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In watching this early DeMille work, it was once again reinforced to me
that early DeMille is far superior to late DeMille. His attention to
use of light within scenes is remarkable. His pacing is very good,
enabling much to be told in the space of an hour or so. It is a pity
that he wasn't as intuitive about the style of his later sound films as
he seemed to be in his silent films.
This was the first film in which I had seen Cleo Ridgely. She was remarkable, quite restrained and yet conveyed a broad spectrum of emotions.
The ending is wonderful.
If you're interested in the history of film, this movie is definitely
worth watching. As other reviewers pointed out, it is a melodrama, but
it has a number of interesting surprises that you won't see in other
flicks from the period. DeMille pays good attention to small emotional
reactions, and the camera is placed pretty close to the actors, a nice
change from the stagey feel of some movies even into the late teens.
There are two scenes showing physical fights that are marvelously
staged--gritty even by today's standards. And the ending would be rare
in today's Hollywood.
I was always curious about Wallace Reid, because I read a little about his tragic personal life in a movie book years ago--here he appears in all his youthful strength and good looks. Cleo Ridgely projects a lot of emotion, and only occasionally goes a little overboard. It's easy to sympathize with the plight of her character. The two bad guys are straight out of Jacob Riis photos. I can see why they didn't work for some viewers who have posted their comments, but I found them fascinating, especially the way their dark emotions were enhanced by the movie's lighting. My favorite player was Edythe Chapman, as a wealthy woman hoping to advance her husband's business.
If you can get into the spirit of 1915 in order to enjoy this film on its own level, you will find it worth your while.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I agree with other reviewers that the silent De Mille seems better than
the talkie De Mille we are more familiar with. This film is a nice
The lighting and intense shadows is striking and the ending is oddly enigmatic. The acting is restrained and the Cinderella twist is clever. The pacing is a tad slow but the action fight scene at the end is quite violent considering clearly no stunt men are used. Reid clearly throws a man up and over his head to the ground and the furniture is not breakaway.
As others have commented on, I was interested in seeing Wallace Reid because of his tragic end. I wanted to see what he was like before the tragedy of 1919. He is certainly good looking and the role might have been cliché and boring except for his understated but clever way of turning a cliché rich young guy into an interesting man who is no one's fool.
He smiles as the secondary villain tries to lure him into an obvious trap as if pitying the transparent ploy. He seems to almost be playing, toying, with the drunken husband when they fight over the gun during the robbery. Reid's performance is almost ironic, making the throwaway part quite interesting.
Seeing the film you do see what a tragedy that 1919 accident was which destroyed him. Reid had the looks and talent to have been a great star. Instead he was destroyed by the age of 31.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
As with "The Cheat", which Cecil B. DeMille made concurrently with this
film, "The Golden Chance" features chiaroscuro effects: blackened out
backgrounds, symbolic shadows, mood-setting shades and other effective
uses of lighting. But, DeMille and cinematographer Alvin Wyckoff took
the lighting much further in "The Cheat". It dominated the picture, and
made it one of the more exceptional early feature-length films.
Additionally, Wilfred Buckland's minimalist settings are effective, as
in "The Cheat". The melodrama is about as uninteresting and
The story in "The Golden Chance" is about a woman who marries down to an abusive drunk and thief, but after a Cinderella episode falls in love with a millionaire. It's generic, classist, forgettable, escapist pastiche. Yet, forget the story, this is recommendable for being a well-crafted film for 1915, and for being available today in such high quality.
Mary Denby (Cleo Ridgely), a seamstress from the slums, gets a chance
at a better life when she is employed by a couple that hopes to woo a
young millionaire (Wallace Reid) into a lucrative contract. However,
unbeknownst to her employers and would-be-suitor, she has a thieving
drunkard husband (Horace B Carpenter) who complicates things. Directed
by Cecil B DeMille.
The story is generally engaging, although at times somewhat implausible, and with a rather rushed ending. Cleo Ridgely is quite appealing and sympathetic as the heroine, and Wallace Reid smolders and charms very effectively as the debonair millionaire. The acting by all is generally quite restrained and naturalistic, showing that even in the early days of feature films actors were capable of nuanced performances.
