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The Devil (1921)
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George Arliss's first film based on his first major play!, 27 April 2000

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

From the original ad campaign, "Here is a story mounted in settings and scenes of splendor and luxury. A story that is as old as yesterday; as true as today; and as new as tomorrow. A production of real mark and unexcelled distinction. As the central figure George Arliss is an unforgettable picture of fiendish, subtle, domineering and diabolic ingenuity; of cunning, sardonic and unrelenting resourcefulness. Yet he is the suave, charming, polished and artistic Devil."

This satiric drama based on the 1908 play by Ferenc Molnar that launched Arliss on Broadway and was used to entice him into his very first (of many) film. Earlier version were made by no less than Thomas Edison and D.W. Griffith! Original play title, "The Devil; A Comedy in Three Acts." In an interview from Motion Picture World, January, 1921, Mr. Arliss told reporters he decided to go into films after being impressed by the work of Charles Chaplin. The director then made a screen test to show Arliss how intimate the camera was and how it exaggerated gestures. Arliss said films would probably lead to better acting on the stage when actors could study their technique on the big screen.

Dr. Muller (Arliss), a friend to all, finds pleasure in turning the goodness in people to evil ends. He meets Marie Matin (Lucy Cotton) and her fiancé, George Roben (Roland Bottomley), while viewing a new painting, "The Martyr-Truth Crucified by Evil." Marie declares that the picture was wrong-evil could never triumph over truth-and though Muller says he agrees with her, he plots to prove otherwise. To this end, he entangles Marie with artist Paul de Veaux (Edmund Lowe), Georges's best friend, causing the latter's model, Mimi (Sylvia Breamer), to become jealous. Georges, believing that he is standing between Paul and Marie, releases Marie from her engagement. Marie finds Paul and Mimi alone together late one evening and turns back to Georges, whom she marries. This does not discourage Muller, who but for Marie's purity almost succeeds in his evil designs. WARNING PLOT SPOILER COMING: As a last resort, Muller lures Marie to his apartment to trick her. There in a moment of dramatic conflict, she prays for help; a vision of a shining cross appears; and Muller is consumed in flames. Note: This was also the first film for Fredric March's and Mrs. George Arliss.

Film historian William K. Everson wrote in his book on Silents that less than 25 features survive from 1921. This 1921 classic film once lost has recently been rediscovered and is now being restored by the Library of Congress Motion Picture Conservation Center where I work in Dayton, Ohio. We hope to start loaning it out to silent film festivals later in 2000.