Archive for Madge Bellamy

The Saturday Intertitle: Fight to the Finish

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , on August 13, 2022 by dcairns

LORNA DOONE, continued.

And it was all going so well. Having saved the royal baby, John Ridd commits the cardinal sin of DANDLING it. Which one simply does not do, however much the sprog enjoys it. The King is appalled. He’s lavished all of fifteen seconds on a… a booby! And not in a good way.

Lovely shot of John skulking off. So it looks from this image as if they definitely came to Britain to shoot this, or else they had huge standing sets. But the climate and scenery also seems British. I should ask his biographer.

Humiliated, John goes back to Devonshire to mope in a manly sort of way. Maurice Tourneur lavishes a beautiful longshot on this activity (top). The mist is descending like soft rain, as if they’d devised some means of spraying moisture into the atmosphere, or as if they were just really lucky and filmed some actual mizzle.

Then, the film continues setting up what I’d feared — John’s jilted ex, Ruth (Norris Johnson), feels slighted that even in her absence, Lorna is occupying all John’s thoughts. When Lorna returns to Devonshire — the life at court means less to her than her strong, silent suitor — Ruth resolves to throw a spanner in the romantic works…

John and Lorna are to be wed — but Ruth rides dramatically over to the Doone stockade and lets the evil Carver know about the impending nuptials. On the wedding day, he positions himself at a window at the back of the church — an impossible shot, with a musket — and shoots Lorna.

Rather surprising he didn’t choose John for a target, but then it was a tricky shot. Lorna dies. She’s definitely dead. No way she’s not dead. That’s made quite clear. Remember that fact. And it’s quite moving.

John gallups over to the Doone place and challenges Carver to man-to-man combat. Carver takes potshots at him from the safety of the stockage. Some great shots here.

This latest outrage rouses the countryside to finally deal with the Doones. Lots of farmers come to John’s aid, and he leads a batch of them round by the waterfall to infiltrate the enemy base. Mayhem ensues.

Tourneur’s sadistic side comes into play when John and Carver fight to the death. Carver has a dagger, and it seems for a moment that John’s reputation as strongest man in Devonshire may be badly overinflated. But then he retrieves the situation by grabbing hold of Carver’s bicep and tearing it loose. Or at least, that’s what the intertitle claims. The dagger is flung into a nearby quicksand and sinks in an improbably but photogenic manner. Carver is then flung in after it and sinks in a more conventional way.

John returns to his farm, where he finds Lorna alive and recovering. This is nice, of course, but completely impossible. If there had been a shadow of doubt that she was dead, John’s friends wouldn’t have let him ride off to attack Carver, and he wouldn’t have wanted to go just yet.

Still, the film is merciful: not only is our heroine spared, Ruth goes unpunished. She’s now apparently happy to tend Lorna’s wounds and help the course of true love. Unless she’s planning to murder the heroine herself. The movie doesn’t give her a closeup to let us read her intentions, but I think we’re meant to think of this as a happy

You can see the film for yourselves here thanks to America’s wacky public domain laws:

The Sunday Intertitle: Doone by Law

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on August 7, 2022 by dcairns


Then a posh lady shows up from London to take Lady Doone away. “A lady?” simpers Lorna, forgetting for a moment that she’s supposed to be in love with the strongest man in Devonshire. The s.m.i.D. himself, after a pensive moment, tries to encourage her to go. I’m no lip-reader, but I formed the distinct impression that actor John Bowers says “Are you kidding?” Apparently it’s by order of the King, though I don’t see why he should be so bothered.

If I have a problem at all with Madge Bellamy’s performance it’s in her tendency to play Lorna as a nitwit. Allowing for that, it’s quite a skilled job. Unlike John Bowers, she had stage training and she made it into talking pictures as a supporting player, and you can see her for instance in WHITE ZOMBIE. Per IMDb: “In 1943, she would again appear in the headlines when she shot her lover, millionaire A. Stanford Murphy after he jilted her to marry another woman.”

There seems to have been a plague of millionaires called Stanford getting shot by movie stars, since one Stanford White earlier took a bullet from Evelyn Nesbit, though admittedly her stardom came after, as a result of her success in the role of murderess. Still, it’s a fine tradition and I’d be all in favour of resuscitating it.

Madge’s ability to plug the cad is all the more impressive when you consider she’d have to sneak up on him while maintaining a three-quarter backlight to make her hair radiant.

