In 1914 a girl of the streets is befriended by two dashing young officers, an Austrian and a Russian. Both fall in love with her, but she picks the Austrian. When the war begins, Her town is overrun by Russians, lead by the once charming, now vengeful officer, who takes her prisoner and threatens death if she won't marry him. Written by
I'm told that 'The Woman Disputed' is one of those mongrel films made in two versions -- silent and part-talkie -- for release at a time when talkies were clearly the coming thing, but most cinemas were not yet wired for sound. I've viewed the Library of Congress print, which is silent. With other films from this transition period, it's been my experience that the silent version is usually superior to the talkie version, if only because talking pictures were a new and uncertain experience for all the people involved. Not having seen the talkie version of 'The Woman Disputed', I assume that this silent version is the better of the two ... but it's not very good.
'Boule de Suif' ('Ball of Fat') is a famous story by Guy de Maupassant which has been dramatised many times for stage and screen. This version makes some changes in the characters' names, nationalities and politics, but still maintains the basic situation. Much of the action in de Maupassant's story takes place during a long coach journey, which is omitted here. The change is not in any way an improvement, and I assume it was done only because of the difficulties of putting a movie camera (and crew) into a crowded coach for protracted sequences.
The film, which deviates from de Maupassant's original, is as follows: Austria and Russia are at war with each other (what else is new?), and beautiful Mary Ann Wagner is caught in the middle. To be precise, the commanders of rival forces both have a case of the hots for her. The Russian is Nika (Nika?) Turgenov, extremely well-played by an actor I've never heard of. The Austrian is Paul Hartman, who doesn't seem to realise he shares his name with an American tap-dancer. Shouldn't the Austrian version of his name be 'Hartmann'? Another character in this movie who doesn't realise he shares his name with a real-life actor is yclept Otto Kruger.
When Mary Ann prefers Paul to Nika, the latter orders his Cossacks to besiege the Austrian town. Meanwhile, some snooty snobs have sneered at Mary Ann for being (they believe) a woman of loose morals. These include Father Roche and a couple of young bluebloods. They make it clear that they won't deign to associate with Mary Ann until her morals get tightened.
When the count, the countess and the priest try to break the siege, Nika's men capture them and he orders them shot. But then another prisoner is caught: Mary Ann. Aha! Twirling his moustaches, Nika announces that he will spare Mary Ann and the other prisoners, providing Mary Ann gives him one night of passion.
The three snobs, who formerly shunned Mary Ann as a slut, now urge her to give herself to Nika so as to save their skins. If you've read de Maupassant's very well-known story, you know how this movie ends.
The exteriors and long shots in this film are quite good. Much less impressive are the interior sequences. There are many, many, many close-ups in this film, and they emphasise the worst excesses of silent-film acting: arching eyebrows, flaring nostrils. I'll just barely rate 'The Woman Disputed' 2 points out of 10.
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