Stark Love (1927)

Stark Love (1927)

Run time: 70 min | Drama
Rating: 7.0
Director: Karl Brown
Writers: Karl Brown, Walter Woods
Stars: Helen Mundy, Forrest James, Reb Grogan
A backwoods “Romeo and Juliet” about feuding families shot with total authenticity and great lyrical beauty in North Carolina and directed by a cameraman who worked for D.W. Griffith.

4 responses to “Stark Love (1927)”

  1. tfsadmin says:

    STARK LOVE (Paramount, 1927), directed by Karl Brown, is an interesting as well as genuine tale about life in the Appalachian Mountains in North Carolina that centers upon two hillbilly families. Almost similar to the heart of D.W. Griffith’s early directorial works, notably A ROMANCE OF HAPPY VALLEY (1918) with Lillian Gish and Robert Harron, it did provide Brown, formerly a cameraman who got his start under Griffith, his first real opportunity in directing a motion picture to his liking. The story is simple and honestly told, and while hailed as Brown’s best work, he never did get the opportunity to develop himself as a major movie director as his contemporaries, namely Griffith.

    The narrative starts off with an opening title giving indication of what’s to be shown: "In their inaccessible mountains, these people remain undeveloped by culture." Women are seen as hard working people while the men do the loafing. Rob Warwick (Forrest James) is a young country boy whose ambition is to move to the big city while his neighbor, Barbara Allen (Helen Munday), an uneducated girl, helps her widowed father, Quill (Reb Grogan) with the farm chores. Unlike Rob, Barbara lacks the skills in reading and writing. Instead of applying for school to better himself, Rob registers Barbara for an education she deserves. While fulfilling his dream in the city with the guidance of the town preacher, Rob’s mother dies. Intertitles describe her death as: "She hoed the field, she did the wash, she chopped the firewood, she put the children to bed, and she died." Her death leaves Rob’s father, Jason (Silas Miracle) with no woman around the house to work and provide proper care for his many children. As a good neighbor policy, Barbara, offers Warwick her assistance. She does such a good job that Warwick asks Quill for his daughter’s hand in marriage. Quill consents but Barbara doesn’t. When Rob returns home from the city, he finds the girl he loves not only living with his father, but an abused victim, causing friction between father and son.

    While not quite as successful as Brown had hoped during its initial showing, it’s failure or limited interest might have been due to the casting of non-professional actors, but on the contrary, the use of authentic mountain people over top-named performers of the day such as Lillian Gish, Charles Ray, Ernest Torrence and Henry B. Walthall (prime examples as to whom might fit the roles best enacted by Munday, James, Miracle and Grogan), along with actual location scenes from the Great Smokies are what really makes STARK LOVE a watchable item. Helen Munday, whose natural performance has shown great promise, along with the rest of the cast, would never appear in another motion picture again.

    In recent years, STARK LOVE has gained a reputation as a sort-after silent movie classic. Disappearing from view after its initial run, STARK LOVE had been labeled to be one of many lost movies from the silent era with no known prints to exist. However, decades later, a print of STARK LOVE was discovered in Czechslovakia in the early 1970s. Then during the summer months of 1978, public television’s WNET, Channel 13 in New York City televised "Lost and Found," an eight week series broadcasting long lost and now rediscovered movies, as hosted by Richard Schickel. After the 70 minute presentation of this now forgotten drama, accompanied by a fine piano score, film historians Eileen Bowser of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, author Anthony Slide, Paul Spehr and host Schickel provided some very interesting insights during the after film discussion about the making of STARK LOVE and its actors, (Karl Brown got the idea of STARK LOVE as early as 1923, followed by difficulties in getting this project made before getting it into release in 1927; Forrest James returning to the hills after refusing retakes, etc.). History would repeat itself, however, as Channel 13 reran STARK LOVE one more time before disappearing from view after 1978 as it did after 1927. The only difference today is that STARK LOVE remains extant but continues to be a relatively forgotten movie known solely by film scholars and seen by a limited majority through private screenings, namely from New York’s Museum of Modern Art film department. One can only hope that Turner Classic Movies consider adding STARK LOVE to its lineup of silent film titles in its weekly presentation of "Silent Sunday Nights" to give STARK LOVE the long overdue recognition for today’s generation who may have an interest in viewing this.

