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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

THE AVENGING CONSCIENCE (1914)


D. W. Griffith made this little remembered 6-reel feature in California while prepping THE BIRTH OF A NATION/’15. It’s inspired, though hardly based, on writings & themes of Edgar Allan Poe, anticipating Roger Corman’s cavalier mode of adaptation; in form, structure & execution it seems to have influenced the German expressionist films, notably THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI/’19 which even incorporates the same final twist; and in its use of poetic vignettes as narrative parallel, it foresees a favorite tool of C. B. De Mille. All very interesting, but it hardly makes the film itself more than a jumble of plot lines and half-baked ideas. Even so, Henry B. Walthall is astonishingly creepy as a Poe-saturated young man who dreams of murdering his Uncle so that he can marry the girl of his dreams, Blanche Sweet. A scene where he contemplates how best to shoot his dozing Uncle (in the head?, in the neck?, the heart?) is acutely disturbing. Bobby Harron & Mae Marsh are completely charming in supporting roles, but they, like so much else here, don’t get much development.

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