Posts Tagged ‘Lars Hanson’

For the Silent Cinema Blogathon: 1928’s The Wind

I don’t seek out silent films as a rule but I do watch them if the plot sounds interesting to me.  On Sunday nights, Turner Classic Movies presents “Silent Sundays” featuring  one silent film with before and after anecdotes about the production.   It is from this program a year or two ago that I watched 1928’s, The Wind, and  I have since watched it twice more.

Movie poster 1 The Wind

Why do I enjoy this film as much as I do?  The acting, of course, is very good: Lillian Gish, Lars Hanson, Montagu Love, William Orlamond, Dorothy Cumming, Edward Earle.  The director: Sweden’s Victor Sjostrom(who in later years starred in Ingmar Bergman’s film, Wild Strawberries.) knew how to pace this story and to get the proper emotions from his actors.   The technical effects, for 1928 standards are very good, too: there’s the wind, an almost supernatural  character in this tale, the Native American legend about a ghost horse and its images, and the cyclone that interrupts a town dance.  The plot: 1 female who meets 3 males who have romance on their minds as there aren’t a lot of women in their area of Texas, circa 1880..  These meetings will lead to misunderstandings, hurt feelings, outright lying, broken hearts, lust,murder, and finally, forgiveness and love ruling at the film’s end.

Lillian Gish, the star of this film, had a lot of control by the mid-twenties and had a lot of say as to what kinds of movies she would act in.  She often said who would direct, co-star, write the screenplays, etc.  I don’t think many women actresses in today’s Hollywood have that much control, ironically.  Gish had bought the rights to the popular novel, The Wind, written by Dorothy Scarborough.  She got the greenlight to make the film, from Irving Thalberg, MGM’s Head of Production.  Gish hired Frances Marion-one of the best screenwriters at that time in Hollywood, to write the script.  Gish hired Swedish director Victor Sjostrom to direct her, as he had done in their excellent collaboration for The Scarlet Letter, and she also got for her main leading man, the handsome Swedish actor, Lars Hanson, who had also co-starred with Gish in The Scarlet Letter(this 1926 film version of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s book is still considered to be the best film version in existance!)

Lovely Lillian Gish, the star of The Wind, as Letty

Lovely Lillian Gish, the star of The Wind, as Letty

 

The handsome Swedish actor, Lars Hanson as Lige, the film's hero

The handsome Swedish actor, Lars Hanson as Lige, the film’s hero

I don’t know if Gish or Sjostrom lobbied to make the film in West Texas, but the Bakersfield, California and Mojave Desert locations fit the setting and mood of the film just fine.  Sjostrom, in order to show the wind and it’s power, and it’s constant tenacity, lined up 8 plane engines with attached propellers to constantly blow  and sulphur pots were kept burning to represent the effects of sandstorms.  Cast and crew had to wear goggles to keep their eyes protected, and lots of scarves and/or handkerchiefs wrapped around their mouths to keep the sand out!

Gish is excellent as Letty, traveling alone by train in the film’s opening scenes.  She is a Virginian, having been invited by her cousin, who’s family raised her, to come to West Texas to live with him and his wife and 3 children.  On the train, Letty meets fellow traveler, Wirt Roddy(Montagu Love), a cattle buyer/seller from Fort Worth.  He is a gentleman towards Letty, and keeps her company on the trip.  He also ominously warns her about the wind in this part of the country, as it can drive people, especially women, out of their minds.

Letty meets Wirt Roddy, Cattle Salesman, on the train

Letty meets Wirt Roddy, Cattle Salesman, on the train

At the train depot, Letty’s cousin, Beverly(I know, weird name for a man!) has sent two friends to fetch Letty and drive her to the ranch.  These friends are Lige(Lars Hanson) and Sourdough(William Orlamond), well-meaning but awkward cowboys.  The two men see Letty and decide to see who can shoot out a distant kerosene lamp, the winner getting to sit next to Letty in the wagon.  Letty is not amused by these two, and is disappointed that Mr. Roddy can’t take her to the ranch.  Roddy promises her that he’ll be in town for a while due to business, and not to worry, he’ll probably see her again before he has to leave.

LIge and Sourdough taking Letty to her cousin's ranch

Lige and Sourdough taking Letty to her cousin’s ranch

Cousin Beverly is delighted to greet Letty, his 3 children are at first quite shy around her.  Beverly’s wife, Cora, however, hates Letty from the start.  She dislikes Letty’s “prissy” ways, how her own children warm up to Letty and want to sit with her and hear stories and look at her pictures with a stereoscope(Victorian version of a Viewmaster.)  Cora even gets it into her head that Letty wants to steal away Beverly!!( This I can’t wrap my head around…Letty and Beverly are cousins!!!!)

