The Woman in White (Thanhouser, 1917)
Laura (Florence La Badie), an orphan, lives with her half-sister Marian (Gertrude Dallas) at the estate of their uncle, Frederic Fairlie (J.H. Gilmour). Laura has been taking painting lessons and has fallen in love with her instructor (Wayne Arey), but before her father’s death, he made it known that he wished her to marry Sir Percival Glyde (Richard R. Neill) once she came of age. Laura tries to break the engagement, but Sir Percival is insistent. Meanwhile, a woman has escaped from a nearby insane asylum and finds her way to the Fairlie estate. This unnamed “woman in white” appears on a few occasions to cryptically warn Laura that Sir Percival is not who he seems to be.
I’ll say right now that I adored The Woman in White (1917). The story was intriguing, the characters well developed, the mystery unraveled in a believable way and at a good pace, and above all, the film was superbly shot. The use of harsh light and shadow give it a very proto-Noir feel that makes it seem a great deal more recent than you’d expect of a film from 1917.
I struggle to find anything critical to say. There is one title near the beginning that says a little too much regarding the mystery that surrounds Sir Percival, but not enough to spoil it. What is finally revealed in the final sequence is surprising and unexpected, but it doesn’t come out of the blue as it does in some poorly written works – it flows very naturally from the build-up and fits like the last piece of a puzzle. I’ve never read the novel the film is based on, but in that regard, the film felt to me like a Mary Roberts Rinehart Had-I-But-Known mystery. If you enjoy that style of storytelling, you will undoubtedly like The Woman in White.
My rating: I like it.
Available from Thanhouser