A heartwarming melodrama with exciting train sequences.
Columbia Pictures Corporation was still a young Poverty Row contender in 1925 when The Danger Signal, one of at least 21 productions shot by the studio that year, was released. Originally named CBC Film Sales for its founders, brothers Harry and Jack Cohn and attorney Jack Brandt, the motion picture company was soon given the nickname of "Corned Beef & Cabbage" by rivals in the field, much to the mortification of Harry who pushed for the more dignified moniker. In the three years since the company was formed, they had become successful enough to purchase two stages and an office building on Sunset Blvd. Trade ads from this period boast, "Every picture will have a box office cast!" While Dorothy Revier and Robert Gordon might not have been in the same league with Pickford and Fairbanks, their faces were certainly familiar to audiences of the day. Indeed, Revier was named a WAMPAS Baby star in 1925, an honor bestowed by the Western Association of Motion Picture Advertisers to thirteen young women they believed to be the most promising up-and-comers that year. Gordon had costarred with a Pickford (Mary's brother Jack) in Tom Sawyer (1917) and Huck and Tom (1918) as Huckleberry Finn and hadn't been out of work since. Jane Novak (who was interestingly a year younger than Gordon, who played her son) was no slouch either, having appeared in 60 or more films before The Danger Signal, sharing the bill with such notable leading men as William S. Hart, Hobart Bosworth, Tom Mix and Lewis Stone.
Once believed to be a lost film (according to the "Lost Film Files" page on the Silents are Golden web site), a nitrate print of The Danger Signal was purchased by the Library of Congress from a private collector in 2003 and a duplicate negative and safety print were struck this year. The original nitrate material is about 900 feet short of the 5502' listed in the AFI catalog and for reasons that can only be guessed at, scenes were put together wildly out of order. After the safety print was made, it was cut and reassembled into sequence, a job not unlike putting together a jigsaw puzzle without the benefit of the picture on the box. Descriptions of the story in publications from the time (Harrison's Reports and Exhibitors Weekly) proved to be sketchy at best and inaccurate (getting even the character's names wrong) at worst. Harrison's and Variety both praised the acting and direction of the film however, with the former stating that those attributes " lifted it well out of the class of average productions." The story is a melodrama sort of Stella Dallas meets The Corsican Brothers. A recently widowed and destitute young mother (Jane Novak) appeals to her wealthy and heartless father-in-law (Robert Edeson) for financial aid. Instead, he convinces her to hand over her new baby to his care so that the child will be brought up with "everything money can buy." Unbeknownst to the grandfather, we learn that there are twin sons and our heroine keeps one baby to raise herself. The narrative jumps ahead to the boy's twenty-first birthday and we see what's become of them. Not surprisingly, the wealthy son has grown up spoiled and greedy while the poor one works hard and loves his mother.
Some special moments to watch for are the rich son's enormous birthday cake complete with a model train circling it, a tender moment when Novak strokes her lost son's discarded glove and remembers caressing his hand when he was an infant, and an exciting runaway train sequence near the end that will have you biting your nails.
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