Trumpet Island (Vitagraph, 1920)
“Strange things are shaken down from the tree of life by winds of destiny” begins the ad copy for this “tangled romance … that acknowledges no formula”. Trumpet Island (1920) is based on the short story On Trumpet Island, by Gouverneur Morris – a name you might recognize from the two great Lon Chaney thrillers sourced from his work: The Penalty (1920) and The Ace of Hearts (1921).
Richard Bedell (Wallace MacDonald) and Eve de Merincourt (Marguerite de la Motte) have fallen in love. Eve’s father, Jacques de Merincourt (Joseph Swickard), is teetering on the brink of ruin after his investments prove to be disastrous. When his globetrotting friend Henry Caron (Arthur Hoyt) returns to town with intensions of settling down, he forces Eve to abandon Richard and marry Henry for his millions. Dejected, Richard buys a remote, uninhabited island where he can live “apart from mankind”. Departing for their honeymoon, Eve and Henry are caught in a freak hurricane and their plane crashes – where else? – on Richard’s island. When Richard finds the wreck, Henry is missing and he presumes dead, and Eve has lost her memory. There’s also a subplot about pirates and/or bandits that doesn’t really go anywhere except to provide some tiny foundation for the deus ex machina ending required after Richard discovers that – surprise! – Henry isn’t dead.
I wanted to like this film – I really did – and there are parts of it I do like. It’s very well shot, with camera work that’s creative and expressive but, at the same time, never draws so much attention to itself that it distracts from the action. The special effects and model work used for the hurricane and plane crash are superb and thoroughly believable. The acting and direction are decent enough, if unspectacular. It’s the story where things fall apart. It’s contrived to the point of ridiculousness, and no matter how much belief you’re willing to suspend, you can’t ever take it seriously.
Now, the version of the film I’m watching is not the full, feature-length one from 1920, but a significantly abridged copy found in Buenos Aires, where it had been given the new title of El Destino Manda, or The Hand of Fate, and re-released in 1929. Perhaps with five and a half more reels to work with, the story wouldn’t play out so comically… but I doubt it. Having read On Trumpet Island, I know that the film has been streamlined, but virtually nothing crucial to the plot is missing. Certainly nothing that would make it more believable. The short version at least moves briskly and doesn’t give you much time to realize how preposterous it is until the very end.
From a technical standpoint, I’m sure you’d like Trumpet Island for the effects and creative cinematography, but if you’re in the mood for the dramatic romance it promises to be, I’d look elsewhere.
My rating: Meh.
Available from Harpodeon