John sends Lorna on her way with a climax of fervid urging, then lapses into despondency as soon as she’s left frame. Oh well, it’s back to breaking up logjams, I suppose.

Second act trouble: the villainous Carver Doone spots Lorna saying her farewells — we worry about what he might now do. Well, sure, he could stick up her carriage and rekidnap her. A slight problem may be exposed here: there are relatively few plot elements in play, and a kidnapping and inevitable rescue would be rather repetitive, since that’s chiefly what the first half of the film has consisted of.

London! The movie resists the urge to repeat itself, and has John Ridd head for the big smoke, or a painting of same. Actually, though, we get some pretty big street sets. And a glass painting of the inside of Westminster Abbey as well as the outside. Fortunately, the people in shot are live action, so John can approach Lorna and rekindle their friendship. Although some bloke keeps sticking a halberd between them. It’s always the way.

The occasion is the christening of James II’s son — not sure which one, he had LOTS, but few of them lived long. I have no patience with religious services or pageantry, so this scene wasn’t looking too thrilling, but then John overhears some antiroyalist plotters, plotting in plain view in the public gallery, which is pretty stupid of them, and of the movie. I would be on their side if they weren’t so bloody indiscreet. They all have terrific villainous faces, which is a feature of this movie. As one rapscallion draws a musket and prepares to assassinate the baby with the bathwater, or possibly the King, John pounces, and shows that he’s not JUST the strongest man in Devonshire. His muscle travels.

It could easily have happened that John’s intervention might end up with him getting the blame for the assassination attempt — “I’m just a patsy!” — but the movie (and presumably the book) don’t opt for anything so complex. John is hailed as a hero, and his path to marrying Lorna is seemingly smoothed.

But there is still nearly half an hour of troubles ahead.


The Sunday Intertitle: Doone among the Dead Men

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , on July 24, 2022 by dcairns

Beautiful art titles from Maurice Tourneur’s hundred-year-old film of LORNA DOONE:

Tourneur’s technique, having been more advanced than nearly everyone’s in the teens, is now closer to standard in 1922, but his grasp of atmosphere is second to none. His version of Hollywood Olde Englande feels unusually authentic, allowing for the necessary romanticism. He’s not moving the camera, but the lighting is shadowy, the design detailed and original, the performances sensitive. the photography diffuse. Even the landscape shots are appropriately misty: did they go somewhere damper than California or just produce smoke on an industrial scale? I expect Christine Letuex, Tourneur biographer, knows the truth.

Ironically, with all this moody fuzz, the cinematographer’s name is Henry Sharp. He became a fixture at Paramount (DUCK SOUP, IT’S A GIFT), a studio addicted to soft focus.

Magic hour is scary hour!

The idea of highwaymen rising en masse — a merrie men-sized unit — is ahistorical, but dramatic. And here’s a not wholly successful forced perspective, where they’ve added period detail to their landscape in the form of a munchkinesque shack:

Quite strange — you would have to enter it bent double — was it designed by an ancestor of BEING JOHN MALKOVICH’s Captain Mertin?

Ringletted moppet Lorna (a name invented for the novel — passed on to my older sister) is abducted by the highwaymen — they plan on keeping her till she can grow up and marry one of them — an unlikely idea in several ways.

The Doone carriage, having been diverted into the sea like a bathing machine so the ruffians can abduct its little passenger. This is what we look for from Tourneur — a shot which achieves an emotional story point in an oblique way: it’s the aftermath of an event, not the event — no characters appear — but it summarises the calamity and is visually beautiful in itself. The first reaction is to the beauty, but it’s not just an attractive image, it’s what Fellini called meaningful beauty. It’s like Kane’s abandoned, snow-covered sled as the train whistle sounds…

The first appearance of Madge Bellamy as grown-up Lorna:

Beautifully composed — rather than popping on a longer lens, Tourneur takes the time to shoot the medium shot from a new camera position. The backlit halo effect on her hair is extraordinary — does Sharp have a little light hidden right behind her, or a huge one above her, or could possibly it be natural?

The film’s first interior shot depicts the villain, disgraced nobleman Sir Ensor Doone (!)

The cloud of pipe smoke makes it, but note also the silhoutted chair, the hazily lit hall beyond the doorway, the pool of light on the floor which picks out the black-clad highwayman in stark relief.

This film is too full of riches, I’m going to go through it in episode fashion. So this is