|Page 1 of 2:|| |
|Index||11 reviews in total|
I just saw this film as part of TCM's Women Pioneers in Film series. I
heard a lot about Dorothy Davenport Reid's moral crusade, and was
a dry and preachy kind of film. However, the film hardly ever bogs down
into preachiness and has enough dramatic momentum to move things along at
good clip. Priscilla Bonner, whom I had only seen in "It", does an
excellent job as Gabrielle--we feel sympathy for her plight but she never
bogs down in pathos.
This film was the subject of a landmark California lawsuit. Gabrielle Darley was a former prostitute who had been involved in a prominent murder trial in which she was acquitted. After the trial, she reformed and led an exemplary life. The film makers used her true name in advertising the film and said it was about her life. They also used events from her life prior to the trial. She sued for invasion of privacy, a suit that had been recognized in other states but not in California. Although the California Court of Appeal was not ready to recognize the right of privacy, it held that use of her name and events from her life was a violation of Darley's right to the pursuit of happiness as guaranteed by the California Constitution. The precedent evolved into eventual recognition of the right to privacy in California. (See, Melvin v Reid, 112 Cal. App. 285)
This silent was extremly racy for it's time. The director was known for making controversy with her films. The movie takes a look at a woman who is a prostitute. There is some wonderful acting performed in this film & it's one that should never be forgotton...but thats what true art is all about. Classic scene's between Priscilla Bonner & co-star Nellie Bly Baker(former secretary of Charlie Chaplin.) I give this movie a 7.
Walter Lang directs this gripping if somewhat contrived saga adapted by
Dorothy Arzner from a story by Adela Rogers St. Johns about fallen
woman Gabrielle Darley (Priscilla Bonner). The first moments are
bizarre, as we see Mrs. Wallace Reid (nee Dorothy Davenport), the
film's producer, turning the pages of a bound collection of archival
newspapers from 1917; she pauses at a story about Darley. She then
turns to the camera and "talks" to the audience. This being a silent
film, of course, we hear nothing but see her spoken words as text. I
have never seen this device in a silent film before.
We then enter the Darley saga at mid-point in the red light district of New Orleans as the heroine learns from a fellow prostitute that the man who lured her into sin (Carl Miller) has deserted her to go to Los Angeles to get married. After some embarrassingly awkward histrionics by Bonner, whose emoting improves remarkably as the story progresses, we see her in the streets of L.A. and bingo, she just happens to run into Miller at a jeweler's shop as he is about to buy a wedding ring for the other woman! (Perhaps continuity scenes were filmed but cut here.) She confronts him, he shrugs her off as if her sudden appearance from hundreds of miles away is minor and unsurprising annoyance, she shoots him on the spot, sinks to her knees in penitent prayer and is promptly arrested and sent to jail.
Her case becomes a cause celebre, attracting hordes of curious sensation seekers, among whom is a then-common social-uplift type (Virginia Pearson) which was also satirized in Griffith's "Intolerance," who takes Darley in as a sort of trophy to show her trendy friends. And we are gradually drawn into the plight of this character by good acting, excellent photography (despite a few lapses into proscenium arch-ism), vivid characters as we root for Darley whose efforts to redeem herself seem to be crushed at every turn due to societal disapproval of her sordid past. Overall, the fashions and hairdos are very 1925 despite the fact that the whole story wraps up by 1917. In the beautifully preserved print I saw there is an appropriate and unobtrusive score by the prolific Robert Israel. The title derives from a hand- tinted garment owned by Darley which plays no important role in the story and seems to be a crude attempt at symbolism.
"The Red Kimona" is a film created to explore a social evil; it's one
of a series of pictures made for that purpose in the early days of
cinema. (See the work of director Lois Weber for additional examples.)
It's not a movie for everybody--viewers looking for pure entertainment
will prefer the slapstick comedies or adventure stories of the silent
era--but for those interested in social history, and able to take the
picture on its own old-fashioned terms, it's a very watchable if
melodramatic film, with excellent production values and a fine cast.
(In fact, I didn't mean to watch the whole thing in one sitting, but
had trouble turning it off.)
I loved Priscilla Bonner in the main role (she's best known today for a supporting part in Clara Bow's "It," but also does one of the most heartfelt close-ups I've ever seen on film in Harry Langdon's "The Strong Man"). Her character changes convincingly as the story goes through several years--at one point Bonner seems to age before the audience's eyes as her character faces a tough choice. The camera-work and lighting are very striking, and certainly work to help Bonner's performance. A few sequences make good use of on-the-spot locations, like the Giant Dipper roller coaster at (I believe) the Venice, CA amusement pier, and the downtown streets of Los Angeles. The supporting players all look interesting and do well. I agreed with another reviewer that the costumes were a little confusing, since they appear to be from the early 1920's although the film is set in 1917. They don't all quite look like the fashions of 1925, when the film was released, but they don't seem totally pre-war either. (The title refers to a dressing gown the heroine wears.) But period costume authenticity was something that wouldn't really be established until later in film history.
