Leaves From Satan's Book (1920) Poster

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7/10
"I let the actors do what they liked - I was more interested in the composition of the image"
Ziggy544617 September 2007
Carl Theodor Dreyer's second feature film is an ambitious study of evil through the ages, but the great Danish filmmaker is years away from his masterpieces of The Passion of Joan of Arc, Vampyr, Day of Wrath, Ordet and Gertrud. The inexperienced filmmaker was influenced by D.W. Griffith's 1916 Intolerance and aimed to map out the path of the Devil using Griffith's innovative filming style as a guide. He added on his realistic approach to the subject matter, as he believed realism to be the most essential part of any film.

Like its inspiration, Intolerance, Leaves from Satan's Book contains stories from four historical periods linked thematically. Unlike Griffith's film though, Dreyer chose not to cross cut between stories, which makes for a less confusing film.

Satan is the character who links the four stories. The film starts with his fall from grace, as told through inter-titles, and God's proclamation that he walk the Earth tempting humanity. For each soul that turns from God, 100 years will be added to Satan's sentence, but for every person who resists his temptations, 1000 years will be removed. Hoping to fail in his duties so that he may be admitted back into heaven, Satan tries to get men to betray what they hold most dear in four eras of history.

The first section of the film is the biblical story of Jesus' betrayal by Judas. The next story takes place during the Spanish Inquisition. The third section of the film takes place during the French Revolution. The final segment is set in the Finland during the Russo-Finnish war of 1918. As a film, this wasn't Dreyer's best, but it was fairly entertaining. This early Dreyer film shows his almost innate ability to compose attractive images within the limits of the frame.

Though this film isn't the grand spectacle he was hoping for, Dreyer did a wonderful job with it. His use of the film frame and style of story telling make this a movie interesting and attractive to watch.
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6/10
An Ambitious Danish Epic about Evil Temptation through Time
claudio_carvalho12 October 2014
Satan is exiled from Heaven by God and doomed to stay on Earth. God states that for each soul who falls in temptation, his sentence will be increased in one hundred years; for each soul who resists, his sentence will be decreased in one thousand years. Satan is followed in dark moments of mankind history: the betrayal of Jesus by Judas; the Spanish Inquisition; the French Revolution; and the Finnish Civil War of 1918.

"Blade af Satans bog" is an ambitious (or pretentious) Danish epic about evil temptation through time. Carl Theodor Dreyer made this movie inspired in D. W. Griffith's epic "Intolerance". I saw the version released in Brazil on VHS with 108 minutes running time; therefore a version totally mutilated and it would be unfair if I write that the screenplay is messy. My vote is six.

Title (Brazil): "Páginas do Livro de Satã" ("Pages from Satan's Book")
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A Distraction from Dreyer's best
EdgarST17 November 2011
"Leaves Out of the Book of Satan" is a complex motion picture for someone who had only directed one film, but it is certainly a setback in Carl Theodor Dreyer's growth. Compared to "The President", a small but vivid work, this long film is a pompous exercise that in the end distracts from the best efforts in his filmography. Much has been said about the influence of D.W. Griffith's "Intolerance" on this film, but little is told about the Danish long tradition of feature-length films and how these probably influenced the American filmmaker. So it is a two-fold affair that adds very little to the appreciation of "Leaves Out of the Book of Satan". Here Dreyer deals with Evil as a decisive factor in the evolution of mankind, in a sort of mystic treatise for which he managed a big budget, several casts and four stories. Helse Nilssen plays Satan very well, first as a Pharisee inducing Judas Iscariot to betray Jesus, then as an Inquisitor during the imperial days of Spain, followed by the impersonation of a fanatic Jacobin during French revolution, and finally, in (then) present day, as a Bolshevik monk (resembling Rasputin) during Russian invasion of Finland. The first two parts and the conclusion last around 30 minutes each, but the French episode is long, and Satan enters late in the story. Unfortunately I share the opinion that this film is of utmost interest only to Dreyer's completists.
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5/10
Expect the Spanish inquisition
sveinpa29 April 2011
This pretentious historical drama of Satan's part in the treason of Jesus and the horrors of the Spanish inquisition, the French revolution and the Finnish civil war is stylistically a curious move backwards for Dreyer and the Danish film industry. After the technical innovations by director Benjamin Christensen, already in Det hemmelighedsfulde X (1914), as well as in Dreyers own first feature, Præsidenten (1919), which pioneered the use of both natural lightning and chiaroscuro effects that looked forwards to German expressionism, Blade af Satans bog returns to the all too brightly lit costume drama which dominated much of the early cinema. This means that even windowless rooms with only a few candles burning is lit up like it was broad daylight all over, eventually killing any sense of sinister atmosphere that the plots here surely calls for. Outside night scenes are likewise often shot in daylight, probably awaiting blue tinting. What could be genuinely scary with more imaginative lightning and a more cinematic style, remain lifeless tableaux. There are a few scenes that uses shadows to great effect, but in a film that is 157 minutes long the overall impact is rather dull, despite the excellent new, but untinted print provided on the DVD by the Danish Film Institute from a duplicate negative.

