Between sturdy perfs for directors like Clarence Brown, George W. Hill & Victor Sjöström during his brief Hollywood sojourn, Swedish actor Lars Hanson made this big, mess of a melodrama for the lesser lights of journeyman helmer John S. Robertson. Having just played a troubled minister in THE SCARLET LETTER/’26, he now takes on a younger man-of-the-cloth, just home from seminary. He’s something of a free spirit for his staid New England community, but Marceline Day, his loyal fiancée, sticks to him. Or, she does until he begins tending to a Boston prostitute (Pauline Starke) who’s recently washed ashore. And, yep, she’s literally washed ashore! Disgusted by the small town’s lack of Christian charity, Hanson & Starke board a ship to Rio, but find out (in the middle of the Atlantic) that they’ve been conned onto a convict boat on its way to the salt mines. Yikes!! We’re darn close to silent movie-plot parody here, and not too far off in the acting department, either, though no one seems to be kidding. But the print is in lovely shape, and it’s all ravishingly shot by William Daniels. In fact, as the story spins out of control and the plot takes on a sadistic edge, you start wondering if Erich von Stroheim had been part of the original package. He’d only left M-G-M a couple of years back and Daniels had long been his regular lenser. Even as it stands, in the last couple of reels, something starts to click on screen. (Did Robertson leave the project?) The film suddenly comes to life with real menace on the ghastly ship, a thrilling fight to the finish in the ship’s rigging, and a redemption-thru-death ending that needs Wagner’s FLYING DUTCHMAN roaring away on the soundtrack instead of the fine, tasteful score we have from Philip Carli.
DOUBLE-BILL: To see Hanson (and the silent cinema) at his best, try THE WIND/’28, directed as if in a fever dream by Victor Sjöström. The film's true star, Lillian Gish, had originally brought the two Swedes over specifically for her film of THE SCARLET LETTER/’26.