A Correspondence School Expands Into Production, With Almost Predictable Results
The Palmer Photoplay Corporation had the most extensive correspondence training organization in the nation for aspiring scriptwriters, publishing numerous texts on how to turn a story into a scenario, and the proper technique and form it should take. Thomas Ince's support of Palmer was part of his long-standing willingness to solicit screenplay submissions from amateurs. In mid 1922, Palmer decided to expand into filmmaking, in quiet association with Ince, with the films to be distributed by F.B.O., an arrangement approved because of Ince's interest.
Author of Judgment of the Storm was Ethel Styles Middleton, an intelligent, ambitious "housewife," spouse of a Pennsylvania factory worker, who learned the technique of photoplay writing from the Educational Department of the Palmer Photoplay Corporation. Nearly three months were spent in filming. Joseph DeGrasse had begun directing in February, 1923, including winter location photography in Truckee, and farms around Los Angeles. Various delays arose, including his illness, and he was replaced by Del Andrews, under contract to Ince, while Frank Geraghty continued as assistant director. In June notice appeared that photography had been completed and the movie was in the editing phase. With a length of seven reels, the cost was $123,134.
Palmer publications acknowledged the contributions gained by shooting at the Ince studio with the expertise of his organization. Kate Corbaley, coauthor of the continuity, recalled that Ince himself "pulled it out of a hole by directing the big scenes himself and spending weeks editing it ...." At the center of Judgment of the Storm was love between mother and son (Hughes), and his need to prove worthy of Mary (Lucille Ricksen). Two key dramatic scenes provide a test of character. One is the gambling house, managed by the hero's mother, through which she has supported him, but as a result of its immorality, Mary's brother is accidentally killed there. Atonement is achieved in a terrible snow storm where the hero willingly endangers his life to secure forgiveness of her family. As the original reader noted, "it was the idea of the self-imposed sentence which 'sold' the story." In a denouement compared by critics to D.W. Griffith's Way Down East (1920), John rescues Mary's younger twin siblings, finding them protected by his mother. At her request he leaves her behind, but in a display of moral piety, manages to get back in time to save her life as well. Despite the unreality, it was "extraordinarily gripping," noted Variety.
On January 6, 1924, Judgment of the Storm was released and in first run theaters averaged extra long runs among the best independent exhibitors. By July 25, Palmer claimed that Judgment of the Storm had grossed $236,000, but a series of loans from Ince, who had already invested over $75,000, left Palmer with only a 15% interest remaining, as I outline in my Ince biography. The movie was rewarded in Motion Picture News with a place on the "Honor Roll" for 1924, and Corbaley recalled that it was the 8th biggest box office success of the year. Despite the degree of responsibility that Ince undertook for the three films, by 1925 Palmer Photoplay Corporation would fold in the wake of its unsuccessful attempt to expand into production.
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