Saturday, October 13, 2012

Fires of Youth

US 1917. Thanhouser / Pathé Gold Rooster Play, D: Émile Chautard; P: Edwin Thanhouser; SC: Agnes Christine Johnston; DP: Jacques Bizeul; ass D: James Ewens; C: Frederick Warde (Iron-Hearted Pemberton), Helen Badgley (Billy), Jeanne Eagels (Billy’s sister), Ernest Howard (Billy’s father), Robert Vaughn (Jim), James Ewens, Carey L. Hastings, Grace Stevens; orig. l: 5 rl.; 35 mm, incomplete, 2116 ft [3 rl.], 32' (18 fps); print source: Library of Congress Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation, Culpeper, VA. [Announced: English intertitles. Actually:] sous-titres français. Cinemazero, Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone (Thanhouser), e-subtitles in Italian, grand piano: Bruno Gratini, 13 Oct 2012.

David Robinson: "In 1916, Thanhouser brought from the legitimate theatre the most outstanding actress his company was ever to employ – even though neither he nor anyone else fully realized it at the time. Jeanne Eagels (1890-1929) was still struggling up the theatrical ladder when she had her first remarked success in the touring company of Hubert Henry Davies’ play Outcast, in the role of a prostitute who becomes a faith healer, created in 1914 by Elsie Ferguson. The tour included a New York off-Broadway engagement, as a result of which Thanhouser engaged her for a film version of the play, retitled for the screen The World and the Woman (1916). The credits for this were exceptional, with Frank Lloyd and Eugene Moore as directors, and William C. de Mille and Philip Lonergan (younger brother of Lloyd) credited as writers. Eagels was apparently contracted to make two more films for Thanhouser, and in both of these – Fires of Youth and Under False Colors, in which she played a nihilist Russian countess – she was directed by Émile Chautard (1864-1934), a French stage actor who had turned film-maker at Éclair, and was to end his career as a Hollywood character actor. Chautard seems to have brought with him Alfred Machin’s former cinematographer, Jacques Bizeul, who was to have a fruitful Hollywood career until his death in 1925. By the time she made these two films, however, Jeanne Eagels had already achieved stardom with The Professor’s Love Story, the first of three successive productions in which she appeared with George Arliss in 1917. Five years later, her creation of the role of Sadie Thompson in Rain (1922) was to make her an enduring Broadway legend. Her biographers believe that it was this period, when she was filming all day in New Rochelle and rushing back to the Knickerbocker Theatre for the night’s performance, that began the dependence on drugs and alcohol that was to lead to her early death at 39. But her personal demons undoubtedly also included her acutely analytical and self critical passion for her art."

"Fires of Youth – certainly in the abbreviated versions that have survived – gives us little sense that we are watching one of the great 20th-century stage actresses. The film is, in fact, designed to star Frederick Warde (1851-1935), an English-born Broadway veteran who had worked with Edwin Booth and reached the peak of his popularity as a Shakespearean actor in the 1870s. In 1912, at 61, he made Richard III, regarded as the first American Shakespearean feature film, with which he toured, delivering lectures and monologues. For Thanhouser he made seven films, including King Lear and The Vicar of Wakefield. The screenplay is by Agnes Christine Johnson (1896-1978), a prolific writer whose later credits include Show People, The Patsy, and the Andy Hardy series. This though is a far-fetched melodrama about a wicked mill-owner whose conscience is awakened by the friendship – and subsequent injury in a factory accident – of little Billy, the son of a worker, played inevitably but admirably by Helen Badgley. Jeanne Eagels’ role as Billy’s sister gives her small scope, but while it is not possible here to recognize a great actress, she is certainly a very good one, restrained and with a natural response to the camera. Fires of Youth was the 1079th Thanhouser production. Only seven more films were completed before the company ceased operations and the studio was leased to the Clara Kimball Young Film Corporation." DAVID ROBINSON

AA: Fires of Youth is a movie of social awareness. The mother is afraid of accidents at the foundry; there is a disaster. There is deep feeling in the account of the profound sense of loss. The little daughter Billy sees Iron-Hearted Pemberton as the devil. The old millionaire's child is dead, and he plays with Billy, but the furious father forbids it. The foreman warns that salaries will have to be cut by a quarter. But in the end the salaries are raised and security measures upgraded. There is a storyline about the possibility of a May September romance ("l'automne si loin du printemps").

In true Thanhouser fashion there is a plain, sober, and mature approach to the storytelling regardless of how wild the plot turns may be.

Jeanne Eagels in one of her earliest film roles gives a natural and realistic performance as Billy's big sister.

From a battered and incomplete print with footage missing so much that the plot becomes incomprehensible. Partly the visual quality is good, partly the image has low contrast or a heavily duped or even a horribly disfigured character.

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