  2. tfsadmin says:

    Stark Love is a beautifully photographed, early example of neo-realism filmed on location in the mountains of Appalachia with resident non-actors — real-life mountaineers. The film's leading lady, Helen Mundy, was acknowledged to be the only exception. She in fact was a Knoxville, Tennessee teenager who had appeared on stage as a dancer in "George White's Scandals."

    In addition, contrary to Paramount publicity and to director Karl Brown's memoirs, Stark Love's leading man was not a simple mountain youth. Forrest James (Fob), along with his twin brother William Everett (Ebb), was a three-sport letterman of Auburn University (then Alabama Polytechnic Institute). He later taught high school history and coached baseball before becoming a successful small town businessman. One of his three sons, Fob Jr., became governor of Alabama.

    Forrest James acquits himself well in Stark Love, playing the silent style of acting convincingly while displaying his great athleticism in the demanding action sequences. He fights, he rides horses, and at one point he swims a swift, flooding river. Director Brown considered James quite a "find" and Paramount was interested in bringing him to Hollywood.

    However, Fob James turned down the studio's invitation. Honoring his mother's wishes, the college sophomore returned to Auburn to complete his education. After graduation, he devoted himself to family, business, sports, and community service. He seems never to have looked back on "what might have been."

    A more recent discovery is that the Circuit Preacher is not played by Graham County resident Sim Hooper, as once believed and recounted by local residents in the 1990s. The role is played by a member of the film crew, Karl Brown's right-hand man, Captain Paul Wing.

    Wing, a hero of World War I, went on to win an Oscar as Assistant Director for Lives of a Bengal Lancer. Prior to the outbreak of World War II, he joined General MacArthur's staff in the Philippines. At 49 years old be survived the Battle of Bataan and the Bataan Death March. He then brought a camera into the war prison at Cabanatuan and secretly took photographs of the conditions there. In January 1945, Wing and his fellow prisoners were liberated from the camp by U.S. Army Rangers, Alamo Scouts and Filipino guerrillas in a daring action later known as The Great Raid.

    This information appears in the following articles I have written about the film and in an upcoming documentary:

    "Hollywood Comes to Knox County," Kentucky Humanities, Spring 2010: 29-34. Published by the Kentucky Humanities Council.

    "Forrest James, Hollywood's Reluctant Star." Alabama Heritage. Number 93, Summer 2009: 44-53. Published by the University of Alabama, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and the Alabama Department of Archives and History.

    "Myth and Movie Making: Karl Brown and the Making of Stark Love." Film History, an International Film Journal. Volume 19, 1 (2007): 49-57. Published by Indiana University.

  3. tfsadmin says:

    The most informational and scholarly accounts of the making of Stark Love are an extensive multi-article review in the Winter 1991 issue of the Appalachian Journal, and a more recent article by by George Ellison published in the Smokey Mountain News on February 28, 2001. The latter article is available at the archives of the Smokey Mountain News website (

    These clarify many of the inaccuracies that have been passed along in written accounts, most of which stem from the film’s obscurity. Most notably, documentation from the late director Karl Brown indicates the film was shot in the Santeetlah area of Graham County, southwestern North Carolina, near the town of Robbinsville.

    Stark Love is not commercially available, but a mute video copies made from the only surviving Czech archival print are available for viewing at the UCLA film library, and (presumably) at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. It is a great film, and offers priceless glimpses of a unique, lost way of life.

  4. IMDBReviewer says:

    I had the opportunity to watch this movie with the granddaughter of Silas Miracle at the Library of Congress Cinema Division. All of the stars were local people, much of the movie was shot at Silas’ cabin in the Great Smoky Mtns. The acting was remarkably professional considering only one member of the cast had ever been in movies before. The story was dramatic and with the backdrop of the Smokies, it was a nice piece of cinematography.

    As a side note the curator told us that there was no print of this movie known to exist for many years and they got the print sent to them from Romania after World War II. It seems it was confiscated by the new government from the Nazis.

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