WAR BRIDES (Herbert Brenon, 1916, USA, 72m, BW)
Directed by Herbert Brenon
Produced by Herbert Brenon
Written by Herbert Brenon (scenario)
Based on War Brides (play)
by Marion Craig Wentworth
Music by Robert Hood Bowers
Cinematography J. Roy Hunt
Edited by James MacKaye
Distributed by Selznick Pictures
November 12, 1916
Country United States
Language Silent (English intertitles)
War Brides is a lost 1916 American silent war drama film directed by Herbert Brenon and starring Alla Nazimova. The film marked Nazimova's debut in motion pictures. The film's lost status makes it a sought-after title.
Alla Nazimova - Joan
Charles Hutchison - George
Charles Bryant - Franz
William Bailey - Eric
Richard Barthelmess - Arno
Nila Mac - Amelia (*Nila Mack)
Gertrude Berkeley - The Mother
Alex Shannon - The King
Robert Whitworth - Lt. Hoffman
Ned Burton - Captain Bragg
Theodora Warfield - Minna
Charles Chailles - A Financier
The film was based on the eponymous one-act play by the poet, playwright, and suffragist Marion Craig Wentworth (1872-1942). A newlywed soldier is sent to the front and killed. When his young widow learns of his death she considers committing suicide, but decides against it because she is pregnant. The King of her country (unnamed in the original; Germany in the later version) decrees that women must bear more children to fight in future wars. Soon afterwards, as the King is passing through her village, the pregnant widow leads a procession of women to protest the war. Soldiers try to hold her back, but she manages to come face to face with the King, and kills herself in front of him. The title card reads, "If you will not give us women the right to vote for or against war, I shall not bear a child for such a country!"
War Brides was one of the most successful plays of 1915. It opened in January at B.F. Keith's Palace Theatre in New York City, with Alla Nazimova in the lead role, and toured the country for several months. The play was so much in demand that a second production toured the South, with Gilda Varesi in the lead. In 1916 it was made into a silent film, also starring Nazimova in her first onscreen role.
The film did very well in the United States, bringing the studios a profit of $300,000, and was widely acclaimed by critics. Because of its pacifist message, it was banned in some cities and states. In 1917 it was withdrawn from circulation on the grounds that "The philosophy of this picture is so easily misunderstood by unthinking people". Later that year the producer, Lewis Selznick, had the film edited to give it an anti-German slant, and re-released it to American theaters. It was not shown in any other Allied countries.
Alla Nazimova was seen for the first time as a screen actress last night at the Broadway Theatre in a film version of Marion Craig Wentworth's dramatic playlet, "War Brides," in which she acted in vaudeville during the early part of the war. It has been such a common occurrence for an actress to step from the speaking to the silent stage that one might think the event could hold little interest, and yet from the outpouring of people, many of them professionals, for this first exhibition, it was obvious that such events are still pregnant with interest.
Mme. Nazimova justified the great interest thus manifested by showing that she had adapted her talents to the new medium with unusual success. In the language of the studio, she screens well, which, translated, means that she is a good subject for motion photography, always a consummation devoutly to be wished for; and what is more to her credit, since it is the result of her intelligence and not her good fortune, she knows how to express herself in terms of the film. Her marvelously mobile face, capable of indicating varying shades of emotion, especially those of sorrow, is a priceless asset for the dumb show of the screen. So there was some reason for the word "Success" on the floral offerings in the lobby.
The latter half of the photoplay almost atones for the first half, which in some respects is very bad indeed. It is palpably padded to make a movie holiday, some of the padding consisting of typical movie comedy, and is unnecessarily jerky and artificial. With such pictures as those of the battle of the Somme on view there should be a law against photoplay directors photographing sham martial scenes, or else to force them to make them depict scenes approximating reality. A bogus battle scene is included in "War Brides," in which the defensive army occupies a system of trenches which rise from the foreground up and up into the background. All that an attacking army would have to do would be to creep up to the edge of the top trenches and roll bombs down upon the helpless enemy, while if those in the trenches wished to assume the offensive they would have to scale heights as high as the Palisades.
The sketch as it was acted in vaudeville is developed in a direct and effective manner in the latter half of the film. It is in this that Mme. Nazimova proves her skill; earlier in the picture she seemed less able to resist the temptation to indulge in the contortions that have marred her acting in recent years. The film abounds in striking photography. The motion pictures of Sir John Jellicoe's British Grand Fleet, exhibited last Summer at the Lycema, were included on the new program at the Rialto. The pictures give a good idea of types of ships and show something of the life of the men. "The Devil's Double," a photoplay which provides William S. Hart with a rôle of a Western had man, a type he is particularly happy in portraying, is also on the bill.
If real life were only ordered as conveniently as reel life. At the Strand, for instance Mae Murray plays the rôle of an English heiress who was kidnapped as a baby and held captive in South Africa by a brute. Some kind-hearted soul rescued her and took her back to England, where she was painted off on a family in search of a missing heiress. Of course, having gone that far, the author had to finish it, and in spite of spoiling the surprise for others who may see the picture, this author must finish it too. The spurious heiress was the one they were looking for.
"War Brides" was based on Nazimova's successful stage play, and marked her film debut. Nazimova (like Cher and Garbo, a star recognized immediately by one name) would have made it enough to be remembered for, but "War Brides" added a bonus by presenting Richard Barthelmess (as Arno) in his first featured role. The "Diva" also insisted lover Charles Bryant and mother Gertrude Berkeley reprise their stage roles, for the film. Herbert Brenon, who'd been responsible for the recent epic "A Daughter of the Gods", was employed as director.
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