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Ince's Exploration of Hypocrisy in the Practice of Christianity
Signing with Paramount in 1917, among Ince's output was to be two series with female stars, as I outline in my Ince biography. Senior was Enid Bennett, "proved that she is able to play roles of a more mature character ...." A native of Australia, she had arrived in the United States to appear on stage with Otis Skinner, and after a single season had shifted to the camera under Ince's supervision, meeting with such success that he convinced her to forego any further proscenium engagements. She had already starred for Ince in four 1917 Triangle releases, The Girl Glory, Happiness, The Little Brother, and Princess of the Dark. More than half of her 22 films for Ince under the Paramount contracts were directed by Fred Niblo, who was her husband at the time and who had signed with Ince on August 9, 1918.
In Keys Of The Righteous (1918), Bennett plays Mary, a suffering 18-year-old, reared in a household dominated by her sanctimonious grandfather (Nichols), a self-righteous man who prefers to spend time with an enormous Bible. He hates his son, trained as a minister, for having married a circus performer, Mary's mother, and tells Mary he wishes she had died at birth. She meets a young man in the forest, Tom (Earl Rodney), and her fear of bringing him into her home is justified when her grandfather sends him away, accusing him of snooping. Subsequently, the two lovers meet alone in the forest.
When Mary's father (Josef Swickard) comes home after nearly two decades, her mother, half-crazed and dying after his long absence, makes Mary promise to care for him. When her grandfather sends her drunken father away once again, Mary follows him to town, finding him in a saloon and brothel. Meanwhile, Tom tries to stop the grandfather, who has determined to have Mary imprisoned for taking the money to help her father. She and her father are arrested in a police raid, and the only way to prevent his imprisonment as a perpetual drunk is for Mary to say he had gone to meet herimplying that she was a "bar girl." This is described in a preceding intertitle as meaning "that a woman has reached the lowest levelthat her soul is dead." Tom rushes to her defense, saying that they are going to be married, and the judge recognizes the falsehood of her statement.
This supreme sacrifice, however, finally reforms her grandfather, who goes on his knees to beg her forgiveness. Through her willingness to surrender all, the family is reconstituteda regenerated grandfather, a reformed father, and a husband in Tom. Yet as comforting as such a concept might be, it clearly has demanded a tremendous, almost unbearable cost for the woman at the center, a confrontation of spiritual dimensions. The hypocrisy of the grandfather is accented, as he learns that he is the very type of figure condemned in the Bible he claims as his guide. Unlike her grandfather, Tom represents the rules of gentlemanly conduct that are the sign of civilization, even on the frontier. Keys Of The Righteous is intense, well-directed, with gripping, vivid performances.
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