Cora is bitter and hates Letty

Cora is bitter and hates Letty

At a town dance, Lige and Sourdough both announce to one another that they are going to propose to Letty!  They decide to toss a coin to see which one gets to propose, and Lige wins-thank goodness! Sourdough, old enough to be Letty’s grandfather, takes his loss in a good-natured way, and gives  Lige permission to propose.  Cora has overheard about this proposal, and gladly tells Beverly that Letty will be leaving their ranch.  Also at the dance, Roddy, while dancing with Letty, has told her he has fallen in love with her and is thinking about marrying her!   A cyclone suddenly appears, and interrupts all of these marriage proposal ideas for a bit.  After the cyclone has passed, Lige proposes to Letty, and is turned down.  Roddy leaves the dance and leaves a smile on Letty’s face.  Cora is not pleased as she finds out Letty has turned Lige down.

At the dance, proposal #1, from Lige

At the dance, proposal #1, from Lige

Proposal #2, or rather, a hint from Roddy

Proposal #2, or rather, a hint from Roddy

Letty and Cora have a showdown, well sort of:  Cora tells Letty what she really thinks of her and orders her off the ranch! (Beverly, who suffers from a bad cough-probably TB-is sick in bed and can’t stop his wife’s plan.) Letty pleads with Cora since she doesn’t have anywhere else to go and no money for a train ticket back to Virginia.  Cora refuses to relent, so Letty asks her to drive her to town and she’ll ask Roddy if he wants to marry her.  Cora gladly puts Letty’s belongings in the back of the buggy and off the two ladies travel to town.

Once in town, Letty finds Roddy at the hotel, and asks him about his marriage plan.  Roddy admits to Letty that he is already married!  Roddy turns out to be a slimy guy, one of those salesmen with a different “wife” in several parts of the state, and he wanted to add Letty to his collection.  Letty is horrified and terribly hurt by this information and returns to Cora with the news.  Cora insists Letty can’t return to the ranch, so Letty finds Lige and agrees to accept his proposal.

Alone as man and wife for the first time

Alone as man and wife for the first time

The marriage ceremony happens immediately and back at Lige’s place, he is over the moon with happiness because he believes Letty really loves him and wants to be his wife until death they do part.  He is nervous, excited, and shyly asks if he can kiss Letty.  Moments later, he accidentally enters the one bedroom where Letty has gone to wash her face and brush out her hair, and he is enthralled with her beauty.  He shyly offers her a cup of coffee and they sit together on the bed drinking the brew.  When Lige isn’t looking, Letty dumps his offering into a water pitcher.  A bit of foreshadowing, as whatever Lige offers Letty with the best of intentions, it’s not good enough for her.

Lige has brought Letty coffee

Lige has brought Letty coffee

Letty leaves the bedroom for the main room of the house, and Lige follows her.  He wants to get this honeymoon underway and makes a harsh grab for Letty, kissing her passionately.  That act only causes Letty to break away and harshly tell Lige off, that she doesn’t love him, and that she married him as she’d been kicked off her cousin’s ranch.  The look on Lige’s face is heart-breaking.  His eyes convey the depth of his pain and then the coldness in them grows.  He turns away from Letty and finds the coffee she had dumped in the pitcher, the coffee he had made for her.  He turns back to her and icily announces that he will work for the money for the train fare so she can return to Virginia, and that she needn’t worry, he won’t touch her, ever again.

Lige is hurt by Letty's harsh, unloving words

Lige is hurt by Letty’s harsh, unloving words

Time marches on, and Letty grows softer in her feelings for Lige.  He still acts distant towards her, keeping his heart and mind protected, no doubt.  Lige is notified by the area cattlemen that there is to be a meeting to discuss what to do to avoid imminent starvation that may soon affect the community.  Letty begs to go too, and he agrees, but as she has trouble riding her horse in the wind, and then falls off of Lige’s horse after he allows her to sit behind him on his saddle, he asks for Sourdough to take her back home.  Soon, Lige returns with an injured and unconscious Roddy-the cattlemen found him lying on the ground.  Lige tells Letty that she needs to care for Roddy as he recovers.  Letty doesn’t want to be near Roddy at all, but has no choice.  After Roddy recovers, he agrees to go with Lige and the other cattlemen to help round up some wild horses that they can then sell and then use the money to buy food.  Roddy sneaks back to the house to be alone with Letty, thinking he can seduce her and convince her to run away with him.  It’s to his surprise and doom when Letty finds a gun.

