There is hunger in Siberia during the Russian Civil War. Dim-witted peasant Sergei is searching corpses for food. He meets a mysterious young woman looking for the town of Novokursk. She asks Sergei to tell anyone they might meet that he is her husband. They find an abandoned house where they can rest... but a stranger is hiding inside. Sergei washes the woman's feet and prepares a bed for her. The stranger reveals himself and is soon joined by cossacks; they do not believe that the woman is a peasant's wife. They beat Sergei but he does not betray her. The two are rescued by White cavalry. The woman is in fact the Countess Alexandrova. In Novokursk, the countess stays with the rich Gaidaroff family. When Sergei leaves hospital, he goes to see his "friend". The countess begrudgingly provides a job in the household. Sergei is exposed to the revolutionary talk of Ivan, a servant. When the Whites leave town to counter an attack, the Reds are free to act... Written by
... softened by a good list of credits and decent art direction.
The Russian Revolution reoccurs in microcosm in a small Siberian town where plutocrats are besieged by servants dissatisfied with the status quo.
There is a beauty and the beast theme here with a beautiful, bejewelled countess sveltely played by Barbara Bedford and a brutish Neanderthal peasant hulkingly performed by Lon Chaney. Chaney is hard to recognize, but then that's how he got to be the Man of a Thousand Faces, isn't it? Since he's playing the King Kong character, he naturally tends to have our sympathies, but sometimes it's a bit of a struggle with all that barking and grimacing.
Directed by Benjamin Christensen, this film has his characteristic attractive look, but it's hampered by a grossly inferior script. Nearly every intertitle is a cliché at worst, a banality at best. And there's that cloying ending. So the actors just behave accordingly.
Christensen originated the story here, and the film does carry over many of his script ideas from his earlier Danish film "Blind Justice" (1916). That film also features a slow-witted brute suffering from hunger and pursuing a woman who has betrayed him. There's a dramatic ride to the rescue, only it's by cops, not cavalry. There is a very similar and even more abrupt conclusion/reconciliation, with all the ends tied up in a totally unconvincing knot.
But in "Blind Justice", Christiansen, a very good actor, played the brute himself, drawing far, far more sympathy to the character than Lon Chaney was able to do here, even with Christensen's direction. There is nothing in "Mockery" with the sadness of the toy shop or orphanage scenes in the earlier film, when a father hopes to see his young son after years apart. "Blind Justice" even has a poignant scene reminiscent of "Frankenstein" (1931) where its misunderstood "monster" meets a little girl.
In "Mockery", Chaney chases Bedford around not one but two separate tables. That unfortunately is as good an indicator of the general calibre of this film as any.
It's a pity that Christensen couldn't overcome the flaws in this script. This is a disappointing follow-up to his wonderful 1926 film "The Devil's Circus".
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