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THE CIRLCE is a charming little film, full of humor and ironies.
Based on a play by Somerset Maugham, THE CIRCLE is a handsome film directed by Frank Borzage. The film opens in the 1890s as Lady Catherine is about to leave her husband (and son) and run off with her lover. The scene dissolves to 30 years later where young Elizabeth (pretty Eleanor Boardman) is facing the same decision: dull husband (Creighton Hale) or dashing lover (Malcolm McGregor). To make matters worse, Lady Catherine has been invited (along with husband) to visit! As Boardman and company get ready for their guests we get several shots of Lady Catherine and husband motoring toward the country estate. The shots are from the back. So it's a slight shock when Lady Catherine breezes into the house and goes up to McGregor, thinking he's her son. Lady Catherine (superbly played by Eugenie Besserer) is seen to be a rather silly middle-aged dowager wearing too much makeup.
As the story progresses, Boardman starts to learn a lesson in romantic folly from the fading older woman who constantly gazes at an old photograph of herself (it's actually a photo of 20-year-old Joan Crawford who also plays the young Lady Catherine one of about a half dozen films she appeared in in 1925).
Co-stars include Alec B. Francis, George Fawcett, and Eulalie Jensen.
There's the gorgeous lady and her lover;there's the husband.One night
,she leaves him in a romantic manner...
But what follows happens thirty years after.And Frank Borzage tramples the golden principles underfoot .Gone is the old cliché,as old as the hills,of the romantic lovers.The beauty has become a sour-tempered pudgy old lady while the dashing attentive escort has grown into a grumpy sullen less-than-attractive greybeard.And finally it's the cheated husband who walks out with the honors:he has kept his dignity and he will do everything to spare his son the same fate as his.The characters,mainly in the card games sequence,are vividly depicted.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Last night, the invaluable cable TV station Turner Classic Movies
premiered an early silent film in the career of director Frank Borzage:
"The Circle" (1925) that TCM host Robert Osborne felt might have been
its world television debut. In other words, it has largely remained
unseen by the general public for more than 80 years and that's a pity
because it offers much to admire in its direction and lead performance.
The plot, based on a play by W. Somerset Maugham, hinges on a fateful decision made by young Lady Catherine Cheney in the 1890s: whether or not to leave her husband for a lover, Hugh Porteous, who arouses in her a passion that has apparently eluded her in marriage to a titled fellow, Lord Clive Cheney whose country estate has been home to twelve generations. All this transpires in the first few minutes of the movie so it should be no spoiler to say that young Catherine steals off in the night with Hugh leaving her husband a note pinned to her young son, Arnold. The abandoned lad is another casualty of her decision.
Following this prologue, the scene shifts ahead 30 years to find Arnold (Creighton Hale) now wed to Elizabeth (beautiful Eleanor Boardman). She, too, has a weighty decision to make: should she also run off with a lover? To help her decide, she has invited Catherine and Hugo, now Lady and Lord Porteous, to visit after 30 years to see if their decision was the right one. Miss Boardman, whose subtle acting style offers modern-day viewers a wonderfully engaging performance, one that completely shatters the cliché that all silent acting is hopelessly overblown, even laughable for today's audiences. Best-known for such silent films as, "The Crowd," (1928) and "Souls for Sale" (1923), Miss Boardman made only a few films in the early sound era before retiring. Her speaking voice likely wasn't the problem. At M-G-M where she was under contract for much of her movie career, she had to compete for plum parts with Norma Shearer (wife of studio producer Irving Thalberg) and rising star Joan Crawford whose flapper image was more in sync with modern audiences. She also was divorced in 1931 from her first husband, M-G-M director King Vidor, which perhaps undercut her, professionally and/or personally.
Miss Crawford, by the way, appears in "The Circle" in the prologue as young lady Catherine. Clad in a period dress, she is initially barely recognizable in the part. Still, fans who watch only for Joan's bit and then tune out will cheat themselves of a mostly enjoyable comedy-drama as well as a great chuckle that director Frank Borzage could hardly have envisioned. You simply must see actress Eugenie Besserer who plays Joan Crawford's role when her character is thirty years older. We all know, after all, what Joan Crawford looked like in 1955, thirty years after this silent film was made (see, "Queen Bee" or "Female on the Beach").
Director Frank Borzage is the film's other "star." Once past the dramatic opening, we're hardly ready for his little bits of staging (pay attention to Lord Cheney's shotgun, for example) that reveal the inherent comedy which could have easily been missed in other hands. Some may find Maugham's plotting in screenwriter Kenneth B. Clarke's hands a distant cousin of a later film, Ingmar Bergman's "Smiles of a Summer Night," (made 30 years later, in 1955, by the way) which was pleasingly transformed into the marvelous Stephen Sondheim musical, "A Little Night Music." I suspect the Sondheim connection was recognized by Garth Neustadter who composed the film's appealing score for this TCM print, a swirling symphony of waltzes with sudden bouts of dramatic tension that perfectly captures the heightened emotions of the characters.
