'The Unknown Purple' is a VERY odd science-fiction film, with plot elements resembling 'The Count of Monte Cristo', 'He Who Gets Slapped', 'The Invisible Man', Tod Browning's 'Devil Doll' and Jack London's 'The Shadow and the Flash'. I screened a nitrate print of this film, in which all the frames in the invisibility sequences had been (partially or completely) stained purple ... but the stain had long since darkened the film stock, rendering the action on screen invisible for quite the wrong reason. Also, the original English-language intertitles had been cut out, and French translations spliced in. The action keeps jumping backward and forward in time, very confusingly: some scenes take place BEFORE scenes which have preceded them, and other scenes take place DURING previous scenes. I can't tell if this is actually part of the film's structure, or if the sequences were put in the wrong order when the French titles were added.
According to the opening credits, 'The Unknown Purple' is based on a stage play. I'd like to know how the invisibility scenes were handled onstage.
Henry B. Walthall plays Marchmont, an impoverished inventor who has somehow captured ultra-violet rays and converted them into crystals. When he holds one of these crystals in his hand and presses it with his thumb, he (and all his clothes) can turn invisible. Unfortunately, the invisibility effect emits a cone of purple light. So, Marchmont can turn invisible any time he likes, but wherever he goes he'll attract attention with his purple glow.
Marchmont's wife and his business partner Dawson betray him. When Burton (yet another inventor) creates a gizmo that is sure to be a commercial success, Dawson and Mrs Marchmont murder him and steal his gizmo, then live off the profits while they frame Marchmont for the theft and murder. Marchmont can't prove his innocence, so he serves a long prison sentence but is eventually released.
Years later, Dawson and Jewel Marchmont are wealthy. (Alice Lake, as the faithless wife, is very pretty in medium shot ... but, in close-ups -- even with the damaged film stock in this nitrate print -- we can see that her eyes are two different colours.) After Marchmont is released from prison, a mysterious burglar named the Unknown Purple suddenly strikes. Of course, it's Marchmont in disguise ... or, rather, invisible entirely. No, not quite entirely. Somehow, Marchmont is able to render himself invisible all over except for one hand, so that he can spook his ex-wife with the sight of a disembodied hand moving through a cone of purple light. The bodiless hand snatches the pearl necklace from Jewel's throat. But what good is invisibility if you keep one hand visible (clutching visible pearls) while you make your getaway?
Into the scene comes a French financier named Cromport. He looks rather different from Marchmont, but they're both obviously played by the same actor (Walthall). At first, I thought that Cromport was Marchmont in a fake beard, although Walthall (a very mannered actor) does a fine job of giving them two different personalities. When I rumbled that Cromport and Marchmont were two different people, of course it was obvious straight away that Marchmont would eventually impersonate Cromport. Sure enough...
I shan't rate this film, as the print which I viewed was in such bad condition that I feel it would be unfair of me to form any opinion. But what I saw here was intriguing enough to make me want to view a better print. Still, some parts of this story don't seem to make any sense.
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