Despite these shortcomings, there are many interesting touches for fans of Dreyer's more acclaimed work. For instance the torture scenes in Spain that anticipates the ones in Jeanne d 'Arc, and the many carefully arranged portrait pans of elders that is used again (more sophistically) in Ordet. In the Finnish episode we also get some very dramatic scenes that combines fast action with small details in close ups, expertly framed and imaginatively put together by cross cutting. After all the static of the previous episodes, the swiftness in Finland comes as a blessing and a fitting climax bringing the history lesson up to date. That is, if you don't mind the white propaganda - proves you don't have to be a bolshie to see red. Thematically, there is also the interesting touch that Dreyer shows his obsession with how personal love affairs often dominate the course of historical events. If someone is tortured or executed, you bet it is because she failed to satisfy her jealous lover, who then turns out to make faith work fatally against her. The white girl loaded with hand grenades that captures two reds just when they were about to execute a brave white fighter, is of course also on a personal revenge trip, even if it is all for Finland, of course. There are enough of such situations here for more than a few topical theses, but I'll leave it at that. Anyone interested in Dreyer should see this anyway.

Oh, I forgot to mention Intolerance? But then it turns out, according to Casper Tybjerg, that the manuscript for Blade af Satans bog was written in 1913 (Oh yeah? I hear you say, but the Finnish episode is set in 1918? Go figure), and probably inspired by the Italian film Satanas by Luigi Maggi (1912), which (also probably?) inspired Intolerance. But Dreyer has confirmed that the close up of Siri's face in the Finnish suicide scene was directly inspired by the close up of Lilian Gish in Griffith's court scene. So there.
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7/10
Endless, but Fascinating
Hitchcoc23 October 2009
God has set a few rules for Satan. He is to provide over historical events, usually playing one of the bad guys. If things go the way we would expect, he must endure more time in the underworld. If he can find a human willing to sacrifice for good, he will get a thousand years to his credit. Unfortunately, with the Crucifixion, the Inquisition, the French Revolution, and the invasion of the Reds into Finland, there's not much for him to pad his bank account. The stories are so bleak and hopeless. Women and children are not spared, and since we pretty much know what is going to happen, little suspense. It's one of the few cinematic treatments of Marie Antoinette where she comes off as upstanding (no cake here). The upside is, naturally, that there is wonderful film-making going on here with great images and depth. One should see as many of these films as possible in order to get a sense of our film heritage. This one may have taught a lot; Dryer taught a lot.
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4/10
Intolerable Knockoff
Cineanalyst27 May 2005
Carl Theodor Dreyer is the greatest filmmaker to come out of Denmark (and one of the greatest from anywhere), but not here. This was early in his career, so I suppose it's excusable. Dreyer connects four stories from Christ to modern times just as D.W. Griffith did in "Intolerance" (1916), which obviously was the inspiration for this film. Story-wise, the four periods are more connected in this picture, with Satan binding them; there's only the theme of intolerance throughout the ages and all that for "Intolerance". It's the radical editing in "Intolerance", however, that links its periods on much higher levels, ending in an exciting, emotional and astonishing climax. Dreyer doesn't get enough sympathy out of Satan to make up for that.