Modern viewers may have difficulty with some details of the plot, as I did. Because of the censorship laws of the time, the filmmakers presumably weren't allowed to mention the word "prostitution," so it took me a little while to figure out exactly what was going on. But it eventually became clear.
The Kino DVD release has a pleasant, low-key piano soundtrack by Robert Israel that I really enjoyed.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
When Dorothy Davenport's husband, Wallace Reid, died of narcotic
addiction in 1923, she turned her hand to directing and producing,
starting with "Human Wreckage" (1923), dealing with the evils of drug
addiction, then on to "The Red Kimona" about prostitution. The film was
based on the sensational 1918 trial of Gabrielle Darley.
The film begins with a prologue as a woman implores us to heed the story of Gabrielle Darley (Priscilla Bonner) - who has already been abandoned by Harold. She follows him to Los Angeles, where she finds him buying a wedding ring for another unfortunate girl. She shoots him and is then bought to trial. She was a sweet country girl who is the family drudge. She is an easy target for Harold (Carl Miller) - she desperately craves affection and is too innocent to realise his talk of marriage and a home is all lies. He takes her to New Orleans where she endures years of bondage and hardship, she wants to imagine a wedding veil but all she can see is a red kimona.
After the trial she is "taken up" by Mrs. Fontaine (Virginia Pearson), a do-gooder society lady who parades Gabrielle around her social set like a prize pet. When the novelty wears off, she sends Gabrielle out alone. "For the first time in 20,000 miles the Fontaine limousine heads toward Ford territory" - meaning Fred, the chauffeur, takes Gabrielle to a fun fair. There are some wonderful scenes of Rainbow Pier Amusement Park and their giant roller-coaster. She finds herself falling in love with Fred but then Mrs. Fontaine tires of her and gives her a recommendation to the County Hospital (Gabrielle has confessed her dream of becoming a nurse). The head of the hospital however, has heard of her notoriety and can't hire her. She looks for work but can't escape her past until, finally desperate, she wires to the New Orleans brothel for money to return. Fred goes looking for her but at the last minute they miss each other - she is involved in a car accident and Fred, in his determination to find her, advises the driver not to stop and help. Gabrielle finally realises her dream to work in a hospital when, as war is declared, there is a shortage of nurses to tend the wounded. Fred, in the meantime, has enlisted and at the film's end they find each other.
After the 1918 court case, the real Gabrielle Darley "abandoned her life of shame and began to live what the court called a "righteous life". No one knew about her scandalous past - until 1925 when the movie "The Red Kimona" was released, telling the sordid story of her life and what's worse, using her right name (Dorothy Davenport did not secure Gabrielle's permission to use her story or her name.) Her identity was now known and she bought a lawsuit against the movie makers. It was one of the first "right to privacy" actions and the court sided with her and the right of decent people to start over again and begin a new life. She also had a brilliant attorney, Earl Rogers (Adela Rogers St. John's father) who was very flamboyant and was also (supposedly) the model Earl Stanley Gardner used for his fictional character Perry Mason. Priscilla Bonner was not a particularly vibrant leading lady and retired at the end of the twenties when she married. This movie is definitely her best known - she was also Clara Bow's downtrodden friend in "It" and was Harry Langdon's leading lady in two of his better comedies "Long Pants" and "The Strong Man". The marvelous George Siegmann had a brief bit as a very nasty customer.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The Red Kimono is a story about the white slave trade and supposedly the
true story of Gabrielle Darley. Gabrielle is seeing a boyfriend, her
rats her out to Pops, but he thinks it's all right cause if she gets
to him he won't have to feed her. Blinded by love she gets dumped by her
boyfriend at a brothel in New Orleans, she manages to get away from the
saucy Madame, and travels across the country in search of him. She finds
buying a wedding dress for his new sweetie, and shoots him dead. Finding
nowhere to go she returns to New Orleans but is saved from going back to
brothel by getting hit by a car. Eventually she is re-united by her true
love, a chauffeur to Mrs. Fontaine a 'high society' broad.
Mrs. Wallace Reid did this film to follow on on a previous film called 'Human Wreckage'. This film was also supposed to be set in pre-WW1 days but clearly has a 20's look and feel to it.
"The Red Kimona", a film directed by Herr Walter Lang, is a curious
film production who deals with subjects (prostitution, crime and social
discrimination) that were not very commonly in 1926 when this film
production was made.
The film it is based in a true story from 1917, that depicts the miserable life of Dame Grabielle (Priscilla Bonner), a town girl, young and innocent, who is fooled by her lover into prostitution in New Orleans. Gabrielle will spend many sorrowful years until one day when, knowing that her lover is going to marry another, shoots him. She will be absolved by her crime, but it won't be easy to start a new life. Society will place many restrictions on her (she would like to wipe out the past by another kind of service for men, nursing this time ). She will try to find a job but it is very difficult if you have not references (not a problem for the German aristocracy, the references if not the idea of actually working ). The manager always knows that you have been in jail. She is adopted by a wealthy society matron who is only interested in Gabrielle for her publicity but fortunately and finally loves will conquer all.
