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14 July 2012 @ 02:31 am
East Lynne  
The 1916 William Fox production of East Lynne starring Theda Bara survives! Supposedly the only print of it is retained by the Museum of Modern Art and has not officially been released on DVD.

And yet, little bits of it are sprinkled about the worldwide web including a sort of sampler of key scenes from the feature:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ZATkFgjrCI

The full feature itself is no longer on Ebay since the original posting of this article.

The DVD, as advertised, has no sound, no title, no extras and a time code continuously displayed in the lower left corner. In addition, the scenes are reproduced a little out of focus and not as sharp as the original print...and there is the usual white balance problem (although I have seen worse).

However, the movie seems complete including (for better or worse), the part title cards (later films would abandon these for a white dot indicating to the projector operator to switch reels): each part representing a separate reel of film.

This scenario by Mary Murillo makes the setting in the present day (1916) United States Northeast with Boston, New York specifically named and, of course, the fictional East Lynne, which one would surmise, is in Massachusetts.

The reactions of Theda Bara's character before agreeing to marry Archibald Carlisle (played by Ben Deeley) are not well explained but they are somehow related to the underhanded dealings of Captain Levinson (Stuart Holmes) who seems to be lurking about in almost every scene of the movie.

The person to watch, really, is Levinson, who goes about literally committing murder and mayhem: ruining others lives and eventually his own. Almost everyone else in the film is a pawn in his pursuit of women, money and drink. Worst affected is Theda Bara's character who goes from ingenue to wife (Lady Isabel Carlisle) to mother to divorcee to accident victim to someone masquerading as another (Madam Vine) to get close to her own children!

The sheriff, who is not fully credited but is played, I believe, by Frank Norcross, also is worthy of study. There is one scene toward the end which has probably the best camera work in the entire movie. Unfortunately, that is not saying much because most scenes are rather stagey. Still, at times even static scenes have some interesting foreground/background interactions that purposely move the eye about...a once common technique in film.

There are various characters in this treatment of the story which are introduced and then are completely forgotten later. Richard Hare (Stanhope Wheatcroft) is framed for murder and a fugitive, yet we never learn what happened to him after he secretly visits his dieing mother (Eugenie Woodward), aided by his sister Barbara Hare (Claire Whitney) and attorney Archibald Carlisle.

O. Hallijohn, played by (I would guess) James O'Connor, is vilified by Judge Hare (the father of Barbara and Richard) as "the wrong type" and yet is seen thrice in part 2: in an argument with Judge Hare (William H. Tooker), chastising his daughter Afa and in the fight scene with Levinson. We know why he is not seen again in the movie, yet we really don't understand the animosity Judge Hare feels toward him. Afa Hallijohn, played possibly by Velma Whitman, is seen only once and never again.

The end of the film which I presume is the original end (because we did see the end title card, so it is not a case of lost film at the end of the final reel) left me feeling rather empty. Perhaps that was the point. It was not as much where it left off but how fast the final curtain came down. There was no lingering over the sad faces to help drill in the tragedy of it all.

The movie was like a promised tapestry of characters and drama and ended up being a threadbare cloth with a couple of interesting pieces patched in.

There was so much potential with this movie for Theda Bara. If the ending were stronger and we understood what was going on at the beginning it would have been far better and might have even rescued the bad reputation this story has for theater types. It was a great movie for Stuart Holmes (who was also a major player with Theda Bara in The Clemenceau Case) and for the sheriff (again, I believe it was Frank Norcross, but IMDB does not say).

The whole story could really stand a modern reboot, but I think it should be told from the standpoint of the sheriff. He could tie the whole sorted mess together as an individual only interested in justice and putting the world straight. We could learn more about all the characters before and after...and in the end the sheriff would intone his own sadness and hope.

This would be much better if reproduced accurately and sharply from the print, the part titles removed, music commissioned and performed and released on a DVD with extras such as the 1915 East Lynne movie (which survives as scenes in a comedy short from "Easy Aces" called An Old-Fashioned Movie: "It was love at first sight," Mr. Ace comments about the two leads. "She must have been near-sighted," says Jane Ace.)