'Padlocked' is based on a novel by Rex Beach, a best-selling author of the early 20th century whose novels were filmed frequently, usually to great success. This film is directed by Allan Dwan, a brilliant and innovative director who somehow failed to attract the attention of the cineastes. (Except for Peter Bogdanovich, who met Dwan briefly and then spent several decades telling the same two Dwan anecdotes over and over.) Part of the problem in this movie might be the fact that Beach strays away from his usual territory here. He typically wrote two-fisted he-man adventure stories, set in some rugged frontier such as the Old West or the Yukon. Perhaps uniquely among Beach's stories, 'Padlocked' features a female protagonist in a big-city setting.
Beach's novel 'Padlocked' was about a small-town girl who aspires to a glamorous career as a singer. That won't work in a silent film, so in this movie she's changed to a dancer. (Lois Moran dances impressively in this role, but her acting is less impressive.) Edith Gilbert (Moran) is the small-town daughter of a weak mother and a tyrant father whose bigotry and sadism have psychologically crippled his family. (The title 'Padlocked' is symbolic.) Henry Gilbert is a religious zealot and 'reformer': he uses the authority of the Bible to rule his family as absolute dictator. One fateful day, Henry Gilbert quarrels so viciously with his wife that -- immediately he leaves the room and closes the door -- she swoons and falls against a gascock, accidentally gassing herself. (In the novel, she gassed herself deliberately to escape him: I suppose film audiences in 1926 would not accept a suicide on screen.)
Following his wife's death, Gilbert brings into his home Belle Galloway (another religious zealot) to be Edith's stepmother. This is too much for Edith to bear, so she runs away to Manhattan and becomes a dancer in a speakeasy. At this point, the plot degenerates into soap opera, with Edith caught between Norman Van Fleet (a young playboy who sincerely loves her) and Jesse Hermann, an older man with theatre contacts. Hermann, played by Charles Lane (not the famous beak-nosed character actor, but a lesser actor of that same name), makes sincere efforts to advance Edith's career, but he secretly plots to seduce her. (In the original novel, Hermann's character was more sympathetic.)
Hermann's henchwoman is Mrs Alcott, a society dame who has a chequered sexual history. The two of them convince Van Fleet that snow-white Edith is really a scarlet harlot. Disillusioned, he sails off for Europe, apparently under the impression that the women are purer there. Edith is arrested on the nightclub's dance floor, because her stepmother Belle has reported her as a wayward minor who should be committed to a reformatory. (In the novel, mistaken identity led to Edith's arrest on a prostitution charge.)
'Padlocked' is fatally weakened by Noah Beery's poor performance in what ought to be a strong role, as the tyrant father. Richard Arlen and Douglas Fairbanks Jnr are good in small roles, although I doubt that I would have noticed them in this film had I not recognised them from later roles. There is a competent performance from Josephine Crowell, an actress of such distressing physical appearance (and, in most of her roles, very unpleasant behaviour) that I always feel an impulse to turn away when she is on screen. I felt that urge here. Louise Dresser and Helen Jerome Eddy are poor in roles which many competent actresses could have done superbly. James Wong Howe's camera-work is, as always, brilliant.
It really pains me to pan an Allan Dwan movie; of all the directors in cinema history, Dwan probably has the greatest discrepancy between the high degree of recognition he deserved and the grudging portion of fame he actually received. 'Padlocked' is a bad film: much of it is dull, and some parts of it are laughably bad. The depictions of sinfulness and debauchery seem very innocent indeed by modern standards. The ending is quite implausible, with Edith's father and Hermann both repenting their sins, and Henry Gilbert engineering his daughter's reconciliation with Van Fleet. By this point, I couldn't take the movie seriously. I'll rate 'Padlocked' 2 points out of 10.
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