On April 14, F.B.O. released HIS FORGOTTEN WIFE, the second Madge Bellamy vehicle produced under the Palmer Photoplay banner. This was the last of the three Palmer Photoplay films made at the Thomas Ince studio, as I outline in my biography of the producer, all of which he was closely involved in. Directed in six reels by William Sieter, shooting lasted from January 15 to February 15, 1923, for a cost of $97,773, with $37,542 charged for overhead.
Moving into the household of Corinne McRea (Maude Waye), are two married servants, the French maid Suzanne (Bellamy) and her husband John Rolfe (Warner Baxter). Corinne is surprised to recognize John as Donald Allen, her fiancée believed killed during the war in Europe. Corinne's harsh features and excessive makeup make her appearance verge on the masculine, while Suzanne's soft round face is idealized, glowing in an almost saintly manner and obviously deeply in love with John.
At a party, Corinne tries a trick, believing that Donald will recognize her, and proclaiming herself his wife. Suzanne, speaking throughout in French dialect, contradicts her: "Zat ees one big lie!" While he instinctively can find certain objects from a past otherwise buried in amnesia, Donald has no recognition of people. Corinne, to avoid humiliation, tells her guests it was all a joke, and orders John and Suzanne from the house.
That night, however, Suzanne tells John the truth: that is indeed his identity. Through several flashbacks, the background is revealed. Suzanne was Donald's nurse in a French hospital, where he was taken when wounded in combat, and did not regain his memory. There they fell in love, after she had given him the name of another missing man.
One of those at Corinne's party, Judge Hemry (Tom Guise), has the couple to his office the next day. A handwriting sample confirms his belief that John is indeed Donald, and Hemry reveals that Corinne was only his fiancée, not his wife, but to whom he left all his property in his will. By then she is already withdrawing his money and bonds from the bank. As Hemry and Donald discuss an operation, Suzanne makes herself up as a bandit and robs Corinne. Learning the surgery has begun in her absence, she turns over the money to Hemry, distraught since she believes she has lost Donald. A doctor later declares the operation a complete success, but Donald will lose all recollection of what happened in the interim, forgetting his years and marriage with Suzanne. He does go back to Corinne, who feigns devotion, but even so he senses something untrue. When Hemry takes Suzanne to Corinne's party, Donald's intuition leads him to realize who is his wife.
Certainly the far-fetched coincidence that allows the plot is the underlying drawback of HIS FORGOTTEN WIFE, yet it is simultaneously the entire premise, and thus requires acceptance. Only this fact, and the fast pace, point to the movie as a second-tier production. HIS FORGOTTEN WIFE was impressive in its sets, costumes, and several dynamic automobile chases. So too, impressively drawn intertitles add to the impression of a well-made picture, most notably one in which Suzanne's image in the corner of the intertitle emerges from nothingness as they realize their love. Baxter, already a star, gives little hint of the range or magnetism that would mark his career in sound films. Yet he is hardly the center of the story; it is Suzanne, the narrative told largely through her own perceptions of the events. Bellamy impressively captures the piquant, emotional Frenchwoman, in the slightly exaggerated manner typical of movies at this time.
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