Early & Silent Film

Just another WordPress.com weblog

The Girl Without a Soul, USA 1917

Posted by keith1942 on July 27, 2017

This was another film scripted and directed by John H. Collins presented at the 2016 Le Giornate del Cinema Muto. His star and wife, Viola Dana, had a double role in the film playing two identical sisters.

“…this enjoyable film fully justifies the casting of versatile Viola Dana in double roles, in which she achieves two distinct characterisations with a simple alteration of contrasting hair styles and nuanced changes of expression and body language: a steely-eyed concentration and selfishness as Priscilla and a warmth and, joy and trust as dog-loving Unity.” (Helen Day-Mayer and David Mayer in the Festival Catalogue).

These are the two daughters of violin maker Dominic Beaumont, Priscilla is a gifted violinist whilst Unity, ‘without a soul’ or ‘talent’ is confined to domestic labour. Priscilla’s lover is also a musician Ivor, whilst Unity’s beau is the village blacksmith, Hiram.

The plots develops around Hiram’s money box where he keeps the savings for his wedding to Unity, but also savings by the congregation for a new organ for the village chapel. Opportunistic Ivor inveigles Priscilla in helping him to steal the money. Suspicion falls on Hiram, in part because he has bought an expensive dress for the wedding for Unity. And it is Unity, as in other films starring Viola Dana, who must save Hiram from an unjust trial and punishment. However, Hiram is allowed his own action, chasing after the fleeing Ivor and apprehending him for justice.

Collins and his cinematographer John Arnold achieve some effective split screen shots to show Priscilla and Unity together in the frame. The Mayer’s also point out that the pair,

“collaborating on shots and sequences that define the rural environment in which the narrative unfolds: the romantic idyll Unity and Hiram share on a slow-moving river overhung with vegetation alongside a packed country courthouse evoked, not by those in attendance, but by the rows of buggies and spring wagons and their patient horses and mules, noses in feedbags parked under the leafy, sun-dappled sycamores – a tranquil scene sensationally disrupted by shady Ivor’s flight from justice.” (Festivals Catalogue).

So the country environment is evoked as successfully as in the other rural based drama Blue Jeans. And, as in that film, there is the evocative river journey. Blue Jeans also features the finely achieved hustings for the election: in this film  an equivalent sequence is the arrival of the new organ for the village chapel, with all the villagers in a attendance and celebrating this new acquisition.

Collins develops the plot by the use of well-placed flashbacks, which both fill out the action but also, as in the court hearing, add to the drama as we revisit a key scene. The sense of ‘Americana’ that we find in Collins work is here in the film’s reference to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow as Unity recites his poem ‘The Village Blacksmith’ at the local girl’s school Commencement Day. This poem also ties neatly into her relationship with Hiram. As well as fine technical work Collins film’s have carefully developed plotlines with little redundant action and carefully placed ‘plants’ and ‘pay-offs’.

This was the only title from Collins at Le Giornate screened from a DCP: transferred from a copy held by the George Eastman Archive. The accompanying music was provided by Phil Carli at the piano with Günter Buchwald on the violin, including ‘dubbing’ the playing of Priscilla.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

 
%d bloggers like this: