The Changing Roles of Women and Marriage in the 1920s
On October 12, 1924, Christine of the Hungry Heart was released by First National. Producer Thomas Ince had selected the Kathleen Norris story to film even as it was being serialized in Hearst's International Magazine as "The Love Story of a Restless Woman." With production beginning in April, it took roughly eight months to bring to the screen at a cost of $185,408.
Ince wanted to film other stories initially appearing in Hearst journals; the rights to Christine of the Hungry Heart had cost $25,000. This was, ironically, one of the reasons for Ince and Hearst to meet aboard his yacht in November 1924, which ended tragically when the filmmaker, already ill with ulcers and angina, would be taken fatally ill.
John Griffith Wray had been the first choice to direct Christine of the Hungry Heart, but the First National release was helmed in eight reels by George Archainbaud. Archainbaud, who had inquired about joining Associated Producers, producer Thomas Ince's short-lived 1920-21 organization, remained to direct two more Ince productions, The Mirage and Enticement.
Bradley King's adaptation of Christine of the Hungry Heart related how the title character (Florence Vidor) is spurned by her drunken husband, Stuart (Warner Baxter), for another woman. Christine thereby gains her divorce and marries her wealthy, aristocratic physician, Alan (played by Clive Brook in the first of several films for Ince). They have a son, but when her new husband leaves her to assist a patient she is enraged. She finds companionship with the unsympathetic writer Ivan (Ian Keith), and they elope to Rio, accompanied by her son. Alan gains custody of the boy, and Christine decides to care for the desperately ill Stuart. Just before his death, Alan and their child convince their mother to reunite the family.
Wray explained that with Anna Christie, a new type of screen woman had emerged, who was found in Ince melodramas, as I outline in my Ince biography.
"The woman who sins is the woman who holds deepest interest for the screen audience of the day ... Time was when only the sweet young thing could find any place in the film world as a heroine. But the taste of audiences has matured with the more complex psychology of the day and a woman who once would have been labeled a shameless creature will prove ... acceptable ... Audiences will forgive a woman almost anything providing she acts under emotional strain. Men are coming to realize that women go through emotional stresses which practically are unknown to males. They can sympathize with a woman even if she breaks a cardinal commandment providing there was no mental calculation before she acted. But an audience never forgives a woman who sins after mental conflict, for then they feel she is a cold-hearted, calculating, malevolent creature. "
Christine of the Hungry Heart was the logical culmination of a trend that had been clear since Ince's What a Wife Learned, and was promoted in Ince publicity as indicative of the "new" woman and love, her privileges and the results of emancipation, suggesting that the issue of gender roles "is more vital than that of the League of Nations or any other discussion that fills the front page columns of the daily press." "Marriage," it was noted, "under the complex conditions of the twentieth century, has become one of the outstanding problems of the day ."
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