The Vernal Equinox Intertitle: The Most Beautiful

Spring begins! And here, to celebrate, are some of the most beautiful intertitles I’ve ever seen, from Cecil B DeMille’s FORBIDDEN FRUIT (1921). The film itself is a Cinderella story with added criminal subplot, some minor social commentary wrapped up in a delirious wallow in poshlust-porn. Any time somebody picks up a cigar or perfume bottle, an obliging close-up will leer up at you to let you know just how outside your wage bracket it is.

The plot isn’t too special, and leading lady Agnes Ayres doesn’t display much range… her opposite number, Forrest Stanley, is better, and Theodore Kosloff brings a certain saturnine appeal to the evil butler character (not present in the original fairy tale). The real appeal is in the design, not just of the title cards [two-colour titles in a b&w movie! There’s luxury for you. Nobody wants to see Agnes’ pasty face blossom into pink radiance, but we’re clamouring for some tinted lettering, thank you very much] but the sets [a small thing, but I was impressed that the rich folks had not just a telephone in their hall, but a whole telephone booth] and especially the costumes, by Mitchell Leisen and Clare West and Natacha Rambova. The fairytale looks like Rambova alright — DeMille cuts away to actual reenactments of bits of the Perrault fable, for no pressing narrative reason, and the resulting indulgences are a feast for the eyes. A starvation diet for the mind, but your eyes will go home fat.

As a plus, there are some fun cartoony visual ideas. In one scene, the lovestruck hero can’t concentrate on his oil well holdings, because Agnes’ face is haunting him —

And here’s DeMille’s evocation of “greed” ~

More DeMille on DVD: The Cecil B. DeMille Collection (Cleopatra/ The Crusades/ Four Frightened People/ Sign of the Cross/ Union Pacific)

6 Responses to “The Vernal Equinox Intertitle: The Most Beautiful”

  1. Very Edward Gorey title cards

  2. Well, Gorey loved the cinema of the teens and early twenties. Particularly Griffith’s sense of Victorian melodrama, which DeMille partakes of somewhat.

  3. Heh, the dollar signs in the eyes reminds me of a Mr. Show sketch where you see firemen looking at a fire and dollar signs pop into their eyes. The sketch ends with a Mother Teresa look-a-like seeing a starving beggar and dollar signs popping into her eyes.

  4. Hah. I wonder if the image existed here before it did in cartoons — I can’t imagine CB DeMille being influenced by Felix the Cat, or if it was maybe a phrase before it was visualized by movies?

  5. Christopher Says:

    making silent movies must have been something akin to playing with toys..Every visual whim must have been tested before dialog took over..

  6. That’s what it should STILL be like! And if the people playing have taste and talent and intelligence, the result will be beautiful. And if they don’t, it won’t. But either way, it shouldn’t be dull.

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