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Over the Top

Author: boblipton from New York City
1 October 2009

SILAS MARNER would be a difficult movie to film today because of the inherent spiritual and religious issues that underlie its plot. Nominally it should have been possible to do better in 1916. However, this version is pretty much played for straight melodrama, courtesy of a script by Philip Lonergan, who certainly had a taste for it as evidenced by his other work at Thanhouser.

Usually the Broadway actors who appeared in Thanhouser's movies actually had a fairly good idea of how to act on film: they would simply give their stage-style performances, but considerably toned down. At first, Frederick Warde, in the title role, begins in this manner, but as soon as Silas is in another town, embittered, he pulls out all stops. He leers at coins and wrings his hands. He grimaces continually and simply plays it like he is thinking about how he would play the villain in BLUE JEANS on its next tour in the sticks.

This overacting is a problem with all the medium shots and close-ups. The group compositions come off better. The actors are not ungenerous with each other, and Thanhouser's unnamed cameraman shows his typical skill with composition and irising and, as usual, no money was spared on sets or costumes. But they cannot make this a good picture.

Thanhouser had already passed its peak and would collapse the following year. It had already become a back number.

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