The cinematography and film-making here are what one might expect from the era--prosaic, indeed. There are a few close-ups and some panning for practical purposes. A few shots were okay (a shot a la Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper, a silhouette of a guillotine, POV shots out a window, some of the dolly movements inside), but most of it's basic--boring by today's standards. There's lots of masking, which Griffith and Bitzer are well known for, with opening iris shots and such, but there's probably too much of that here, and it's certainly not enough to make the film visually appealing. Satan doomed to continue his evil deeds during the life of Christ, the Spanish Inquisition, the French Revolution and the Russian occupation of Finland just isn't interesting enough of a story by itself to make the two hours worth it.
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Disappointing
Michael_Elliott11 March 2008
Leaves from Satan's Book (1922)

** (out of 4)

Carl Theodor Dreyer's tale of Satan's attempt to use temptation to get back into Heaven. We follow Satan through four periods including the crucifixion of Jesus and the Spanish Inquisition. The film is visually beautiful and the set design is remarkable but the stories are all deadly boring. The third segment, which is the longest, is downright bad. The first segment with Jesus has way too unintentional laughs and it's rather strange that Jesus looks a lot creepier than Satan!

Those expecting a horror film will probably be disappointing as this film plays out more like a historical drama.
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10/10
GOOD VS.EVIL !
whpratt122 September 2004
Decided to view this film because I wanted to see what other countries in Europe were watching in their movie houses in 1921. The director, Carl Theodor Dreyer had a great talent and produced many interesting films through out his lifetime. This film showed how the devil down through the centuries was able to destroy peoples souls, including Judas in betraying Jesus to the Roman soldiers. There was a bargain that God had with the devil according to this story, where the devil would continue to remain on earth to fight for human souls and their destruction. All the actors performed with excellent skill for the Year 1921 and the fact that it was a silent film. It was very interesting to see the outdoor scenery in various countries and also observe the old furniture and customs.

In one scene in Finland, the family who had young infants, seemed to keep them in a closet with a cloth curtain as a door and hung in a cradle held by straps! If you get a chance to view this film, it is really worth the time.
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7/10
Technically brilliant, but so very, very dated
MartinHafer11 February 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Had I reviewed this back in 1921, I might have given the film a score of 9 because it was technically very well made. The direction, cinematography and acting are excellent for the era--there are absolutely no complaints there. Unfortunately, today I am only giving it a score of 7 because of this technical merit--otherwise, the film is very dated and hard to watch due to its preachy and heavy-handed plot. It's also a Danish attempt to cash in on D. W. Griffith's INTOLERANCE by making essentially the same film.

The film is about three ages of mankind that together prove that mankind stinks and that the Devil is the master of betrayals. The first segment is about the crucifixion of Jesus, the second the Inquisition and the third the Reign of Terror. All these segments look like elaborately staged but soul-less recreations done in a documentary style. Sure, the sets are great, but there is no life to the scenes at all.

The Christ segment is interesting because Jesus looks exactly like the very inaccurate traditional paintings of Him. This is pretty cool, but he appears about as Jewish as a polar bear! I was also disappointed because although this part of the film was very close to the Gospels, the part about Peter chopping off one of the soldier's ears wasn't included! The Inquisition segment is interesting because it seems to imply that the young monk who joined the inquisitors raped the woman he loved who was arrested and tried--then she is, apparently, killed! This is highly reminiscent of THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME. As for the Reign of Terror segment, it seemed to imply that Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were innocent victims--an interesting interpretation of history if you ask me!