Director Cecil B DeMille and cinematographer Alvin Wyckoff make a very talented team, imbuing the film with distinctive lighting and shadow effects, as well as intriguing compositions (note the shot where Reid and Ridgeley kiss, which is done with the camera looking down briefly from above). By now they had emerged with a distinctive style, consolidating the successful elements at work in CARMEN and THE CHEAT (which also came out in 1915). A nice film, worth watching for silent movie enthusiasts as well as those who may be new to silent film. SCORE: 8/10.
While agreeing entirely with those who have expressed the opinion that
"silent" DeMille is very much better than "talkie" DeMille, this
particular film provides a very rare chance to also very directly
compare EARLY silent DeMille with LATE silent DeMille. DeMille remade
two of his silent films before the advent of talkies but in the othr
case )The Indian Squaw) the second film is lost (although the third
version, the talkie, survives). In this case, however, both silent
versions survive, this film of 1919 and Forbidden Fruit, the 1921
Now neither is, I think, especially wonderful. The weaknesses of the melodramatic plot are the same in both cases. This film also suffers, as do many US films of around 1914-1915 from an overuse of close-up and lose medium shots (the recrudescence of the "facial"). The Cheat of the same year is, I think, a much better film. But it does have its good points and other reviewers have described these very well and it is, to my mind, a better film than the much gaudier and less believable Forbidden Fruit.
So why did DeMille's films decline in quality while he steadily became more famous and more acclaimed. It is not an absolutely straight line (there are some other good films throughout the silent period) but by and large DeMille films get worse as they go along and the reason I think is very clear to see. Throughout his career two elements characterise DeMille films - a great natural talent and a great and seemingly an equally naturally vulgarity and taste for whimsy, along with an understandable desire to please (very much indeed to develop a kind of "cinema of attractions" that is so falsely supposed to characterise earlier films. And as his career progressed, it was this natural vulgarity that increasingly got the upper hand. It made him in the end a popular film-maker (popular too with the studios) but not a good one and certainly not as good a one as, given the natural talent, he might have been.
In Forbidden Fruit for instance he inserts a "Cinderella fantasy" scene (a gimmick he had started to use in Male and Female and which became a sort of trademark). Yes, it is in a way effective as spectacle but it totally undermines any seriousness the film might otherwise have had. In the same way all the gritty elements of the film (particularly the marital violence) is all softened in the later film.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is a better than average silent movie and it's still well worth
seeing if you are a fan of the silents. However, if you aren't yet a
fan of the genre, I suggest you try a few other films before watching
this one. That's because the plot just seems pretty old fashioned and
difficult to believe in spots. But, despite this, it's still a good
film and kept my interest.
A nice lady unfortunately hooked up with the wrong man and ran away to marry him. The film starts five years later after she has come to realize that he is really a brutal thief. Despite this, she tries to make the best of it and not dwell on how good life had been before this jerk came into her life. However, the rent is due and there's no money, so the lady is forced to look for work. She becomes a personal seamstress for a rich lady whose husband is trying to swing a business deal. Unfortunately, the lady who they were trying to hook up a potential client with for a dinner party can't make it and the seamstress is paid handsomely to be the man's date. Well, like Cinderella, she cleans up pretty well and the man is infatuated with her! What to do now--given that she is actually married and the new fella wants to marry her?! Well, see the movie yourself to see how it's all resolved. I DIDN'T like how they handled the husband, as it seemed awfully predictable and clichéd. However, once he was out of the way, I do admire how the film also DIDN'T give up a by-the-numbers finale and left the film with a few loose ends.
All in all, a very good film worth seeing, but certainly not great.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
One of the earliest surviving DeMille films, THE GOLDEN CHANCE is one
of his society dramas, here starring Wallace Reid and Cleo Ridgely.
Cleo plays a judge's daughter who elopes with what turns out to be a
violent, no account thief who spends what little money there is on
booze and has her living in a squalid apartment house. In desperation
for money, Cleo takes a job as a seamstress with a rich couple, the
Hilarys. The matron is impressed with Cleo's poise and learns Cleo has
a good background despite her current address. That very night, the
Hilarys are hosting a dinner in honor of a millionaire (Wallace Reid)
whom the husband hopes to sign up for a business venture. When the
young socialite the wife wanted to pair up with millionaire at the
dinner cancels at the last minute, in desperation she gets Cleo to fill
in for her. Reid proves to be quite taken with Cleo at the dinner and
the couple persuade him to stay for the weekend insisting Cleo (who
reluctantly goes along with their plans due to her poverty) will also
be there. Wallace Reid falls hard for Cleo who can't help respond to
his kindness and gentlemen ways after her time with her brute of a
husband. And those dreamy eyes and broad shoulders don't hurt either.
