Monday, October 06, 2014

The White Raven

Ethel Barrymore in The White Raven. Photo: George Eastman House, Rochester, NY. Click to enlarge.
THE WHITE RAVEN (Rolfe Photoplays, Inc., dist: Metro Pictures Corp., US 1917) D: George D. Baker; P: B. A. Rolfe; SC: George D. Baker; story: Charles A. Logue; DP: Arthur Martinelli; C: Ethel Barrymore (Nan Baldwin), William B. Davidson (“The Stranger”), Walter Hitchcock (John Blaisdell), George A. Wright (Arthur Smithson), Viola A. Fortescue (Mrs. Smithson), Herbert Pattee (“Bill” Baldwin), Mario Majeroni (opera impresario), Phil Sanford (dance hall proprietor), Ethel Dayton (Sylvia Blaisdell), Ned Finlay (miner); filmed: 1916; première: 14.1.1917 (Rialto Theatre, New York); rel: 15.1.1917; orig. l: 5 rl.; DCP (from 16 mm, 2219 ft), 82' (transferred at 18 fps); titles: ENG; source: George Eastman House, Rochester, NY.
    With e-subtitles in Italian, grand piano: Philip C. Carli at Teatro Verdi (Le Giornate del Cinema Muto), Pordenone, 6 Oct 2014

Philip C. Carli (GCM catalogue and website): "The White Raven is an out-and-out sensation piece, based on an original story by future Universal story editor Charles A. Logue, but very stylishly scripted and briskly directed by George D. Baker. As a measure of Ethel’s stature on screen as well as the stage, the film premiered on 14 January  1917 at the one-year old Rialto Theatre at Broadway and 42nd Street, New York’s leading cinema at the time, managed by the legendary Samuel L. “Roxy” Rothafel and boasting a 38-piece orchestra conducted by Hugo Riesenfeld. The New York Times treated the occasion as a notable event: “ETHEL BARRYMORE IN FILM. Her Beauty and Skill as an Actress Brought Out In ‘The White Raven’ … The beauty of Ethel Barrymore graced the screen of the Rialto Theatre for the first time yesterday, when a new picture called ‘The White Raven’ was shown there. For more than a year the pictures for which Miss Barrymore has posed have been exhibited in the movie houses of the highways and byways, but it was not until one of the two largest picture palaces adopted a policy of open booking that the popular actress’s shadow self could be seen in appropriate surroundings.”"

"Ethel plays Nan Baldwin, the daughter of a ruined stockbroker, who supports herself by singing in an Alaskan saloon; her dream is to escape her sordid surroundings, go to New York to become an opera singer, and take revenge on the man who ruined her father. The settings are lavish, cameraman Arthur Martinelli achieves some impressive compositions and lighting effects, and Baker moves  things along with a zest also amply evident in Ethel’s performance."

"It is tragic that this film represents the only complete record of Ethel in a romantic leading part, but it is at least an idiomatic vehicle for her, which shows how compelling she could be in strongly  drawn roles, and confirms her status as a solid motion picture actress, even at this early date, rather than simply a stage star who took a stab at films."

"The New York Times rave review especially noted this, with an added touch of lasciviousness: “Miss Barrymore is lovely to look upon, never more so than in the sketchy costume of the dance hall, and she has adapted her fine skill as an actress to the new medium. For once one regrets the silence of the cinema as in his mind’s ear he hears the star’s rich voice speaking the subtitles allotted to her.”"

"Other critics also enjoyed Ethel’s portrayal of Nan, though some reveal discomfort with her intensity. Two notices which are, unusually, by women reviewers for major trade papers show a clearly divided attitude. Motography’s fastidious Genevieve Harris called Logue’s plot “a story of the very romantic type, which is appealing,” but primly opined that “the latter part of [the main] role, that of the prima donna, fits Miss Barrymore much better than the first part, for she is not well cast as the northern singer of the mining camps. However, her charm and exceptional ability serve in general to make Nan a most likeable character.” On the other hand, the Moving Picture World’s Margaret I. MacDonald fairly revelled in all the rough-and-tumble goings-on, enthusiastically noting that the story “presents unusually tense dramatic situations in a theme of wide human appeal. … The character of the feminine lead played by Ethel Barrymore, in pleasing contrast to the big majority of screen plays, presents a quality of almost masculine strength, a determination to follow the paths of virtue born of knowledge rather than ignorance, and a sense of honor and womanly tenderness, all of which has an appeal and influence for good.” Of Baker’s direction, she added, “the picture is staged in a pleasingly daring manner that is strongly realistic and savors of good red blood.”"

"George D. Baker (1868-1933) had been a newspaperman and cartoonist before joining Vitagraph in 1913; he became John Bunny’s principal director, and was promoted to directing features in 1915, mostly with Vitagraph’s top stars Edith Storey and Antonio Moreno. After Vitagraph’s reorganization in 1916 he went to Metro, where he was named head of production in 1919, eventually becoming Viola Dana’s main director before making his last film (a Metro-Goldwyn production) in 1924. He seems to have been equally adept at melodramas and social comedies, as his output is pretty evenly divided between the two genres, but very few of his films (which were highly regarded at the time) now survive." – Philip C. Carli

AA:  I confess I was not in a perfect mood for The White Raven, and as the screening started late I missed the ending which overlapped with James Layton and David Pierce's The Dawn of Technicolor presentation.

There is a lack of inspiration in George D. Baker's approach as a director, and I find it impossible to relate to this kind of a revenge story.

But The White Raven is worth seeing because of Ethel Barrymore. She is not glamorous, and there is still in this film a "The Road to Hollywood" sense of not fitting with the later norms of stardom, genre, and glamour. Ethel Barrymore's charisma and authority derived from the stage, not from Hollywood ideas of star beauty.

Her physiognomy makes her more credible as a saloon singer in Alaska than most other actresses. One can instinctively believe that she can survive anywhere.

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