So, if you like to see elaborate recreations of historical events that aren't all that compelling or interesting, then this is your film! Otherwise, there are many, many silent films far worth seeing.
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6/10
Not one of Dreyer's finest hours, but worthwhile.
capkronos8 October 2006
Warning: Spoilers
BLADE AF SATANS BOG (titled LEAVES FROM Satan'S BOOK on the DVD cover but LEAVES OUT OF THE BOOK OF Satan on the print) is a lurching silent film epic, running over two hours in length, that hypothesizes Satan's influence on weak-willed men and altering certain historic events. The film is divided into four highly variable sections, all taking place at different time periods, with the impressive Helge Nissen appearing as various guises as Satan in each segment. All are tinted a variety of different colors, from black-and-white to monochrome to lighter hues (blue, green, pink, etc.) and the cinematography, lighting, art direction, costumes and editing are often striking, just not often enough to completely overcome the uneven writing and a very slow pace.

The first story is one we're all pretty familiar with - Jesus' betrayal by Judas, with Judas here being influenced by a turbaned and bearded Satan. Familiarity with this biblical tale takes the edge off and best can be said about this segment is in regards to a few moments of clever lighting (the last supper shot as another reviewer mentioned). The second story, set during the Spanish Inquisition, is an improvement. This is also the most horrific of the segments, with scenes set inside a torture chamber and Nissen's heavily-rouged face and intense, sneaky glares instantly bringing to mind Lugosi's classic Dracula character. Here, Satan plays Grand Inquisitor, leading astray a very nubile young love-struck priest who uses self-flagellation to rid his body of sin. One interesting scene features the priest whipping his back while envisioning the object of his desire draped below a cross (a shot I've seen used many times since).

The third, and by far best, segment takes place during the French Revolution and opens with a striking shot of a guillotine sitting alone atop a hillside right as the sun is setting. This is also the strongest tale from a narrative standpoint as it cuts back and forth between two separate story lines but brings everything together at the end. A young man named Joseph helps a noblewoman and her daughter flee the city when authorities show up to execute the entire family for aiding the escape of a queen sentenced to death. When Joseph's advances are rejected by the daughter, Satan shows up to convince him to turn his back on both the mother/daughter, and later Marie Antoinette herself. The fourth segment, set in "modern times" (1918!) is about the Russian occupation of Finland and only has moments of occasional interest, both visually and thematically.

There are a few memorable performances in this movie. Nissen is truly fascinating as all four visions of Satan; alternately creepy, clever, vengeful and weary. Also worth mentioning are Tenna Frederiksen Kraft, who is a graceful and sympathetic Marie Antoinette, and Elith Pio as Joseph, a man seriously torn between doing the right thing when lives hang in the balance... or just the right thing to advance himself.

All in all, it's very slow and very uneven, but worth checking out if you are either a Dreyer completist or into silent pictures. But truth be told, the director has seen much better days; MICHAEL (1924), THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC (1928), VAMPYR (1932), VREDEN'S DAG (1943), etc.
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5/10
A mediocre and heavily biased early silent film from the great Carl Theodore Dreyer…
agboone711 August 2015
Carl Theodore Dreyer is one of the great silent filmmakers in the history of the medium. "Leaves Out of the Book of Satan", however, is a disappointing effort in his otherwise impressive body of work. This is my opinion mostly because of the film's obtrusive political bias, something I'd never seen Dreyer descend to before. Of course, it's an early work for him, so inasmuch as the great Danish master needs a pass from the likes of this humble viewer, he will receive one.

"Leaves Out of the Book of Satan" is a 1920 Danish film, which I've read from multiple accounts is Dreyer's second effort. IMDb lists it as his third. The Danish film "The President" (1919) — an impressive spiritual melodrama — was his debut. He also made a Swedish film called "The Parson's Widow" in 1920, the same year as this film. It was more of a romantic comedy melodrama, and was decent, if not especially impressive.

Somewhere around this time comes "Leaves Out of the Book of Satan". Dreyer, so they say, had seen D.W. Griffith's 1916 epic "Intolerance", and was inspired by it to make this film. The influence is conspicuous, to say the least. Like Griffith's film, Dreyer's film is a four-part anthology, in which each segment is connected not narratively (apart from the character of Satan), but rather thematically. "Intolerance" wasn't Griffith's only film of this sort. "Home Sweet Home" (1914) was very much the same structure. In that film, like in this film by Dreyer, the first segment is the catalyst which paves the way for the remaining three stories. In the case of Dreyer's film, each segment is about Satan's temptation of an individual in the midst of a moral crisis. As a result, the first segment — the original temptation, so to speak — is a short story of the Passion of Christ. One might expect Dreyer to have opted for the truly primordial story of temptation and original sin: Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, but for whatever reason, he did not do so. Perhaps it was too mythical, and he wanted something that could be more effectively based in realism.

