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A young orphan girl, courted by an unpleasant older wealthy man who has a hold over her adoptive mother, falls in love with a young stranger at a party. Odd noises begin to be heard as a group of bootleggers clandestinely try to get away with their hidden loot. One of them is killed and the young man is suspected of being the killer. Written by
Doug Sederberg <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Like so many D.W. Griffith films, "One Exciting Nigh": has an informative subtitle, so "A Comedy Drama of Mystery" opens in "somber Africa", where the origin of Carol Dempster (as Agnes Harrington) is shown. Moreover, title cards advise viewers to watch the film's beginning scenes with intensity. It's good advice. Indeed, the well-designed plot unfolds in layers; and, the film's characterizations are a great strength. The drama centers on Ms. Dempster, and two suitors - Henry Hull (as John Fairfax) and Morgan Wallace (as J. Wilson Rockmaine). Dempster has accepted a proposal of marriage to Mr. Wallace; not for love, but to save her foster mother from scandal; Wallace witnessed Mrs. Harrington (Margaret Dale) steal a watch, as the Harrington family faced financial ruin. Then, Dempster catches Mr. Hull's eye; and, the two fall desperately in love
Intricate, imaginative storytelling, and direction from Griffith, who weaves his characters into the standard mysterious "Old Dark House" formula, involving, of course, money and murder. The film's strong performances are tainted by some disturbingly offensive racial stereotypes. For example, the depiction of ambition among black-faced Porter Strong (as Romeo Washington), introduced in his listless "colored" community, is bound to leave you stone-faced. At least Mr. Strong's rolling bug-eyed "darkie" will provide a classic example of a racist character "type", if you're interested. However, such depictions taint an otherwise excellent, near indispensable, Griffith film.
Dempster was not always well-served by mentor Griffith; but, herein, she excels. Her awkwardly beautiful, and naively vulnerable character offered Dempster one of her best roles; and, it is delivered at a time when she had the silent acting prowess necessary for a leading role. Hull is outstanding as her leading man; a thoroughly believable young romantic, he makes their relationship work. Watch for the great courtship scene with Hull, Dempster, and her parasol; it defines their young, innocent love. Wallace is fine as the man who comes between them. Smaller roles, like Charles Mack's turn as an unfortunate houseguest, are likewise expertly played. "One Exciting Night" is perhaps too long; but, Griffith keeps thing moving, and little seems superfluous. The close-to-the-edge and ending scenes could blow you away.
******** One Exciting Night (10/2/22) D.W. Griffith ~ Carol Dempster, Henry Hull, Morgan Wallace, Charles Emmett Mack
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