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NOTE: There should NOT be a letter "a" in the word "gov'meant", but IMDb's spell-check insists on inserting it.
Character actress Lucille La Verne (whom I've never liked) had a long film career lasting into the early talkies era, usually playing unsympathetic harridans. Before entering films, she had a long career as a stage actress. By far, her most successful stage vehicle was 'Sun-Up', in which she had the central role. For several years, La Verne performed this melodrama all over the United States and even in Britain; one London performance was attended by H.M. George V and Queen Mary. (A television production of the play, starring Sybil Thorndyke, was transmitted in London in the 1930s.) Although La Verne repeated her starring role in this silent film version, it's perhaps unfortunate that she didn't wait a few years longer and make this picture as a talkie. Unable to deliver her stage dialogue here, La Verne resorts to heightened and exaggerated histrionics that occasionally bring this melodrama into outright bathos.
La Verne plays Ma Cagle, a widowed homesteader in a remote rural region of the North Carolina hills. The nearest big city, Asheville, is none too close. Conrad Nagel plays her son Rufe Cagle (aye, Nagel plays Cagle), and I had some trouble with this casting. Rufe Cagle is meant to be a barely literate backwoodsman, but Nagel (as seen here) is clearly refined and educated. Rufe is in love with local girl Emmy (Pauline Starke, who gives a more credible performance than Nagel's).
Many of the dialogue titles in this film are written in backwoods dialect. Ma Cagle has a grudge against "the gov'meant" (no "a"), which she blames for her husband's death. Now "the gov'meant" comes along again, and conscripts strapping young Rufe into the U.S. Army to fight the Kaiser. Ma Cagle and Emmy carry on managing the homestead without him. It's understood that, when Rufe comes home from France, he and Emmy will marry.
Months pass. Eventually a telegram arrives for Ma Cagle. Since she's illiterate, she asks Emmy to read it to her. Emmy tells Ma Cagle that Rufe was killed in action, and that a representative from the government will arrive tomorrow to give Ma Cagle her son's effects.
All through the previous reels, Ma Cagle has been fulminating against "the gov' meant". Now her hatred knows no bounds. She vows that, come sun-up and the arrival of the government agent, she will shoot him dead.
SPOILERS NOW. Well, come sun-up, along comes Rufe ... who wasn't dead after all. At this point, the story degenerates into total bathos and bad acting all round. Although I'm no fan of Lucille La Verne, I should like to have seen her perform this material as a talkie: she might have given a more nuanced and realistic performance. As it stands, I'll rate this one just 5 out of 10. Please fix that spell-check!
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