Roddy is delighted that Letty will have to take care of him

Roddy is delighted that Letty will have to take care of him

Insisting Letty run away with him

Insisting Letty run away with him

 

Turning the gun on Roddy

Turning the gun on Roddy

Lillian Gish is in her element in this film.  Her wide, large eyes reveal the depths of her character’s emotions.  Especially affecting are the scenes where the relentless wind blows and messes with her mind; she keeps seeing the legendary ghost horse in her mind, from a Native American legend Lige told her about.  There’s also the famous scene where she looks out the window of the house, looking to see if the wind will reveal the body she has had to bury.

One of several images of the ghost horse that appears in the film

One of several images of the ghost horse that appears in the film

 

What will the blowing wind reveal??!!

What will the blowing wind reveal??!!

Lars Hanson is so winning as Lige.  He is awkward yet smiling, in the beginning of the film.  It’s obvious he is quite charmed by Letty, and so happy when she agrees to marry him after her earlier rejection of his proposal.  You really feel the hurt in his expressive eyes when he hears Letty’s rejection of him as her husband.

Montagu Love is also good as the film’s villain.  He is kind and courtly when Letty first meets him, she not knowing his ulterior motives towards her.  As he recovers in the sickbed at Lige and Letty’s home, he slyly leers at Letty with his eyes when all think he is still unconscious.  In the novel, Roddy does sneak back to Lige and Letty’s home and rapes Letty.  In the film, it’s not as clear that that has happened, but the punishment Letty dishes out is the same.

Lige returns to the home after the wild horses have been rounded up.  Letty is ecstatic to see him and greets him with a kiss!  Will this action on her part lead to a turn around in their marriage of convenience?  What about the wind?  Can Letty stand to live in that West Texas environment any longer?  To find out the final answers to those questions, you’re going to have to hunt down this film, which won’t be easy to do.  Sadly, a lot of silent movies have been neglected, or lost, and not transferred to dvd.  For The Wind, I could only find two dvds at Amazon, but neither has a U.S. format, both being for Spain!  It does air from time to time on TCM, so watch for it by checking their online monthly schedule.

This has been my contribution for the Silent Cinema Blogathon, hosted by In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood and Lauren Champkin.  Be sure to visit both sites to read about other fantastic Silent Films!

For the Silent Cinema Blogathon

 

My Classic Movie Picks: The Scarlet Letter

My post today is about a silent film and is also a contribution for the Gish Sisters Blogathon, which is being hosted this weekend by two great blogs dedicated to classic films, Movies Silently and Motion Pictures.  Click on the posted links to read more wonderful blogs by other classic film fans to learn more about these two talented actresses and sisters, who got their start during the silent film era.Gish Sisters Blogathon

In 1925, Lillian Gish was at the top of her game in the movie world.  She was a popular leading lady in dramatic films, popular with the movie-going audiences in America, and she decided that she wanted to make a film about Nathanial Hawthorne’s classic novel , The Scarlet Letter.  She approached the head of MGM studios, Louis B. Mayer about getting this film made.  He pointed out to Miss Gish that the book was on a list of banned books that would not be allowed to have movie versions of them created.  With this answer not deterring her in the least, Miss Gish wrote a letter to MGM’s head of censure, Will Hayes, and then she wrote letters to the heads of church groups and ladies groups around the country, pleading her case that a tasteful and important film about Hawthorne’s book could be made.  Miss Gish must have had a way with the pen. Her letter writing campaign worked and her project was given the greenlight.  TSL movie poster 1

Since this was Lillian’s project, she had a say in who the director would be and who the leading man would be.  For a movie about Puritan settlers in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, she made two very interesting choices for director and leading man: she picked Swedish director Victor Sjostrom and Swedish actor Lars Hanson.  In her memoirs, The Movies, Mr. Griffith, and Me, Miss Gish said she felt that the Swedes were closer in feeling to the actual Puritans than the Americans of 1926.   Frances Marion wrote the adapted screenplay from Hawthorne’s novel, and the cast also included Henry B. Walthall, Karl Dane,William H. Tooker, Marcelle Corday, Fred Herzog, Jules Cowles, Mary Hawes, James A. Marcus, and Joyce Coad as Pearl.

I had read Hawthorne’s book about 5 years ago and as I like to do if a movie is based upon a book, I like to find that movie and watch it.  I knew there was a movie made in 1995 starring Demi Moore and Gary Oldman, but when I read some of it’s reviews, I decided that that version was not the one I wanted to see.  Over and over again, I kept running into commentaries that said the 1926 silent version, starring Lillian Gish, was the best version of Hawthorne’s book.  Turner Classic Movies came to my rescue when they aired the movie during their “Silent Sunday Nights”, which is when the channel shows silent films.  I set the dvr machine and voila!  I was able to view this silent classic.