Although the film is brief, at about 66 minutes, the story seems fully realized, with the exception of the Alice Shenstone character whose functional presence eludes meaning. Perhaps she had more to do in the play. Of the film's ending, surely it is best to say that it may not be for all tastes. If it disappoints you, as it did me just a little, at least the ride there (with director Borzage driving an exhilarating Boardman performance) may still make you very glad you tagged along.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
As a starlet Joan Crawford would have been every studio's dream, her
co-operation as far as studio photos and eagerness to please in
publicity shoots became legendary. Unlike a lot of actresses she
believed that photos got one noticed and she was right. For only her
second role, her mentor Harry Rapf found her a part that was sure to
get her noticed. "The Circle", adapted from a Somerset Maugham play and
directed by rising director Frank Borzage was in reality a vehicle for
Eleanor Boardman but Joan (her new name had become official at the time
of the movie's release) had the pivotal role of Young Lady Catherine in
the prologue, which was set in England in 1895.
When Hugh Porteous persuades Lady Catherine to elope with him he tells her she will never regret the step she is about to take. She leaves behind her husband and her little boy, Arnold (Creighton Hale) who is revealed when the main story gets under way as a fussy, old before his time and "a thorough old maid" - as whispered by his exasperated wife, Elizabeth (beautiful Eleanor Boardman). Events have come full circle and Elizabeth is contemplating running off with bounder Teddy Luton (Malcolm McGregor)!! Unbeknownst to everyone, she has organised a visit from her mother in law and Lord Porteous as she wants to see for herself how "runaway love" has endured after 30 years!! Arnold is not looking forward to it and there is a very whimsical scene where Lord Clive (Alec B. Francis) the unsuspecting "jilted" husband comes in and everyone is frantically trying to take his hunting gun off him. When he finally finds out who the visitors are to be he is quite calm about it and remembers the Catherine he knew as "sweet, frail and exquisitely lovely"!!!
As played by Eugenie Besserer "Kitty" is crude, loud, proud of her bleached hair and wouldn't be out of place as hostess of a pub!!! The husband Hugh (George Fawcett) is an irritable complainer and during a game of bridge they snip and snipe at each other and make everyone else uncomfortable. I thought Teddy would be frightened off the elopement and show his true colors but Elizabeth comes across the couple in a quiet moment and realises that they love each other very much, so it is up to Arnold to be a "man not a mouse" and show Elizabeth that her future lies with him.
This was a really nice little movie and Eleanor Boardman proved she was a quiet achiever - not a flashy star but a dependable actress who added class and dignity to all her roles!!
In an opening flashback to the late 1890s, we see Joan Crawford (in a
small early role, as young Catherine) deciding to leave her husband and
run away with a lover. Thirty years later, the son she left behind is
married to beautiful Eleanor Boardman (as Elizabeth). Like her
mother-in-law, Ms. Boardman is contemplating running away with a lover
- handsome Malcolm McGregor (as Edward "Teddy" Luton). Mistakenly
thinking her father-in-law will be absent for the duration, Boardman
has invited older lovers Eugenie Besserer and George Fawcett (as
Catherine "Kitty" and Hugh "Hughie" Porteous) over for a visit...
"I want to see how runaway love wears after thirty years, If they're still happy, then "
Naturally, original deserted husband Alec B. Francis (as Clive Cheney) arrives home unexpectedly. More startling surprises follow. Reportedly, MGM changed the ending of the original W. Somerset Maugham play; it is still amusing, but the alteration no longer fits the story's thesis. This is evident in the final scenes with Ms. Besserer and Mr. Fawcett, who act up a storm. Boardman, stuffy husband Creighton Hale (as Arnold Cheney) and the others are fine, too. There is outstanding work from director Frank Borzage, photographer Chester A. Lyons and the "Cheney Castle" MGM production crew. Happily, a beautiful print survives.
