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Thomas Ince's Expose of Yellow Journalism Produced a Year Before His Own Death
Although, like most Thomas H. Ince films of this period, HER REPUTATION is lost today, from several standpoints it is one of his most interesting productions, and representative of his favored genre, melodrama. It united Ince's primary director at the time, John Griffith Wray, and principal screenwriter, Bradley King. Most importantly, HER REPUTATION portrayed exactly the type of sensational, yellow journalism that would color Ince's own death a year later.
HER REPUTATION begins with a prologue showing the development of human communication, from cavemen to the invention of the printing press and the modern industry of the news, a mighty and unmatched force for good and evil. At the office of the San Francisco Tribune, John Covert Mansfield (played by Winter Hall), remains embittered by the faithlessness of his own wife two decades earlier. His associate, the elderly, slightly disheveled "Dad" Lawrence (James Corrigan), is more understanding of human nature. Mansfield cables ace reporter Clinton Kent (Brinsley Shaw) to get the an interview with Jacueline Lanier, who has become the latest news sensation.
At the Louisiana plantation of aging philanthropist Don Andres Miro (Eric Mayne), wedding festivities were underway for his marriage to his convent-reared ward Jacqueline (May McAvoy). As the last of an old Spanish family, with a short time to live, Miro wished Jacqueline to inherit his estate, and the marriage was to be in name only, after which Jacqueline would return to the convent. Fiery young Jack Calhoun (Casson Ferguson), furious that she is unattracted by his protestations of love, enters her room as she is dressing for the ceremony. When Andres tries to interfere, Calhoun shoots him. The first person in the room is Kent. Threatening Jacqueline with the gun he had used on Andres, Calhoun then turns it on himself. Although a witness to Calhoun's suicide, Kent senses a story and believes that a "scoop" overrides any impact on the people concerned.
However, the newspapers trumpet Kent's saga of a sensational double killing into front-page news, filled with speculation labeling her a "vamp." Heartbroken and penniless, Jacqueline flees the plantation at night, accompanied by her faithful duenna, Consuelo (Louise Lester). Sherwood Mansfield (Lloyd Hughes), son of the tycoon, is covering the Mississippi floods, and meets Jacqueline when both find refuge on top of a barn. Sherry fails to recognize his partner in distress; although he was brought up with the same distrust and bitterness for women that his father feels, Sherry's protective instincts are awakened for Jacqueline.
When they notice the newspaper Kent had given Sherry, containing his yarn about Jacqueline, Sherry begins to read it, to the distress of his companion. When they are rescued and taken to a relief station, Jacqueline finds Consuelo with the Cervanez family, entertainers who had performed at the wedding. Señora Cervanez (Eugene Besserer), her son Ramon (George Larkin), daughter Pepita (Jane Wray), and a pet monkey are traveling to San Francisco.
As the partner of Ramon, Jacqueline loses her identity dancing under a mask in various nightclubs, and finally becomes the rage at an elegant venue. However, she finds the humiliation forced upon her by the Cervanez family almost unbearable, with Ramon trying to coerce her into marriage in the belief she is an heiress.
Dad meets Jacqueline, and, convinced of her innocence, brings Sherry, who has been heartbroken over his loss of the girl in the barn. However, that same night Kent has arranged for the café to be raided by police. To save both Jacqueline and Sherry from arrest and further press coverage, Dad puts Jacqueline and Consuelo in his car and tells her to drive to his mountain cabin for safety.
On the way, Jacqueline stops at the Tribune and tells Mansfield that Kent's new story will besmirch not only her, but someone they both love. Fast driving on the mountain roads leads to an accident for Kent, and he is rescued from the flaming wreck of his car by Sherry. Kent is touched by the love between Jacqueline and Sherry, and begins to believe that something might be more important than "news," but still feels obligated to defend his story.
Meanwhile, Dad has told Mansfield of all that occurred at the café, and together they also drive to the cabin. Sherry defends Jacqueline to his father, and as a result Mansfield is won over. Outside, the wreck of Kent's car causes a forest fire, its flames paralleling the angry confrontation between father and son. The final forest fire provides a parallel danger to the earlier flood, balancing the perils, natural and man-made, in two different geographical locales.
The movie won wide plaudits from reviewers as a melodrama with sentimental appeal and plenty of action. The acting of the entire cast was praised, as were the settings, costumes, Wray's direction, and the photography, especially the spectacular flood and fire scenes. Shooting took place from November 2, 1922, to January 2, 1923, on a budget of $166,421, including $21,680 in overhead.
Although the conflict in the plot of HER REPUTATION does not sound original today, it was fresh in its time. Ince believed that such a story satisfied an audience interest, and not only dared to film a story dealing with the various phases of the newspaper game, but challenged the "Fourth Estate" to find one scene which was not accurate as to newspaper production. Today, the closest approximation of the movie is reading Talbot Mundy's movie tie-in novel commissioned by Ince, one of the relatively few truly literary works that had such a genesis.
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