I, like a lot of movie viewers, had a distorted view of silent films.  They’re all about a damsel in distress, tied to railroad tracks by a villain in a black cape with a huge black moustache, and she’ll be saved by a handsome hero.  The acting will be hammy and over-demonstrative, and the music will be by either a piano or an organ.  I am now the first to admit that I have been wrong about silent films.  The acting isn’t hammy, the stories and plots are interesting, and many have been set to new orchestrations with various instruments that enhance the films quite a lot.

Gish’s The Scarlet Letter follows Hawthorne’s book well and the acting of it is superb.  Gish and her leading man, Hanson, do so much with their eyes as they depict their characters’ feelings.  Theirs is not an effort of histrionics but of subtle shifts, keyed in on their faces, and their eyes.  The sets looked very authentic, as did the costuming, and Sjostrom’s direction kept the telling of Hawthorne’s tale moving along at a good pace; it doesn’t get slow or draggy.

Lillian Gish as Hester Prynne

Lillian Gish as Hester Prynne

Swedish actor Lars Hanson as Rev. Dimmesdale

Swedish actor Lars Hanson as Rev. Dimmesdale

Gish portrays Hester Prynne, a beautiful Puritan woman who’s husband has been lost at sea.  She has had an affair with another man in the community, became pregnant, and has given birth to a daughter, Pearl.  The story opens with Hester being presented to the community, she standing on a platform holding her infant and refusing to name the father.  She is informed that she must stand there for 3 hours to suffer from her shame, and a huge, red letter A must be worn by her on the front of the bodice of her dress.  As Hester stands there, hearing the grumbling commentary from her neighbors, she notices her husband, Roger Prynne( Henry B. Walthall) in the crowd!  He’s not dead!  He, seeing his wife’s shaming, asks people near him in the crowd what has happened.  After he is informed as to why Hester is being punished, he vows to find the father of the child.

Hester being publicly shamed

Hester being publicly shamed

After the 3 hours are up, Hester is escorted from the platform back to the jail.  She has refused to name the father of her child to the one of the  local ministers of the community, Rev. Arthur Dimmesdale, and after Dimmesdale leaves the jail, Hester’s long, lost husband Roger arrives to see her, saying  he is a doctor, who ‘d like to check on the health of the baby and the mother.  Once Roger is alone with Hester and has checked over Pearl, he tells Hester not to reveal who he really is, he’s taken a new name, Roger Chillingworth, and if she ever reveals who he is, he’ll cause the destruction of the child’s father.

Rev. Dimmesdale praying with Hester, after she refuses to reveal the father of her baby

Rev. Dimmesdale praying with Hester, after she refuses to reveal the father of her baby

The rest of the movie’s plot follows Hester and Pearl  and how their life evolves over time in the community, how some busybodies in the town think Hester is an unfit mother due to Pearl’s misbehavings and they seek to have Pearl taken away from Hester, Hester going to Rev. Dimmesdale for help in convincing those with authority not to take her child from her, and Prynne/Chillingworth, a diligent detective, figuring out the puzzle of who Pearl’s father is.  I don’t want to reveal all of the plot as I want the readers of this post to find the film and view it for themselves.  I cannot stress enough that this version of The Scarlet Letter, albeit a silent film, is the best version of the story ever made!

Asking Dimmesdale for help leads to deeper feelings being revealed!

Asking Dimmesdale for help leads to deeper feelings being revealed!

To add a bit more information about Lillian Gish, and her sister Dorothy, I thought I would mention the college that I attended, Bowling Green State University, in Bowling Green, Ohio.  The Gish sisters were natives of Ohio and BGSU(as the college is ususally referred to)decided in 1976 to dedicate a small theater in Hanna Hall after the two sisters.  Lillian was delighted with this effort and through the years that followed, she sent items from her and her sister’s careers to be put on display.  When Lillian passed away in 1993, many more items from Gish’s estate were sent to BGSU.  You can read all about the Gish Theatre here at this link.  I kick myself quite a lot that when I was a student there in the middle 1980s, that I didn’t take any advantage of visiting this on campus theatre nor did I take any advantage of expanding my limited viewings of classic movies, silent or talking.  I would like to visit the theatre the next time I am in Ohio, after I visit with my relatives first, of course!

Lillian Gish, probably at the time the theatre honoring her at BGSU was opened.

Lillian Gish, probably at the time the theatre honoring her at BGSU was opened.

Please seek out The Scarlet Letter, the 1926 version that Lillian Gish had the foresight, talent, and endurance to see that it was made.  It is a moving film, tenderly acted, a film made with real craftmanship.  The film did come out on a  dvd in 1997 so that would be one way to see it.  There have been some scenes from the film placed on Youtube, and  Turner Classic Movies  will also be airing the film on October 14th at noon est/11:00 cst.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 747 other followers