There is a tapestry woven through each of the four segments, and it is in this tapestry that Dreyer forays into political territory that I'd never seen him approach before. In all four segments, the common theme is not only temptation, but more specifically, the temptation to inform on a friend. In the segment about the Passion, it is Judas who is tempted by Satan to inform against Christ to the Sanhedrin. Likewise, in every segment, there is an organization that holds the power of life and death, and uses it, quite recklessly, for their own aims. In the second segment, it is the Inquisition. The third segment is set during the French Revolution in the late 18th century, and this is where Dreyer's political bias really stars to rear its ugly head. His attempts to portray the revolutionaries as relentlessly evil and the poor aristocratic victims as unfailingly innocent were nothing less than ridiculous. And it's not about whether he's right or wrong -- whether I agree with him or not -- it's simply that I strongly dislike bias in cinema. An effort to see both sides of the equation should be instinctive for a great filmmaker like Dreyer. Here, it is certainly not.

The fourth segment is set in then-modern day Finland, during the country's civil war, and Dreyer's sympathies once again lie with the aristocracy. He celebrates the heroism of the Whites, who can do no wrong, and his anti-communist sentiments against the Reds, composed mostly of the working class, left nothing wanting, even by McCarthy's standards. Truly, this film can be seen as right-wing propaganda. Dreyer is clearly in full support of social inequality, and while I try to make a point not to let my personal opinions effect my viewing experiences with films, I do, as I said before, have a strong aversion to this kind of bias, even in instances in which my opinions and the filmmaker's coincide. Really, the moral certainty here is legitimately disturbing.

Setting aside the politics, and looking at the film from a strictly cinematic angle, it still fails to stand out as high quality cinema. The narrative lacks depth, and the dialogue is often very poor (the last line of the film is honestly one of the most cringeworthy I've ever heard -- or read, in this case -- in the history of cinema). Griffith's influence is noticeable, although Dreyer brings to the film some of his own technique, which he was still in the process of honing at this point in his career. He utilizes color tinting, which I think the film would have been better off without.

With all that criticism out of the way, though, one can certainly find commendable qualities in "Leaves Out of the Book of Satan". I think it's the weakest of the Dreyer films I've seen, but it's entertaining enough to justify a viewing, and possesses the beginnings of the unique element of spirituality that Dreyer would refine and perfect in the years to come. One of the film's strongest assets for me was the portrayal of Satan as a sympathetic character. God has condemned him to tempt us, but his countenance is one of remorse, not evil, and he laments every soul that capitulates to his temptation.

I've always wondered how much influence these Scandanavian directors like Dreyer and Victor Sjöström may have had on the filmmakers of the coming decade (the '20s), particularly the German expressionists. It's possible there's some value here in that regard, but overall, I think "Leaves Out of the Book of Satan" is of most interest to serious silent film enthusiasts or Dreyer completists. It is not, by any means, essential silent cinema.

RATING: 5.00 out of 10 stars
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Leaves from Satan's Book review
JoeytheBrit29 June 2020
Every person who succumbs to temptation lands Satan with another 100 years exile according to Carl Theodor Dreyer's Leaves from Satan's Book, while those who resist shorten his sentence by 1000 years. Doesn't reflect well on us poor sinners that Old Nick is still amongst us, does it? The four examples of the trials under which humans are placed - from Judas's betrayal of Jesus to feuding neighbours during the Finnish Civil War of 1918 - are told with simplicity and deadly dull sobriety, with only the last sequence managing to stir any interest.
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6/10
A Metaphor And Eternal Parable
FerdinandVonGalitzien10 June 2011
"Blade Af Satans Bog" ( Leaves Out Of The Book Of Satan ) (1921) was Herr Dreyer's most ambitious early silent film, a big "Nordisk" film production that depicts a challenge between Satan and God spanning 2000 years; fortunately the Danish Film Institute has shortened such a huge lapse of time to 157 minutes in a recent and beautiful film restoration for the pleasure of silent film fans around the world.

