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The Ocean Waif (International, 1916)

The Ocean Waif adThe Ocean Waif (International, 1916)
Directed by Alice Guy-Blaché
Starring Carlyle Blackwell and Doris Kenyon

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

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The Outlaw (Kalem, 1912)

The Outlaw ScreenshotThe Outlaw (Kalem, 1912)
Starring Carlyle Blackwell, William H. West, and Alice Joyce

Jim (Carlyle Blackwell) discovers a man dying of thirst while he’s out prospecting (William H. West). He brings him back to his cabin and nurses him back to health. Jim finds it odd that, after the stranger recovers his strength, the first thing he wants to do is to shave off his beard. Nevertheless, the two go out prospecting together and the stranger meets Jim’s girlfriend, Jenny (Alice Joyce). She becomes infatuated with the mysterious man.

The sheriff (Paul Hurst) stops by Jim’s cabin to ask if he’s seen the wanted outlaw Black Pete, who’s hiding somewhere in the area. After glancing the stranger leave the cabin, the sheriff is suspicious of him, but Jim asserts that he can’t be Black Pete. In the wanted poster the sheriff brought, Black Pete has a full beard, and Jim’s stranger is clean-shaven.

When the sheriff leaves, Jim goes to join the stranger, but discovers him and Jenny in an embrace. He then checks his pans and realizes that the stranger has been stealing gold from his claim. Jim decides to take revenge. That night, while the stranger sleeps, Jim pulls out a knife. He stands over the bed, but just as he rears back to stab, he sees his murderous reflection in the mirror and drops the knife.

The following day, the stranger is out mining at the base of a hill. The sheriff patrols the top of the ridge and inadvertently starts a landslide that catches the stranger. Jim hears the stranger’s cries and he and Jenny go to rescue him, but they arrive too late. They pull the mortally wounded stranger from the rubble and he dies in Jim’s arms.

The sheriff returns, evidently now convinced that the stranger was Black Pete, and demands that Jim reveal where he is. Jim tells him only that “the stranger has gone”.

I don’t know why the film wasn’t called The Stranger instead of The Outlaw. “The stranger” is the name the mysterious man is consistently called throughout the story and calling him an outlaw in the title kills the suspense. Imagine if The Lodger (1927) were instead called The Victim’s Brother.

Even for 1912, Blackwell’s acting is over-the-top. He doesn’t so much play to the back row as he plays to the next town over. But where I might fault the acting, I have to commend the direction and cinematography. The final scene, in particular, was expertly done. We see Jim, who in the previous scene refused even to look at the stranger, rush to the landslide and begin digging him out with his bare hands. After he’s freed, there’s an axial cut to a medium-close shot of Jim cradling the stranger – affirming a connection between them while simultaneously breaking the action of the previous shot in a way that, to me, suggests breathlessness. Jim calls for Jenny, who moves to the stranger’s head, and as he dies, the stranger reclines into her lap. The Jenny’s eyes meet the stranger’s lovingly, then slowly become more vacant and downcast as they move to Jim’s. It’s extremely well choreographed and coveys all that needs to be said while at the same time never feeling staged – it plays entirely natural.

The Outlaw (1912) is rough in spots and would have benefited greatly had it another reel to spend expanding on the friendship between Jim and the stranger before the latter was uncovered as Black Pete, but the good parts outweigh the bad in my opinion.

My rating: I like it.


Available from Harpodeon