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Friday, February 11, 2011

THE WHISPERING CHORUS (1918)


The influence of D. W. Griffith is particularly strong in this 1918 morality play from Cecil B. DeMille. That’s a good thing for this story about a clerk who struggles (and loses) against his worst impulses; impulses that DeMille visualizes for us with a ghostly ‘whispering chorus’ who appear on-screen and alternately tempt or tame him. DeMille piles on the plots twists like Victor Hugo and throws in enough moral guilt to please Thomas Dreiser, yet his story instinct is so strong that we easily follow (and swallow) a downward spiral of embezzlement, gambling, identity theft, crippling accidents, drinking and eventual martyrdom. (And there are similarly complicated & over-lapping story arcs for the clerk’s mother, his wife & her second husband, a gentle man who winds up as governor!) Raymond Hatton is very effective as this Job-like creature (it’s a part Henry B. Walthall would have played for D. W.) and the rest of the cast is excellent. It’s a pleasant shock to see what an advanced filmmaker C. B. was in his early years. Not that he was rewarded for his effort; the film was a major flop. Now, it looks like one of his best. NOTE: The picture above is a publicity still. The double exposures used in the actual film are highly effective, but far less elaborate.

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