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Geoffrey, a young and impoverished writer, is desperately in love with Mavis, who lives at his boardinghouse and is also pursuing a writing career. Unable to marry her because of his poverty, in his anger he curses God for abandoning him. Soon Geoffrey meets Prince Lucio de Rimanez, a wealthy, urbane gentleman who informs Geoffrey that he has inherited a fortune, but that he must place himself in the Prince's hands in order to enjoy the fruits of his inheritance. What Geoffrey doesn't know is that Prince Lucio is actually Satan, who is using Geoffrey as an experiment to show God that he can corrupt anybody.Written by
I was expecting this to be longer (it ran for just 90 minutes) since most sources cite it as being close to the 2 hour-mark...although one never really knows with Silent films given the variety of projection speeds involved!
Anyway, it's a rare 'horror' film for Griffith and one that, reportedly, he did against his will...in fact, it was originally intended for Cecil B. DeMille! As it happens, it's pictorially sumptuous but, typically of Griffith, rather static; for having been a pioneer of cinema, his occasional reluctance to move the camera is both strange and regrettable (some of the close-ups of his leading lady here seem interminable). The Faustian plot is reasonably compelling if predictable and the acting plaudits effortlessly go to Adolphe Menjou who brings his customary sartorial elegance to the titular character; on the other hand, Carol Dempster is nowhere near as expressive as Lillian Gish had been in Griffith's earlier films.
Even so, the director seemed far more at home during her melodramatic scenes than in depicting the sophistication of the high-life hero Ricardo Cortez breaks into, and even less so with its essential supernatural elements! While individual scenes deliver the goods (the fantastic opening sequence set in Heaven showing the banishment of Lucifer and his minions, Menjou's initial materialization in Cortez's apartment and the finale when he reverts back to his true form to menace Cortez - wisely shown only as a huge bat-like shadow), the film really needed a European sensibility to do it full justice rather than the hand of a Victorian romantic who was past his prime anyway! Still, it's very much a worthwhile if essentially patchy enterprise and I would certainly love to catch up with the director's other 'horror' work eventually - THE AVENGING CONSCIENCE (1914) and ONE EXCITING NIGHT (1922).
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