Monday, October 08, 2018

The Child Thou Gavest Me

The Child Thou Gavest Me. Source: Internet Movie Database.

Suo figlio / Lapsi jonkas minulle annoit.
US 1921.
regia/dir: John M. Stahl.
scen: Chester Roberts.
sogg/story: Perry N. Vekroff.
photog: Ernest G. Palmer.
mont/ed: Madge Tyrone.
cast: Barbara Castleton (Norma Huntley), Adele Farrington (sua madre/her mother), Winter Hall (suo padre/her father), Lewis Stone (Edward Berkeley), William Desmond (Tom Marshall), Richard Headrick (Bobby), Mary Forbes (governante/governess), Helen Howard, Mayre Hall (pettegole/gossiping girls), Ruby McCoy (Irma).
prod: John M. Stahl Productions, pres. Louis B. Mayer.
dist: Associated First National Pictures.
uscita/rel: c. 20.8.1921.
copia/copy: 35 mm, 5967 ft (orig. 6091 ft), 72′ (22 fps); did./titles: ENG.
fonte/source: Library of Congress Packard Center for Audio-Visual Conservation, Culpeper, VA.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM).
    Grand piano: Donald Sosin.
    Viewed with e-subtitles in Italian at Teatro Verdi, Pordenone (John M. Stahl), 8 Oct 2018.

Lea Jacobs (GCM): "The story of The Child Thou Gavest Me is credited to Perry Vekroff, a director of society dramas in the 1910s who may have influenced Stahl’s casting of Barbara Castleton in the role of the female lead: she had been directed by Vekroff in What Love Forgives (World, 1919). William Desmond, one of the two male leads, had already worked with Stahl in Her Code of Honor. Of greater consequence for Stahl was the other male lead, the great Lewis Stone. They would go on to make five more films together: The Dangerous Age, Why Men Leave Home, Husbands and Lovers, Fine Clothes, and Strictly Dishonorable."

"A variant of the maternal melodrama, the film is somewhat less sensational than Sowing the Wind, but the convoluted plot depends equally on chance encounters and multiple recognitions, one of which is improbably delayed. The act structure is not very well defined: the plot breaks into two halves which are not otherwise easily segmented. Norma Huntley (Castleton), in love with the married Tom Marshall (Desmond), has, at her mother’s urging, settled for marriage to Edward Berkeley (Stone). Also at her mother’s urging, she has concealed from the groom-to-be that she has an illegitimate child whom she believes died at birth. Through a series of fortuitous circumstances, the child turns up at her family home on the day of her wedding. As is typical of the maternal melodrama, the recognition between mother and son is immediate and without much explanation. When the two are brought together immediately after the ceremony, Norma recognizes him at sight. Edward agrees to take care of the boy and proposes to give out the story that the boy was adopted. He makes clear that he wants nothing to do with his wife emotionally or sexually, and threatens to find out the boy’s father and kill him. He refuses to listen to any of her explanations (thereby delaying them for us as well) and castigates her for her lying pretense of purity and respectability."

"The second half of the plot takes place sometime later, at Edward’s country estate. It begins with comic business involving the antics of the boy and his dog, as well as the child’s unsuccessful attempts to connect with Edward, who he assumes is his father. Meanwhile Edward, who suspects that Tom is the father, invites him to stay for the weekend, and surreptitiously watches his interactions with Norma. This section is very well staged and composed, with characters frequently framed in long shot. Edward deals coldly with Bobby while observing the mirrored reflection of Norma and Tom at a distance. Edward and Norma quarrel about his lack of affection for the boy, and Tom, in turn, watches them from off-screen. Later that night, Edward again observes Norma and Tom alone together and carries through with his threat, shooting Tom. A doctor is called; the outcome is uncertain. In the ensuing confrontation between husband and wife, it becomes clear that Edward is, in fact, the boy’s father."

"The trade press seems to have been less than impressed with the plot. Camera! judged that “the unusually involved plot is too very coincidental to convince the more incredulous….” Moving Picture World gently suggested that the delayed recognition between Norma and Edward was not probable. However, the reviewers commented favorably on the sets and the staging, as well as the performance of Richard Headrick (1917-2001) as Bobby. Camera! wrote: “Little Richard Headrick in the name part is featured and he is the picture’s best asset. That Bobby, his offering, is shamelessly padded is really an excellent thing in that it is the one entertaining, happy piece of action in the play.” The same review pointed out the difficult part assigned to Lewis Stone, playing an unsympathetic and “almost violent” man. One of the most interesting things about the film may be Stahl’s and Stone’s efforts to make sense of this character, on whom so much of the denouement depends. In retrospect, it is clear that Stahl was impressed enough to seek out the actor for many other roles."
Lea Jacobs (GCM)

AA: Like in The Woman Under Oath, the plot of this film is so wildly incredible that it becomes entertaining. However, when a story is so extremely implausible, the point can be lost.

The experience is surrealistic, and there is an oneiric quality in the narrative. This is melodrama at its most hallucinatory. A dream-play far removed from conventional realism. On the other hand we are reminded of Dostoevsky's dictum that no narrative can be as fantastic as reality. In the finale I was even thinking about Tex Avery cartoons.

During these centenary years of the Great War, The Child Thou Gavest Me can be seen as a special contribution to what Anton Kaes calls "shell shock cinema".

The jealous husband has sworn to kill the father of his wife's illegitimate child. In the incredible finale the husband discovers that the father is... himself. During the war, heavily drugged and brutalized by violence and devastation, he raped the nurse who took care of him. The nurse was nobody else but Norma, his future wife.

"Fighting with beasts I became a beast myself". Norma stops Edward from shooting himself, because that would be the solution of a coward.

A quite watchable new print with a somewhat duped look.

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