Run time: Passed | 128 min | Drama
Director: Cecil B. DeMille
Writers: Jeanie Macpherson, Beulah Marie Dix
Stars: Lina Basquette, Marie Prevost, Tom Keene
Not quite the typical DeMille religious tract that the title suggests, though it does have elements of this but is more interesting as a powerful attack on a prison system that mistreats women and juveniles, and culminates in a spectacular riot.
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I very much enjoyed this film. Noah Beery was appropriately villainous and the stars were attractive and appealing.
However, as a life-long atheist, I was offended by De Mille's take on the question of atheism vs. belief. It is clear that he considers atheism to be a very evil thing and something that should be shunned, if not forcibly eliminated.
To my eyes, the religious kids in the school were the truly intolerant ones, who came to the atheist meeting with the intention of breaking it up, using force if needed. Force was indeed used, and the ensuing Merle resulted in the unnecessary death of a student.
The reformatory was a hellish place, though it was interesting that De Mille put in a disclaimer to the effect that although the events depicted actually do take place in some reformatories, there are many that actually try to rehabilitate, so we shouldn't judge such places too harshly.
The first is exciting and it seems that the set was actually burned down, with injuries inflicted on the star.
As an atheist, I wasn't too fond of the heroine's conversion.
I don't usually like silent movies, finding them boring. But this one is actually very good and even quite dramatic. I wanted to comment on something said by another viewer about the score by Carl Davis. They said that the composer had stolen Paul Simon's "An American Tune". Actually, Paul Simon borrowed the theme from Bach's Chorale "Erkenne mich, mein Hueter" from the St. Matthew Passion. This is the actual theme that Mr. Davis used in his score, and he did give credit, listing this and other sources of his themes in the credits at the end of the film.
Also, while my wife and I watched the movie on TCM, we did not see any scenes with spoken dialog as another reviewer mentioned, even though TCM showed a version based on Cecil De Mille's personal nitrate print from George Eastman House. Maybe this version tried to recreate the film as originally envisioned as a full silent film with music.
The Godless Girl (1929), Cecil B. DeMille's last silent film, has been lovingly restored by George Eastman House from a print obtained from DeMille's estate, and featuring a powerful and moving soundtrack created by Carl Davis; original themes in addition to some classical religious pieces. I am sure that once more silent film fans get a chance to see this beautiful movie it will increase in reputation, and it certainly deserves more than its current 6.0 average rating out of 10.
Of all of DeMille's silents this one is perhaps the most visionary. The title cards are especially beautiful and impressive and topical for our own time. One doesn't have to go back to Bible times to create a spiritual film which can touch audiences, and to me personally therein lies the real appeal of this motion picture. It goes in directions you don't expect it to and it surprises you at every turn. The film is really a plea for tolerance between believers in God and non-believers. Both groups can display intolerance toward one another and then nothing is gained, because nothing is understood when it is cloaked in anger. Whatever someone's faith is, or lack of it, we are all still part of the human family and should treat each other with respect.
Regarding the cast, I thought all the actors were very good and brought pathos and humor to their roles. I liked seeing Lina Basquette in a silent, there isn't much available for her, and I really enjoyed seeing Marie Prevost in sharp focus, acting her heart out as Lina's character's friend (other silents available for Marie tend to be public domain mangled prints). She gives the best performance of her career in this one! Tom Keene looked slightly old to be playing a teenager but he was a good actor and brought many layers to his performance. Eddie Quillan was comic relief and did a great job. Noah Beery played the villain, something he was noted for, and did another outstanding job. Mary Jane Irving was touching as the young girl who dies, which precipitates the others being arrested for involuntary manslaughter and sent to a reformatory.
From video clips I had seen of this film in a DeMille documentary I didn't think I would like it, but this movie surprised me. It has some beautiful moments and glistening cinematography and thoughtful title cards, many with decorative backgrounds. I suspect DeMille's long time assistant Jeanie Macpherson had a lot to do with the latter. I'm not sure but I can imagine that this film was a hard one for 1929 audiences to take, but for us in 2007 it really hits home.
Cecil B. DeMille was notorious for spectacle films, and his religious ones were always successful. This movie combines both of these, but it also employs another of DeMille's talents, social commentary.
Judy (Lina Basquette) is an atheist, and passes out flyers about her Godless club to recruit new members. Bob (Tom Keene) is a Christian who hates what Judy is doing to the school. As class president, he brings a group of believers to an atheist rally to crash the party. It becomes a violent fight between the two sides which ends in the death of a girl. The leaders of the groups, Judy and Bob, are held responsible, and are sent to reform school.
This isn't the reform school from a children's film. The guards (Noah Beery) are as harsh as jail guards and they have no tolerance for mistakes. Judy finds a friend in Mame (Marie Prevost), a believer who takes on a leadership position with Judy. Her religion detracts in no way from her spunky personality, though, and she proves to be a bright spot in such a terrible place. The two girls can't seem to avoid trouble, and neither can Bob, so the three form sort of a team. But the gongs keep ringing, signaling orders to be carried out. It is inevitable that something major happens.
Of course it does, and there are revelations. The religious aspects of the film are subtle but nonetheless powerful. Any faith can watch and enjoy this movie. It is thanks to the actors for making each lesson so strong and truthful. Basquette and Keene are great together. Prevost is outstanding in her role. She commands attention because she is equally fun and moral, adding a depth not often found in sidekick roles.
The film it an absolutely amazing example of the abilities of silent film makers. The editing is fantastic, and so many innovative camera angles are used, it's amazing that talkies took so long to re-adopt them. The finished product is polished and perfect; every second is captivating.
Many thanks go to Kevin Brownlow and Photoplay Productions for the restoration of this film. Carl Davis provides an enchanting score that compliments the action wonderfully. This is a top-notch film that was worked on by top-notch film lovers.