Quincy Adams Sawyer (1922) Poster

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Still A Lost Silent Drama
mpickfordfan28 June 2015
As of writing this review, in the year 2015, Quincy Adams Sawyer still remains a lost silent film. All I can offer the reader is this original synopsis along with some original reviews of this Metro Pictures produced drama. I hope a copy does survive and resurfaces for the many fans of the art of silent cinema. This film boasted a huge cast, including Lon Chaney, Blanche Sweet, Barbara La Marr, Elmo Lincoln and Louise Fazenda along with many other silent actors and actresses.

Obadiah Strout ( Lon Chaney ) is an attorney of dubious ethics in the town of Mason's Corner's, where he is handling the estate of Mrs. Putnam's late husband. Nathaniel Sawyer, a friend of the Putnams, believes that Strout is withholding some valuable bonds from the widow, so he sends his son Quincy ( John Bowers ), a young attorney, to investigate. Lindy Putnam ( Barbara La Marr ), the village vamp, is delighted to have the handsome Quincy in town, and she immediately tries to win his charms, much to the chagrin of Strout. Abner Stiles ( Elmo Lincoln ), the blacksmith, committed a murder years before, and Strout convinces him that Quincy is there to investigate Stiles. Deacon Pettengill's ( Edward Connelly ) blind niece, Alice ( Blanche Sweet ), returns home from a visit in Boston where she had once met Quincy. The two are reunited and a strong friendship soon blossoms. Stiles picks a fight with Quincy, but the young attorney has considerable boxing skill and gives his attacker a well-deserved beating. Lindy is insanely jealous of Alice, and Strout goads her into a plot to get rid of her rival. Alice and Lindy go on a picnic aboard a ferry boat and, thinking Quincy is with them, Stiles cuts the steel cable, sending the boat racing towards the waterfall. Lindy and the ferryboat boy swim for safety, leaving Alice to die on the boat. Quincy dashes for a bridge where he boards the boat, and as they approach the falls, Quincy tells Alice that he loves her and that they will die together. The ferry gets caught in the rocks at the edge of the falls, and Quincy carries Alice to safety. When she awakens, she realizes that the shock has restored her sight. Deacon Pettengill, believing that Strout has killed his daughter, grabs a revolver and goes after him. Stiles realizes that Strout has been using him to his own ends, and when the deacon arrives, Strout lies dead at the hands of Stiles.

"It is not a subtle story and everything turns out just as you would wish it, but it is a vastly entertaining picture containing about all the elements that good showmanship has shown audiences desire." ---Moving Picture World.

"Lon Chaney and Elmo Lincoln do good work as the villains. But it seems that the good work of nearly everyone in the cast, which is as near all-star as one can assemble, is overshadowed by the fearful hokum purveyed in the story." ---Variety

"The picture would be a lot better than it is if it were only a little less superficial and if the subtitle writer had not done all in his power to destroy it...For instance, Lon Chaney is the villain. Now, if there is any one who can be more palpably and pointedly a villain than Mr. Chaney he hasn't appeared in the studios as yet. Surely he needs no introduction. Yet he is introduced in a subtitle which says, in effect, 'Ladies and gentlemen, we now present the villain of our piece, an evil fellow, believe us, who has designs on the heroine because she has just inherited a large sum of money. Look--Lon Chaney, the villain.' And then there's nothing for Mr. Chaney to do, but illustrate the subtitle. His best acting can add no revelation to it. So it falls flat. " ---The New York Times
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Chaney's comedic talent can't save this.
F Gwynplaine MacIntyre11 October 2003
Warning: Spoilers
'Man of a Thousand Faces', the semi-accurate screen bio of Lon Chaney, includes a sequence early in his screen career in which Chaney (played by James Cagney) performs a slapstick pie fight with silent-film comedians Hank Mann and Snub Pollard (apparently playing themselves, although they never worked together in silent films ... and Pollard never actually worked with Chaney). The recent re-discovery (in 2006) of one of Chaney's early IMP comedies shows that, early on in his screen career, he did perform crude slapstick comedy.

