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Cecil B. DeMille
Henry B. Walthall,
Malena's apparent frigidity toward her husband Kenneth is a result of injustice done in an earlier incarnation when he was a knight and she was a gypsy headed for burning at the stake. This becomes evident when their unconscious minds travel back from a train wreck in the American plains to Elizabethan England. Written by
Ed Stephan <email@example.com>
In the late 10's through the 20's, Cecil B. DeMille made two kinds of films: frothy romantic confections and super epics, both with major religious overtones. And, he made them in two sizes: big and bigger. "Road to Yesterday", like "Manslaughter" and "Male and Female", tries to combine the two plots, cementing them together with a reincarnation theme.
Joseph Schildkraut (the leading man in "Orphans of the Storm" and the leading louse in "Shop Around the Corner) is Ken, an eager bridegroom. Jetta Goudal (a now nearly forgotten Dutch beauty) is Malena, his lovely bride. They are on their honeymoon at the Grand Canyon when, on their wedding night, Malena develops a irrational terror of, well, Ken.
Meanwhile, Bess (an adorable Vera Reynolds) is a thoroughly modern 20's maiden, flirting with the idea of marrying her pesty boyfriend. All bets are off, though, when she meets the strapping Rev. Jack Moreland (a perfectly cast William Boyd, Hopalong Cassidy to you) They connect instantly and seem to have known each other forever but flaming flapper Bess can't stomach the idea of marrying a clergyman.
With Ken and Malena's marriage dissolving and Jack and Bess never even managing to get their relationship started, everything seems glum until a spectacular train wreck at the end of Act I throws Bess back in time 300 years. She is a fabulously wealthy heiress running away from a forced marriage to the dastardly Ken, Lord of the Manor. Jack is her loyal lover and Malena is an uncanny Gypsy who is also Ken's wife. The romp through history unravels many of the mysteries that have plagued the two pairs of lovers in the twentieth century. I won't give it away but most viewers will see it coming.
As with most DeMille films, it is very difficult to judge "Road to Yesterday" by the usual standards. As pointed out in other reviews, the dialog is pure Rennaissance Faire, some of the acting is waaaay over the top and the plot is just an excuse for fancy dress. But, it IS entertaining, it IS a fun way to pass an afternoon. My fairly low rating comes from the silliness of the plot.
First, the reincarnation theme doesn't make a bit of sense. Malena is terrified of the modern Ken because of what he did to her in the past. Fair enough. But he did as much and worse to Jack and Bess and they seem to have absolutely no negative reaction to him. In fact, Ken was such a villain that I am amazed that he had any friends at all by the time he was reborn for his twentieth century life.
Then, no one ever explains why Bess remembers her twentieth century self but no one else does. (Half the cast is present for the Cavalier sequence) Also, Ken's moments of mustache-twirling villainy really damage any sympathy that the viewer might have for him, especially his rape of Malena near the beginning of the film.
This leaves William Boyd and Vera Reynolds to carry the day and they pretty much walk away with the picture. They have chemistry and charm to spare. Reynolds in the cutest little flapper you could ask for and Boyd's easy, natural charm and understated acting lends a believability to an otherwise silly part. In fact, DeMille liked Boyd so much that he gave him the starring role in "The Volga Boatman", one of DeMille's strangest films.
"The Road to Yesterday" is not DeMille's greatest silent film but it is a good one. Just sit back, enjoy Reynolds and Boyd, and don't try to think too much about the plot.
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