quite the matinée idol in the 1920s--though by the 30s he'd become more of a supporting actor as his hair thinned. Decent acting, a decent script and a nice tropical look make this a winner considering it was made in 1919.
By the way, this is bundled with THE WICKED DARLING (also 1919) on DVD, though fortunately the print of VICTORY is much better.
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