Sunday, March 23, 2014

Silent Sundays: A Clouded Name (1923)


“Why ain’t you nice to the pretty lady? She likes you.”

            A Clouded Name is one of those silent films that give the genre its bad rep with people. The story is ridiculous and the characters are silly. The acting is something to be desired.
            As the title cards explain Jim Allen could have been rich, he could have been a doctor, and he could have married the girl of his dreams Marjorie Dare (Norma Shearer) had his father not lost all their money and died. Now instead of being rich and being a doctor and married to Marjorie Dare he is a lowly reporter. He is sent to interview Marjorie who after her father’s death now own a salt mine that is merging with another one. After he sees Marjorie, Jim feels the need to go out of town for a while because all his old memories come flooding back to him. On the day his father left was the day Marjorie’s mother died. For five years Jim has been trying to forget that day and seeing his former love has brought all those memories back.
            Jim goes out to the house of his father’s friend Leighton. While out by the river he comes across a little girl who goes by the name Smiles. She has hurt her foot so Jim takes her back to Leighton’s house to fix it for her. As he is carrying Smiles out the door to bring her home Marjorie shows up. Smiles needs to get home before the storm comes so Marjorie drives them all to where Smiles lives. The girl lives with her father, a man known as Ben Tangleface, in a small shack. He is not home he works all day. Smiles tells them that they must leave because her father does not like it when people are at the house with her alone. Marjorie left with her secretary while Jim stayed behind with the girl. On the way home Marjorie’s secretary is hit on the head with a falling branch from the storm. She goes back to the shack to bring Jim back to the mansion and Ben has returned.
            The next morning Jim goes back to Smiles’ home to play with her. She shows him a book that Ben gave to her. Inside the book is a photograph that Jim seems to recognize. Marjorie’s secretary is taken to a hospital in town so she decides to stay at Leighton’s mansion. Jim is not too happy that Marjorie is staying since he left to get away with her. What makes seeing each other difficult is that they still love each other. Leighton has other plans for Marjorie he wants to marry her for her money. Jim takes a tent and some supplies to stay by himself in the woods. Smiles come out to Jim and tells him that her father has lost his job and has spent their last amount of money on a new dress and shoes for her. Ben goes back to the house to get some more food for him and Smiles. He comes back to see that Ben has been knocked out and Leighton attacking Marjorie. Jim goes after Leighton knocking the man to the floor. Leighton shoots at Jim grazing him in the head. Leighton runs out of the house. Ben got up when he heard shot and got up and ran after Leighton. The two men come to a fight at the edge of a cliff and Leighton meets his demise.
            Turns out Ben is actually Jim’s father. Jim figured out that Ben was his father after he saw a photograph of his mother in the book Smiles show him. Five years ago Leighton was a bad guy who was taking money from Ben. Leighton is actually Smiles’ father and her mother is Marjorie’s mother. Ben had gone to speak to Leighton about the money when Leighton pulled out a gun. He shot Ben in the face and also Marjorie’s mother. Ben was able to get away from the house with the baby to an Indian reservation where he was taken care for three years. For all that time Ben did not really remember who he was from his head wound.
            Big shock, the film ends on Jim and Marjorie getting married.
            Now the only reason I sat through this film was to see Norma Shearer. I have seen quite a few of her silent films but I believe this is the earliest one I have seen so far. Shearer was twenty-years old when she made this. At the time she was at MGM but was being loaned out to other studios until MGM felt she learned something about being in films and became better. Shearer was out on loan to Universal at the time and was twenty-years old. Shearer was not the best actress ever she always over emoted or seemed phony on screen even from this early time you can see that. But as always there is something that Shearer had that just draws you to her when she comes on screen.
            One interesting thing with this film is Shearer’s mother Edith plays her secretary. Shearer, her mother and sister were all in films when they were living in New York City.

            A Clouded Name, as I mentioned, is a silent film that gives the whole genre a bad rep. For some time I was kept thinking what on earth is happening and then when the ending came along and the story was tied up I could not believe how bad it was. I mean, it was not completely horrific but it was bad enough. I only recommend watching A Clouded Name if you are a Norma Shearer fan.