This age old conflict is represented by four episodes: the betrayal of Herr Jesus by Herr Judas, the Spanish Inquisition, the French Revolution and the Finnish civil war in 1918. In "Blade AF Satans Bog" there are echoes of Griffith and certainly "Intolerance" (1916) was a big influence on Dreyer in terms of his film's construction and narrative not to mention the moral treatise. However Dreyer, unlike Griffith, is more interested in ethics than spectacle. Blade Af Satans Bog" is basically a moral story in the shape of a big film production, in which evil deeds and human weaknesses became a metaphor and eternal parable.

The moral treatise mentioned by this Herr Graf is probably the most interesting aspect of the picture as the Danish director carefully develops the struggle between evil and good: Satan disguised as a Pharisee, a Grand Inquisitor, a Jacobin leader and a Bolshevik monk, must tempt his victims by appealing to their inner human weaknesses. In the background to this fight is religion, betrayal, ambition and power. The fallen angel knows how to persuade men towards his evil ends but is aware that there is no real comfort finally in his cruel doings. It is this aspect of the story that really counts for Herr Dreyer and he takes splendid advantage of the many technical resources at his disposal for this big budget film.

Herr George Schnéevoigt was the cinematographer of the film and does excellent work, especially during the scene wherein Herr Jesus is praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. He also captures the dark atmosphere of the Inquisition and provides a human portrait of Frau Marie Antoinette. The cinematographer's use of light and shadows captures the tragic mood perfectly.

This Herr Graf does not overlook the splendid and restrained acting by Herr Helge Nissen who, as the wicked Herr Satan, achieves a brilliant portrayal in his four different guises.

And now, if you'll allow me, I must temporarily take my leave because this German Count must continue to speak evil of one of his Teutonic rich heiress to another one.

Herr Graf Ferdinand Von Galitzien http://ferdinandvongalitzien.blogspot.com
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5/10
Intolerance, Be Damned!
wes-connors28 September 2008
A story of Satan, who, according to the film, was originally God's "Angel of Light". But, He wanted to be God-like. As punishment, God periodically orders Helge Nissen (as Satan) to "'Continue thy evil doings!'" And, director Carl Theodor Dreyer traces the Evil One's deeds through the ages. The film concentrates on three historically set studies: the crucifixion of Christ, the Spanish Inquisition, and the French Revolution; with the fourth, and last, leaf in Satan's book the (then) contemporary Russian invasion/occupation of Finland. Dreyer is clearly inspired by D.W. Griffith's infinitely superior, and highly recommended, "Intolerance" (1916). Elith Pio (as Joseph) and Clara Pontoppidan (as Siri) give focal, heroic performances in the latter two stories.

***** Blade af Satans bog (1921) Carl Theodor Dreyer ~ Helge Nissen, Clara Pontoppidan, Elith Pio
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1/10
Some Mighty Dangerous Teaching in This Movie
silentmoviefan5 July 2012
Warning: Spoilers
This movie...makes God out to be an obstinate Meany and Satan out to be a sympathetic character. That's not quite how it really is. I gave this movie a "1" because of that teaching. Anyone who believes that God is an obstinate Meany and Satan is a sympathetic character is in real trouble. There are some interesting elements to this film, but the teaching overshadows them. Yes, it deals with the Finnish Revolution, which I was not aware of until I saw this film. One earlier segment that I found interesting was around the time of Marie Antionette's execution. It refers to a her last letter, as if everyone should be familiar with it. I guess audiences of that time period might have been, but that's the first time I heard of it, too. Then there's Dryer. He's been made out to be a genius, but he comes across to me as an odd little man with funny ideas. Apparently, he thought God was an obstinate Meany and Satan was a sympathetic character. (I'll be he doesn't anymore!) If you must see a Dryer silent film, see The Parson's Widow (1920). Of the Dryer silent movies I've seen, it's the best of the lot.
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