The story is about broken innocence and shattered dreams skilfully directed by Herr Lang. Different parts and aspects can be outlined in this movie: the first part of the film depicts in flashback the origins of Grabrielle's fall (in love and prostitution). From then on, the film denounces the social hypocrisy towards Gabrielle, the great difficulties that she will find in order to live a normal life which almost will end up with her again in New Orleans not a terrible fact at all that city itself but the bordello. Dame Priscilla Bonner is perfect in her restrained performance, painting an excellent portrait of abandoned but fighting woman.
The film includes a thrilling finale with misunderstandings and crossed fates that give the story motion and emotion. Probably the only thing lacking in this excellent oeuvre are Biblical references (Gabrielle as a modern Magdalen) It is intended to serve as a warning, maybe a comprehensible fact this when we know that the film was produced by Dame Mrs. Wallace Reid And now, if you'll allow me, I must temporarily take my leave because this German Count has an appointment with a Teutonic Dame, not dame Herr Graf Ferdinand Von Galitzien http://ferdinandvongalitzien.blogspot.com/
In a newspaper's office, Dorothy Davenport (aka Mrs. Wallace Reid)
opens a bound volume and looks up the tragic 1917 story of Gabrielle
Darley. The "beautiful, almost child-like girl" suffered an unfortunate
tragedy, Mrs. Reid explains. Next we flashback to New Orleans and meet
this story's unlikely heroine, pretty Priscilla Bonner (as Gabrielle).
She sighs sadly because the man she loves, Carl Miller (as Howard
Blaine), has gone to Los Angeles with another woman. Prompting the
tragedy in the newspaper story, Ms. Bonner goes to Los Angeles and
confronts Mr. Miller. Additional flashbacks show Bonner had an unhappy
childhood and was lured into prostitution by Miller...
Self-serving socialite Virginia Pearson (as Beverly Fontaine) helps our heroine. Bonner may find true love, at last, with the older woman's chauffeur Theodore von Eltz (as Terrance "Freddy" O'Day). But her sordid past threatens their happiness.
This B&W feature uses red in a few scenes, mostly to symbolize shameful sex. The first touch of red is startling when it appears on Bonner's Kimona. We also see a red "A" on Bonner's chest, which we is meant to associate her with Hester Prynne from Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Scarlet Letter". The color is most often shines in the film's "red light district" (for prostitutes)...
"The Red Kimona" is otherwise notable as director Walter Lang's first film. Still, Ms. Davenport is the main filmmaker. She was the widow of beloved box-office star Wallace Reid, who died in 1923 due to the aftereffects of a train crash. His name was still a draw; and, herein, Davenport uses the bold credit "Mrs. Wallace Reid". Bonner is expressive in close-ups and Mr. Von Eltz is charming as the chauffeur. Their courtship scenes are a highlight for the cast and crew. However, considering the lurid topic, "The Red Kimona" is remarkably sluggish and hesitating. In an unfortunate postscript, the real Gabrielle Darley sued Mrs. Wallace Reid for a small fortune and won her case.
*** The Red Kimona (1925-11-16) Walter Lang ~ Priscilla Bonner, Theodore von Eltz, Dorothy Davenport, Carl Miller
"The Red Kimona" is a social commentary film that in some ways is very,
very, very old fashioned and hokey. Interestingly, on the other hand,
it also manages to be very modern in its sensibilities as well! This
odd combination of the old and new make for a film that is interesting
to watch but not exactly a must-see as far as silent films are
The film is a piece of social commentary. The subject of the film is a young woman who comes from a horrible home. Her mother and father are wretched jerks and she's longing for love. When she meets a man who says he loves her and wants to marry her, she's thrilled--not knowing that he has no such intentions. Instead, he forces himself on her and then keeps her as a virtual slave. She eventually escapes and later kills him when she discovers he's about to do this same thing to another woman. All this happens early in the film and most of the plot actually involves her life after these tragedies--and how society often fails women like this--treating them like lepers instead of victims. In fact, it's rather frank discussion of this is quite shocking for the times and must have raised a few eyebrows! The movie is interesting due to its social advocacy as well as the sensationalistic actions. However, despite this, the movie also is very preachy (with lots of Biblical references that seem a bit out of place and heavy-handed) and very conventional--like a 19th century play. As a result, it's interesting more as a curio than for its dramatic structure.
Overall verdict--it's worth seeing if you are a fan of silents, but otherwise it's skippable. Not bad, but not great.
|Page 1 of 2:|| |
|Plot summary||Ratings||External reviews|
|Plot keywords||Main details||Your user reviews|
|Your vote history|