'Shore Acres' is based on a play by James Herne. Originally staged in 1893, the play's great popularity (or notoriety) came from a single line of dialogue spoken by the character Sam Warren: "He said he'd see me in Hell first." This sort of earthy language scandalised audiences during the Mauve Decade. The play was a perennial favourite for about 20 years afterward, but is now painfully dated. (Buster Keaton and his father did a parody of 'Shore Acres' in their vaudeville turn, circa 1905.) Several of the scenes in this melodrama do not work well on stage, notably the climax in a fishing boat in a storm at sea during a dark night: this film version benefits from being able to open up such scenes, and benefits even more from the strong visual sense of director Rex Ingram.
Nat and Martin Berry are brothers, whose widowed old mother owns several acres of land on Frenchman's Bay in Maine. When the old woman dies, she wills the land to both brothers equally, on condition that they never sell it. (What happens if they break that rule? Will their mother rise from her grave and take back the land?) While Nat is away, Martin subdivides the land into building lots, believing quite reasonably and sensibly that he and Nat can make money as landlords. When Nat comes back he's scandalised: their mother envisioned the acres as farmland. Surely, tilling the soil is more sacred than making money...
There's a strong rivalry between the brothers, due to several animosities. Among other things, Nat was once in love with Martin's wife Ann, and nearly married her before she married Martin. To its vast credit, the story avoids the easy cliché of "good brother versus bad brother". Martin is more interested in money than in tradition, but he isn't a villain. I laughed heartily at one line in the inter titles. Trying to coax Nat into seconding his plan, Martin tells him: 'You will be rich ... rich enough to live in Bangor.' Of course this refers to a town in Maine: a hick town by most people's standards, but a citadel of wealth by the standards of the rustics in this movie. I laughed at this, and laughed again because it also made me think of the original Bangor, near where I live in Wales. This Bangor is also a hick town by most standards, so the line is doubly funny.
Matters are made stickier by some Maine events to add to the chowder. Martin's daughter Helen is engaged to Sam Warren, a homeopathic doctor who is also (shock! gasp!) an atheist. Helen and Sam elope in Martin's fishing smack, but they only get halfway across Frenchman's Bay before a storm endangers them. Meanwhile, Martin and Nat have a fight in the lighthouse.
By modern standards, 'Shore Acres' is a laughable and overwrought story, but this film version benefits hugely by the distinctive and naturalistic visuals of Rex Ingram. The camera-work and art direction are superb. I've no idea where Ingram shot this movie, but he convinced me that he filmed this movie's exterior sequences on authentic locations on the coast of Maine. Less successful is the acting of most of the cast, although admittedly the script and dialogue are nothing wonderful. I'll rate this movie 6 out of 10, mostly for its visuals and for Alice Lake's performance as the heroine.
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