The Ocean Waif (International, 1916)
An orphan girl (Doris Kenyon) is taken in by a brutish fisherman (William Morris), who abuses her continually. She runs away and makes a residence in the attic of an abandoned mansion. Meanwhile, a writer (Carlyle Blackwell) is searching for inspiration. He rents the mansion and intends to stay there while writing his ghost story. For a period, it seems that the house actually is haunted, but the identity of the ghost is eventually discovered.
The writer and girl are quite happy together, until the writer’s fiancée shows up (Lyn Donelson). The girl leaves the mansion and returns to her foster father – who receives her with overtly sexual intentions. Her foster brother/sort-of-boyfriend (Fraunie Fraunholz) sees the struggle and shoots his father dead.
The writer is accused of the murder. I think the brother intends for the writer to take the rap so that he can marry the girl himself, I’m not sure, but eventually he confesses to the crime. The writer is released and the brother kills himself. The writer’s prior engagement is broken and he marries the girl.
There are obvious jumps in the narrative where several scenes must be missing. What’s on video is around three reels’ worth of footage, which means two reels are lost. It seems unfair to criticize the editing and flow of the narrative, then. However, even in sequences that appear to be intact, the film is very poorly assembled and there seems to be an almost complete disregard for continuity.
Tonally, the film is all over the place. The drama, the romance, the comedy, and the horror all uncomfortably jostle each other for attention.
Carlyle Blackwell is an awful actor. How he was ever a major name or how he came to star in this picture, I will never know. Especially how he came to star in this picture. Blackwell’s acting is the sort that’s parodied nowadays when people reference silent film – comically animated and over-the-top, no matter the seriousness of the scene. In Guy’s studio, a massive banner spread from wall to wall behind the camera that read “BE NATURAL”. She was a big proponent of using understated, naturalistic acting on screen. Big performances made sense on stage, since you had to make yourself seen even to the back row of the audience, but on screen, the no one is sitting any further away than the camera.
The Ocean Waif (1916) is Guy’s only surviving feature-length film and it’s of interest because of that, but purely on its own merits, I can’t recommend watching it.
My rating: I don’t like it.
Available from Kino