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Subtitled "A Tale of the Old West," director D.W. Griffith promises, "This story corroborates the old saying that truth is stranger than fiction - incidents being taken from actual episodes of those stirring days." He means those western gold-fevered days in California, circa 1849. Mr. Griffith (with assistance from Elmer Clifton) brings "Scarlet Days" to the expected climactic chase and rescue sequence, in a western setting. It's an excellent picture, overall, though obviously lesser than other Griffith films in release at the time. "Scarlet Days" joined "Broken Blossoms" (at #1), "The Girl Who Stayed at Home", and "True Heart Susie" in "The New York Times" ten best films of the year 1919 list.
The main story involves "lonely, little" Carol Dempster (as "Lady Fair") arriving in California to look for her long-absent mother, after the death of her aunt. In the west, Ms. Dempster's mother, Eugenie Besserer (as "Rosy Nell"), has become an embarrassed dance-hall hostess, in order to save money for Dempster's education and dowry (presumably). Upon arriving, irresistible Dempster attracts male attention from darkly handsome Richard Barthelmess (as Don Maria Alvarez, "The Wandering Knight"), fair young hunk Ralph Graves (as John Randolph, "Sir Whiteheart"), and lustful sleaze Walter Long (as King Bagley, "Knight of the Black Stain"). At one point, Mr. Long forces Mr. Graves to watch him attempt raping Dempster.
Another Griffith regular, Clarine Seymour (as Chiquita, "Little Flameheart"), has a relatively satisfying role, as the piteous maiden who pines for Mr. Barthelmess. A Griffith regular and promising actress, Ms. Seymour died too soon, after one more film ("The Idol Dancer"). Barthelmess and Graves do well, individually; but, are a visual mismatch when sharing the screen. Gangly and eye-rolling, Dempster is unconvincing and miscast as the comely maiden. Ms. Besserer's "stained soul" portrayal of her mother is the stand-out performance.
******* Scarlet Days (11/9/19) D.W. Griffith ~ Richard Barthelmess, Carol Dempster, Eugenie Besserer
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