The Dancer (American, 1916)
Farmer boy Johnny Madden (King Clark) travels to the city and falls in love with Capella (Vivian Rich), a dancer at a musical review. The two are soon wed and rather happily so. Johnny’s mother, Mrs. Madden (Louise Lester), is heartbroken both at her beloved son flying the nest and that the wife he’s flown to is “a common actress” and not a respectable woman… like, say, Daisy Brown (Marguerite Nichols).
Daisy is their neighbor and Mrs. Madden has long considered her and her son’s engagement a forgone conclusion, despite Johnny making no bones about how little he cares for the vain and self-centered girl. Unbeknownst to Johnny, his mother begins putting the screws to Capella, pressuring her to leave her husband so that he’ll come back to the farm and Daisy. And eventually Capella relents: Johnny returns home one day to find his wife gone and a letter urging him to “go to the farm and your mother and forget”.
He does go back to the farm, but he doesn’t forget. Daisy abandons whatever hopes she still held for winning Johnny and Mrs. Madden, seeing what she’s done to her son, realizes that her actions were not, as she had believed, “for the best”. It comes to a head when Johnny discovers the letter Capella sent his mother, when she conceded defeat and agreed to leave. Mrs. Madden begs her son’s forgiveness and shows him Capella’s most recent letter, in which she says that she’s fallen ill and desperately wants to see Johnny.
“Out of the shadow”. Mother and son both rush to the hospital and Capella’s side. Her illness turns out to be pregnancy. Mrs. Madden kisses Capella as she holds her new grandchild.
The story, of course, is just a modern-day retelling of La Dame aux Camélias given a happy ending. There are shades of Sawdust and Salome as well, but then you wouldn’t be wrong in saying Sawdust itself is just a looser adaptation of Camélias.
Nearly all of the American films I’ve seen have been from the heyday of the company’s early years and I was interested to see how well they kept up with the rapid changes in the film industry. The Dancer is a late American production (quite late — the company would be out of business not a year after its release), but aside from a few interesting close shots here and there, you really wouldn’t know it. Their cinematographic style in 1916 seems not to have changed all that much from what it had been five or six years earlier. Not that I’m surprised; with the singular exception of Vitagraph, none of the pioneers lived to see the end of the 1910s. American wasn’t a pioneer, but it did get in the game early enough to calcify before the war and the dissolution of the Patents Trust completely upset how movies were made and distributed in the US. I brought up Sawdust and Salome earlier because, despite The Dancer coming out two years after that film, it feels more primitive in comparison.
That said, the film isn’t that bad for what it is. Unless you’ve somehow managed to avoid every single take on this story for the last 168 years, you can predict the exact course of the picture from frame one, but again, as adaptations go, it isn’t that bad.
My rating: Meh.
And now, a sneak preview of our upcoming video. We’ve released the title before, but this isn’t simply an HD remaster — it’s from a new print entirely different from the version in common circulation. That’s your hint.