Actor-director Rupert Julian is now remembered solely as the man credited with directing 'The Phantom of the Opera' (1925), a screen classic. But credits can be deceiving. Julian and the film's star Lon Chaney quarrelled intensely during production, to the point where Julian was removed from the set and three other directors (including Chaney himself) completed the shooting schedule. Very little of the completed 'Phantom' was directed by Rupert Julian. A screening of any other available film directed by Julian reveals him to be an uninteresting and indecisive director. "Hell's Highroad" boasts a large production budget, with costumes and sets very nearly the equal of those in 'Phantom of the Opera' ... yet the result is a lacklustre film, with a cast of experienced actors who seem uncertain of what to do next. Even the climactic struggle, with Edmund Burns on the brink of strangling Leatrice Joy, is stodgily staged and unimaginatively photographed. As for that overwrought and deceptive title, "Hell's Highroad": if you're looking for a movie about Hell, or the Devil, or satanism ... carry on looking elsewhere.
Judy Nichols (Leatrice Joy) is determined to marry a millionaire: any millionaire will do, thanks. She's actually attracted to handsome young Ron (Edmund Burns), and he returns the favour, but Ron has no money. Judy's friend Anne (Julia Faye) sets up Judy on a date with a financier. He's got the money, right enough, but Judy discovers she's not attracted to him. However, she asks him as a personal favour to use his financial expertise to make Ron rich.
SPOILERS AHEAD. Hey presto! No sooner does the projectionist change reels than Ron is suddenly a successful and wealthy stockbroker. (Easy-peasy!) Unfortunately, he's now so interested in making money that he's no longer interested in Judy. Eventually she goads him into assaulting her. At this point the intertitles develop a throb in their throat as Judy tells the enraged Ron: "Go ahead -- choke me -- I love it. I'm glad you've got blood in your veins instead of gold."
Oh, blimey! Throughout this movie, we're treated to elaborate set pieces featuring elegant gowns, posh furnishings, dinner services, and so forth. Too bad the story itself is so brainless. The actors do their best, yet seem to have no solid direction. The worst thing about this movie is its script, yet I'm certain that the exact same script would have made a better film if "Hell's Highroad" had been directed by Erich von Stroheim or Cecil B De Mille ... or even his brother William de Mille. I'll rate this movie just barely 3 out of 10, mostly because Leatrice Joy tries so hard.
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