Meanwhile, Cleo's husband Steve is planning a break in at the very home she is staying at, unknown to either of them, after jewels. Eventually, all hell breaks loose. The movie's ending is rather abrupt and does not end in the expected romantic clinch probably due to the distaste some in the era might have that a married woman would find happiness elsewhere, even with having a violent mug of a husband, but it leaves a respectable door open that clears the way for our lovebirds presumable future happiness off-screen.
This is an average silent melodrama and probably would not appeal to those who don't care for silents. The story has more holes than Cleo's well-worn shoes and quite a number of absurd bits. How nice the matron has a dress - AND SHOES - that can fit last minute invite Cleo. How did well-bred Cleo ever get tangled up with a cardboard hoodlum like her husband? Wallace Reid not only falls in love at first sight but pronounces Cleo marriage material by day two. Steve hides from Mrs. Hilary at the house - behind Cleo! Steve doesn't hesitate to pull a gun on Cleo and threaten her but curiously takes his time to pull it on Wallace when he is caught in the house. Most outrageous is when the police raid the apartment building where Steve and Cleo live on at least the second floor Steve is shot as he tries to get away on the fire escape and falls from the window to the ground. The police then carry him up to his apartment for him to die in his bed!! Some of these incredible bits probably drew laughs at their absurdities even back in 1916.
Cleo Ridgely is a pleasant screen performer who evokes sympathy and light charm if not quite the bewitching beauty that might instantly captivate a heartthrob of a millionaire like Wallace Reid. Reid is attractive and still projects the charisma that made quite a few lady moviegoers hearts flutter way back when and gives a good performance in an undemanding role. The supporting cast does well although as stated earlier Horace B. Carpenter's Steve character is such a cartoonish villain he would probably twitch his mustache if he had one. It's nice to see this film still exists even if it is a rather unmemorable programmer.
Golden Chance, The (1915)
** 1/2 (out of 4)
Early DeMille melodrama centers on an abused wife (Cleo Ridgely) who takes a job working for a rich couple so that she can make money for her drunk husband (Horace B. Carpenter). The rich couple eventually ask her to join a party where she meets a nice millionaire (Wallace Reid) and the two quickly fall in love, although he doesn't know she's married. This is yet another silent film from DeMille, which has pretty much been forgotten but once again that's a shame because this has quite a few good things to offer. I think the film's biggest weakness is its slow pacing, which hampers the film some, especially in the middle. The movie runs a short 73-minutes so the pacing isn't a huge problem but it doesn't help either. What really stands out were the performances with Ridgely doing a great job as the abused wife who gets her Cinderella chance but doesn't know if she should take it or not. She handles the role with a lot of flare and really makes her character quite memorable. Carpenter is also very good as the snake husband as is Raymond Hatton, a DeMille regular, who plays the sidekick. The real standout here, and the one I was most interested in seeing, was Reid. For those who don't know, Reid was involved in a train wreck in 1919 and being a big money maker, the studio forced a doctor to get him high on morphine so that he could continue to work. Reid eventually lost his mind and ended up dying in a mental hospital a couple years later. This was my first chance seeing him in a leading role, although he did have a brief scene in The Birth of a Nation. I was very impressed with both his acting and physical presence here as he manages to fit the romantic lead very well but he also delivers something a bit deeper. He does a lot of acting with his face, which really makes him stand out and deliver. The film ends in a rather bizarre way but I respect what DeMille did at the very end, although I won't ruin it here. There's also a big fight sequence at the end, which looks very realistic and manges to be quite exciting. While the film isn't a complete success it's still worthy of a viewing.
Having worked as an actress with D.W. Griffith, Jeanie Macpherson joined forces with Cecil B. DeMille to write screenplays for his films. She learned her writing skills from Griffith who also started out as an actor and began to write his own material. It seems that via Macpherson, DeMille was tutored by Griffith to write this film.
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