Hester is bored with Gerald who loves her - bored with the Finley Department store - and bored with Demopolis. She leaves town with a traveling salesman named Bloom and the clothes on her ...
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Hester is bored with Gerald who loves her - bored with the Finley Department store - and bored with Demopolis. She leaves town with a traveling salesman named Bloom and the clothes on her back. They go to New York where she moves up to mistress of Mr. Wheeler and is well cared for. When the gang decides to vacation at Lake Placid, Hester is dropped off at Demopolis to see how the old town looks after four years. She sees Gerald and he thinks she is a successful career woman and he still wants to marry her. But it will never happen so Gerald joins the Army to fight in the Great War. Written by
Tony Fontana <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Corinne Griffith was a big star in silent films. She made a handful of late silents with talking sequences and then two all-talking films. Both bombed. In 1932 she made a last stab at talkies in an English film and it bombed too.
Back Pay was Griffith's last Hollywood film. It's based on a Fannie Hurst novel and should have been a showcase for her talents as an actress, but the 55-minute film seems a mangle from the beginning. Directed by William Seiter, Back Pay never seems to settle. It's so obviously set in 1930 (clothes, cars, songs, decor) but pretends to be pre-WW I.
Griffith plays a hick from Demopolis, VA who works in a department store. She's in love with a fellow worker (Grant Withers) but yearns for more. She exits on a train out of town. Next scene has her in New York City as a rich man's girlfriend. She has lost the hick accent and is wearing expensive clothing. The lover (Montagu Love) seems nice man and gives her whatever she wants.
She and her friends decide to motor to Hot Springs, a mere 30 miles from Demopolis. Griffith gets a yen to seen the old town and runs into Withers. They chat and she is amazed how good the old town looks. Next scene takes us to Lake Placid where a wistful Griffith is still thinking about Withers.
Back in the city she gets of rush a emotion when WW-I soldiers are marching away to war. Next we see Withers get gassed on a battlefield. Blind and dying from gas poisoning Griffith visits him, gets another rush of emotion, and marries him when she learns he has but weeks to live.
Withers dies on Amistice Day and Griffith is a better woman for it all and even refuses to go back to her old life as a mistress. The End.
Back Pay is Griffith's only surviving talkie so it's impossible to tell if she was playing a part of if her voice (think Zasu Pitts) was really her voice. In any case she comes across very badly. Withers is even worse.
Montagu Love is fine as is Louise Beavers (as the maid), but everyone else is just dreadful. Vivien Oakland (the friend), Hallam Cooley (the traveling salesman), Louise Carver (the masseuse), Virginia Sale (the secretary), and Geneva Mitchell (Babe) are all bad.
But let's blame the director. The film is hideously directed and paced, and the editing is terrible, Was this cut to shreds at some point? Does that explain the abrupt transitions? Seems doubtful. There are so many anachronisms it's hard to believe this was a better film but badly edited.
Griffith was excellent in the few silent films I've seen her in (The Divine Lady, Garden of Allah) and by the end of the silent period was a huge star. She even supposedly won an Oscar nomination for The Divine Lady--a fact inconsistently reported in Oscar histories. But she is not very good in Back Pay.
Griffith is another silent star whose birth year varies widely in different various sources, anywhere from 1894 to 1898. Her first film was in 1916 so she could well have been born in 1898, but if she was born in 1894 she would have been 36 when she made Back Pay--way too old for the part of Hester.
Well no matter. Griffith was a great star in the 1920s--the Orchid Lady--and rivaled Gloria Swanson, Lillian Gish, Greta Garbo, and Mary Pickford in popularity. She was often compared to Norma Talmadge for the kinds of roles she played. And, ironically, like Miss Talmadge, faded from the screen after only a few attempts at talkies.
To be fair Corinne Griffith should be remembered for her great film successes during the silent era and not for the few misguided talkies she attempted. Note: Griffith's memoir became the hit film, Papa's Delicate Condition, in 1963. Griffith appeared in more than 65 films and produced a dozen.
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