******* The Circle (9/22/25) Frank Borzage ~ Eleanor Boardman, Eugenie Besserer, George Fawcett, Malcolm McGregor
The Circle (1925)
** 1/2 (out of 4)
Frank Borzage's mix of comedy and drama has Elizabeth Cheney (Eleanor Boardman) wanting to leave her husband for her better lover but the woman knows that her husband's mother did the same thing to his father thirty years earlier. At a weekend party, the husband's mother, who he hasn't seen since she left, comes for a visit and is bringing the lover along as Elizabeth wants to see what would happen if she ran away. THE CIRCLE is something that I'm really not sure how to describe. I wouldn't call it a good movie but I think it has some fairly interesting aspects but it also had some downright weird moments. I'm really not sure what Borzage was trying for here unless he was just wanting to show that everything comes full circle. The first portion of the film is clearly a drama and things are going this direction throughout the majority of the movie but then it turns to a comedy when we're in current days. The mother's lover is a complete loud mouth who is constantly complaining about everything. This comedy attempt is the way the film says that it's best to stay who you're with but making an example out of this guy really served no purpose. Even stranger from the film is that his character is constantly cussing but in the intertitles they have certain letters marked out. Hell becomes "H--l" and damn becomes "D--m" and so on. The performances in the film are all over the place but Boardman is extremely good in the lead role and she does receive nice support from Malcolm McGregor and Alec Francis. George Fawcett appears as the obnoxious lover and we even seen a very young Joan Crawford playing the mother during the opening sequences. THE CIRCLE isn't going to appeal to everyone and it's mostly silent film buffs who will take the most from it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Although that staunch romanticist, Frank Borzage, could not resist changing the conclusion of Maugham's play, this is a most entrancing and enjoyable movie with a cast of well-delineated and thoroughly believable characters, superbly enacted by a really engaging group of players led by Eugenie Besserer, George Fawcett and the charismatic Alec B. Francis. And although he is not exactly what you would call "engaging", Creighton Hale is perfect as the fusspot husband of our lovely heroine, Eleanor Boardman. I guess Joan Crawford's fans might feel short-changed, but this was only the fourth of her 104 credits, and even at this stage, she still makes quite an impression. As might be expected from M-G-M, the large sets are perfection plus and the photography absolutely outstanding. The uncredited make-up men also deserve praise. Even the ill-fitting wig worn by Miss Besserer is absolutely perfect for the character she plays with such gusto and panache. Available on an excellent Warner Archive DVD.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This MGM film, directed by Frank Borzage (7th HEAVEN, STREET ANGEL,
etc.), and adapted from a stage play by Somerset Maugham, is a prime
example of the drawing-room drama. The sets are sumptuous, the actors
beautiful, the set-up intriguing, but the finish is a complete cop-out.
I'm not familiar with Maugham's play, but from what I understand, the
story does not end the way this filmed version does. In fact, the
carefully established symmetry of the narrative (i.e. the "circle"
alluded to by the title) is completely undone by Borzage's forced
To his credit, Borzage engages in some elegant direction, mostly successful in the difficult task of making a stage play visually interesting on film. The cast also aids in making this comedy-drama appealing. Special mention should be made of the actors making up the "older" generation (Alec B. Francis, George Fawcett, and Eugenie Besserer). Their characters are in fact much more interesting and sympathetic than those of their younger counterparts. The standout scene is the one where Besserer wistfully looks at a picture of herself as she was 30 years earlier (the younger version of her character is played by an uncredited Joan Crawford), and Fawcett's somewhat surprising response. There's real humanity on display in that scene.
Eleanor Boardman does fine work, as usual, and looks lovely, but her character's motivations are somewhat vague. Creighton Hale's rather milquetoast character doesn't allow for much view sympathy, and Malcolm McGregor's character--well, he's certainly handsome, but that's about it.
What remains are some somewhat amusing scenes played for laughs (the gun scene, the bridge scene), a lot of talk through intertitles (I can imagine the stage play must have been quite witty), and a completely inexplicable conclusion. Really, I was following this storyline very closely until the end, when it just left me baffled. Too bad, because this would have been a nice chamber drama if the ending hadn't been sanitized.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Two years before his big break at Fox with Seventh Heaven, Borzage was one of the few directors who had a trial run at the newly-formed MGM. And just as the others(Benjamin Christensen, Josef VonSternberg, Dmitri Buchowetzki)he was more or less fired after more or less completing a picture, which was assigned to him by his bosses. This is adapted from a successful play, which might be surprising for a silent, although it was not rare, and it features the improbable Creighton Hale as the hero of a multi-layered love triangle: on the day she might flee with the family's best friend, the wife of a boring but wealthy man(Hale) invites her mother-in-law, who fled with her husband's best friend 30 years ago, to come back to the family castle, in order to ask her if her own intention is worthwhile. Although she looks 50 years older(As does her beau)the mother somewhat convinces the young woman, who flees, but... the husband catches her back. This was meant to be comedy, and it is not very good as such, but the interest is of course the possibility to see the future director of Seventh Heaven or Lucky Star deal with the theme of love and its consequences and inject his own treatment of love matters into this brew. It is clear from the outset that, although it is meant to be a comedy, the passion elements are treated seriously, and the dilemma is all the more remarkable that we never feel the heroine's intention to commit adultery and escape her husband as a sin. We are in Borzageland, the country in which love has all the power. So, however flawed, this little film is worth a viewing, considering that the man who directed it would very soon become a genius.
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