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Geoffrey, a young and impoverished writer, is desperately in love with Mavis, who lives at his boardinghouse and is also pursuing a writing career. Unable to marry her because of his poverty, in his anger he curses God for abandoning him. Soon Geoffrey meets Prince Lucio de Rimanez, a wealthy, urbane gentleman who informs Geoffrey that he has inherited a fortune, but that he must place himself in the Prince's hands in order to enjoy the fruits of his inheritance. What Geoffrey doesn't know is that Prince Lucio is actually Satan, who is using Geoffrey as an experiment to show God that he can corrupt anybody. Written by
In the film's prelude, Lucifer is thrown out of Heaven, after rebelling against God's creation of "man in His divine image." Lucifer is forced to change his name to Satan, and is cursed to forever "tempt the sons of men to sin against the God who made you both!" Redemption is offered: "Only when all men turn from thee, canst thou resume thy glorious place at God's right hand for every soul that resists thee, thou shalt have one hour at the gates of Paradise!"
The prelude is significant; it sets Satan up as a cursed, sympathetic villain. He is awarded an hour close to Paradise for every soul who resists his compelling (and compelled, by God!) invitation to sin. This sets up one of the film's greatest sequences, the resisting of temptation, by Carol Dempster (as Mavis Claire), upon meeting Adolphe Menjou (as Prince Lucio de Rimanez) at a party. But, first, director D.W. Griffith introduces the more luckless and susceptible protagonist, Ricardo Cortez (as Geoffrey Tempest).
Mr. Cortez is a poverty-stricken writer, living in the "humble quarter of a great old city". His boarding house is inhabited by another struggling writer, the self-described not "too beautiful" Ms. Dempster; she lives across the hall. Cortez is initially interested in Dempster for sex, but she is falling in love. The first part of the film deals with the convergence of their interests. The culmination is very well relayed by Dempster and Cortez - you can witness passion entering Dempster's thoughts as Cortez becomes love-struck. All seems to be going well for the couple.
But, on the eve of wedding, Cortez is fired from his job writing book reviews. His boss explains, "We find you condemn books that every one likes, and praise books that no one likes." Cortez curses God, triggering the thundering, Faustian appearance of Mr. Menjou, as Satan. Cortez receives the spellbinding news that a previously unknown uncle has made him "one of the richest men in the world." Menjou thwarts Cortez' efforts to share his luxurious news with Dempster; instead, providing him with sexy cigarette-sucking vamps, like Lya De Putti (as Olga Godovsky).
Meanwhile, Dempster sinks into depression. In her despair, she turns to God (Lord Christ). So, Dempster is able to resist Menjou's invitation to wickedness - the great Griffith sequence alluded to above occurs; and, it is lighted, directed, and performed extraordinarily well, by Griffith and company. The film's sets, backgrounds, lighting, and photography are exceptional throughout. Admittedly, Griffith spends too much time on making the opening stark, staid, and ordinary. And, the film's pace is slow, with too few edited breaks.
Still, "The Sorrows of Satan" is an excellent film. And, it's more faithful to writer Marie Corelli's original works than Carl Theodor Dreyer's more freely adapted "Blade af Satans bog" (1921). Interestingly, both Griffith and Dryer bring forth Corelli's popularized view of Satan as a sympathetic entity, cursed by God. More interestingly, Griffith produces a relatively ordinary picture, while Dryer's film patterns itself after Griffith's opulent "Intolerance" (1916), which had little to do with Corelli. Finally, unrelated to the film, but nonetheless noteworthy, this was the last product of the Griffith/Dempster partnership.
******** The Sorrows of Satan (10/12/26) D.W. Griffith ~ Ricardo Cortez, Carol Dempster, Adolphe Menjou
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