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An educated, upscale young black musician marries a woman from a lower socioeconomic class to get her out of the clutches of her stepfather, who beats and abuses her. However, once he "saves" her, he won't let his new wife meet his mother, as he knows she will be angry and disappointed with him for marrying someone "below his station". Written by
THE SCAR OF SHAME (1927) is one of the few surviving movies from the silent era to feature an all black cast. It tells the story of Alvin Hillyard, an educated musician from the black upper class, and Louise Howard, a woman from "the other side of the tracks". When her drunken father starts to beat her, Alvin, who is staying at a nearby boarding house, intervenes and brings her to the house so that she may escape from her father's clutches. The two eventually fall in love and marry, but their differences in station complicate their lives in a way that neither would have imagined .
SCRIPT: THE SCAR OF SHAME has a premise worthy of exploration the differences in social classes among blacks that would never have been attempted in mainstream Hollywood movies at the time. It also proposes that the environment in which one is raised unalterably shapes one's future, an idea that was explored in the naturalistic novels of authors such as Stephen Crane and Frank Norris. Unfortunately, the narrative starts to sag in the middle of the movie, and relies on melodramatic plot turns at times. Louise in particular does things that seem to have no motivation either emotionally or rationally. This causes the film to lose its way somewhat and stops the movie from exploring the its theme more successfully. The assertion is that Louise's strange behavior is due to her inability to overcome her environment, but it's not made entirely clear in the exposition. Still, the movie's screenplay does have considerable virtues. Instead of completely villainizing Louise's father, the writers attempt to balance his character out with regret over his treatment of her, and you can see his struggle to overcome his weakness. Alvin Hillyard is presented as a sympathetic character that wants to do what is right. The movie also scores points for not portraying any characters as buffoons, an all-too-common tendency at that time. SCORE: 7/10
ACTING: The acting is generally quite restrained and believable. The two leads, Harry Henderson and Lucia Lynn Moses, show ease before the camera and contribute solid performances that are scaled for the intimacy of the camera. The ensemble cast plays effectively in an understated manner, generally avoiding the mugging and melodramatics that could occur frequently during the silent era. Pearl McCormack is particularly effective as Alice Hathaway, a young woman with whom Hillyard falls in love years after the breakup of his marriage to Louise. William Pettus also does fine work in his portrayal of Louise's father, with a finely balanced performance that shows his character as a flawed human being instead of a mere monster. SCORE: 9/10
CINEMATOGRAPHY/PRODUCTION: The camera-work is solid and the editing is well done (there was one slight repetition of frames early on). The director, Frank Perugini, and the cameraman, Al Liguori, show a good command of the use of silent film as a visual storytelling medium. There are some interesting touches here and there that contribute to the narrative specifically the use of a baby doll to show the couple's hopes and aspirations at first, and then the way their relationship deteriorates later. There is also some interesting cross cutting during a climactic scene. Some scenes are a bit static but not too lengthy. SCORE: 8/10
SUMMARY: THE SCAR OF SHAME tackles an issue that mainstream films would never have touched at the time of its release. In spite of the flaws of its narrative and characterizations, the actors do uniformly fine work in their portrayals. The movie is competently filmed and produced with occasional outstanding moments of visual interest. The film does deserve commendation for its portrayal of the complexities of life within the black community of the early 20th century. SCORE: 8/10
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