During his stardom, Lon Chaney was almost entirely a dramatic actor. Even his clown roles (in 'He Who Gets Slapped' and 'Laugh, Clown, Laugh') were serious ... tragedic, in fact. After he became a major box-office name, Chaney made only two appearances in comedies. 'The Monster' is a comedy thriller, but Chaney's performance in this movie seems to be in dead earnest. Lon Chaney's only actual performance as a comedic actor during his ten years of stardom is his lead role as the villain in 'Quincy Adams Sawyer' ... which is also the only film in which he actually worked with Hank Mann, in a dialogue scene not remotely resembling the pie fight in 'Man of a Thousand Faces'.

'Quincy Adams Sawyer', based on a then-popular novel, is a pastoral drama with strong comedy elements. John Bowers plays the title role, a young lawyer in the small town of Mason's Corners, investigating the disappearance of some bearer bonds. Chaney gives a seriocomic performance as Obadiah Strout, a crooked lawyer who has snatched the bonds. Strout puts several obstacles in Quincy's path, including the town slut (played by Barbara La Marr) and a homicidal blacksmith named Stiles (Elmo Lincoln). Also crossing Quincy's path is beautiful young Alice Pettengill (Blanche Sweet): she and Quincy were childhood sweethearts; now Quincy meets her again after ten years, to discover that she has gone blind.

SLIGHT SPOILERS COMING. The film contains a couple of sequences that ought to be quite exciting, including a brawl between Quincy and Stiles in which actor John Bowers (a fairly ordinary man of no significant physique) convincingly thrashes the much larger and brawnier Elmo Lincoln. The climax of the film is a cliff-hanging sequence in which Quincy rescues the blind Alice from a ferry that is just about to go over the falls ... except that it doesn't.

This isn't a very good movie. The direction is slack-paced, there are too many intertitles (with clumsy dialogue, some of it in bad 'yokel' dialect) and too much exposition. Several of the characters have long backstories that are only marginally relevant to the action on screen. Almost every character in this large cast is a one-note archetype. The climax, which ought to be a thrilling action sequence reminiscent of 'Way Down East', is too slowly paced and has a 'cheat' ending. In the lead role, John Bowers gives a lacklustre performance. Apparently he was never much of an actor; he's now remembered only for the unusual way he committed suicide.

In the ingenue role, the cloyingly-named Blanche Sweet looks *too* vulnerable. She's so thin in this movie that I genuinely wonder if she was anorexic. She's also flat-chested, with her hair in an unattractive bob. She was just as thin (and bustless) three years later in 'The Sporting Venus' (1925), but in that movie she was quite sexy as a wilful independent lady who controlled her own fate. Here, in 'Quincy Adams Sawyer', she looks as if she would blow away in a stiff wind: the fact that she's playing a helpless blind maiden only adds more bathos.

There is some nice exterior photography in some beautiful countryside, but the set design and the attempts to create a rustic small-town atmosphere fail badly. Several experienced silent-film comedians are in the supporting cast of this film, notably Louise Fazenda, beanpole hayseed Victor Potel, gawky Gale Henry, burly Harry Depp, the unfunny Billy Franey and the athletic Hank Mann (appearing here under heavier makeup than usual, and with more screen time than usual for him). Except for Mann and (briefly) Depp, none of these actors come off well in the stereotypical 'hick' roles they play here.

Lon Chaney is impressive here: even more so than usual, as he gets to play both comedy and genuine menace in the same film ... sometimes even in the same scene. There's one fascinating camera set-up in Obadiah Strout's law office: Bowers (as Sawyer) has just met Strout (Chaney) for the first time, and they're testing each other's mettle. Chaney is acting like a hick small-town lawyer, and Bowers's guard is down. Chaney briefly diverts Bowers's attention elsewhere; the younger man turns away for a moment. In that instant, Chaney's face and posture are transformed on screen, and in a flash we understand that his hick routine is just a false front: this man won't hesitate to commit murder or any other crime. Unfortunately, Chaney gets few such moments in this movie. In the final sequence, when his henchman Stiles turns against him, Chaney is blatantly doubled by a larger stuntman. I'll rate 'Quincy Adams Sawyer' 4 points out of 10.
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