Glorious Troglodytes

Crosses are important in this film — see how many of them YOU can spot!

Roy William Neill is vaguely famous for his forties Sherlock Holmes films, horrors and noirs, while his thirties work is fairly obscure and most of his silents a lost continent. His directing career actually began in 1917 and he made several WWI pics. VIVE LA FRANCE! (1918) is such a one.

Neill has a wealth of actuality footage to work with, so much so that the slender plot is often overwhelmed. The leads, Dorothy Dalton and especially Edmund Lowe disappear for lengthy stretches while we look at troops, planes, big guns. A lot of the apparently documentary war stuff is impressive in itself. And there seems to have been a decent budget for staging action too — the close-quarters trench fighting footage CAN’T be real. It’s genuinely hard to be sure where fact and fiction leave off.

... the men, glorious troglodytes…

Strangely, the two main characters seem to be movie stars. But they’re of French origins so they get into the war quick.

DD becomes a nurse, falls into the hands of the filthy hun who killed her parents, is branded on the bosom with the cross of shame. EL is injured, loses his memory, is saved by DD, gets his memory back. So when the film isn’t wowing us with artillery, it’s trying to horrify us with sadism. Fred Starr is the villain — no Stroheim, he. The man I DON’T love to hate. I don’t even like disliking him.

Also in the cast, Bert Sprotte. I like Bert Sprotte because his name is Bert Sprotte.

The intertitles of the print I saw are in French, and I have my doubts if they were translated faithfully. I can certainly guarantee you that my retranslation of them back to English, using my O-Grade French brain, was less than accurate. But the title cards give out for long stretches, leaving us to our own devices anyway. The film and I could generally come to an agreement about what was going on.

Neill seems not very keen on the hun-baiting stuff, but there’s some intense melodrama elsewhere, and the ruined castle set (complete with thunderstorm! or maybe it’s the flash of battle?) allows for some foreshadowing of his later gothic entertainments.

Dalton, whose work I was previously unfamiliar with, is one of those silent actors who rather lives up to the stereotype. The rhetorical style is not necessarily inappropriate to this sort of tosh, but Lillian Gish would have made it credible as well as barnstormy. The unfortunate climax has Edmund Lowe’s memory restored to him by the sight of the brand of shame seared into his sweetheart’s body by the beastly boche. Since this requires DD to flash her DDs at him in a melodramatic fashion, and Lowe to react in kind, it’s a bit of an effort not to laugh, even though one mustn’t.

Lowe, a velvet-smooth lead in thirties films, isn’t as massive a hambone as Dalton, but he still widens his eyes and mouth, steps back in amazement, leans against the defunct fountain behind him, and raises one knee decorously, like the pre-code Columbia lady.

3 Responses to “Glorious Troglodytes”

  1. Jeff Gee Says:

    The best Brand of Shame is Hazel Court’s self-inflicted one in Roger Corman’s “Masque of the Red Death,” her spectacular cleavage spectacularly preserved forever by DP Nicholas Roeg

  2. David Ehrenstein Says:

    “A balcony you can do Shakespeare from”

  3. Hazel Court’s great in Masque but even better in The Raven (which isn’t as good a film, but is a lot of fun).

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