“A child of environment! – If she had the proper training, if she had been bought the finer things in life, the higher aims, the higher hopes, she would not be lying cold in death! – Oh! Our people have much to learn.”
Stories dealing with nature vs. nurture interest me. That question of if people are the product of their environment or are they raised to be the way they are by their parents. I do believe that people can overcome the way they were raised if it was bad and they can overcome their environment if it was bad. Films have dealt with this type of story for a very long time. One film dealing with nature vs. nurture is the silent film The Scar of Shame.
Alvin Hillyard is a musician living in a boarding house. He is educated and sophisticated. Also living in the boarding house is a no good man named Eddie Blake who is a gambler. In the house next to the boarding house lives a young woman named Louise Howard. She lives her mean stepfather Spike. While he is away and she is working around the house she dreams of living a pampered life. Spike comes home and he beats her. Alvin hears her screaming from his room and he climbs down out of his window into Louise’s backyard. He beats Spike and carries Louise away. Louise is afraid to go back to Spike and to her home. The boarding house keeper, Mrs. Green, tells Louise she can help around the place to keep her stay.
After his beating Spike goes to a bar. Eddie is there and he asks Spike what happened to his face. Spike says that he got knocked in the face by a cable car. Once in the bar Eddie comes up with the idea to take Louise away and make money off of her in a cabaret somewhere since she is pretty. Spike wants to go along with the plan he wants to make some money off of his step-daughter.
Months later Alvin and Louise are married. He asked her to marry him so that Spike could not come anywhere near her. Spike and Eddie still want to take Louise away so that they can make money off of her. They plan on kidnapping her. To get Alvin away from the house they send a fake telegraph that his mother is ill. Alvin gets the telegraph. Louise wants to go with him to see his mother but he never told his mother that he got married. He tells his wife it is because of her caste. This whole issue with the caste upsets Louise. When Eddie comes to take her away Louise does not fight him she gives in to what he has to say about running away. Alvin realizes the telegraph was fake and rushes home. He climbs through the window to their room to find Louise with Eddie. The two men draw out their guns and Alvin accidentally shoots Louise on the side of her face.
Alvin is sent to jail. He escapes from jail and starts a new life under a new name. In his new life he is now a music professor. He has fallen in love with his female student Alice. He is afraid to get close to her because he is afraid he will reveal his past.
Meanwhile, Louise and Eddie run a successful gambling house and nightclub. Alice’s father is one of the more prominent members of the nightclub. He is always talking about Alice and her piano teacher. Alvin had finally broken down and proposed to Alice and the father could not stop talking about the engagement.
One night Alice asks Alvin to stop at the club to pick up her father. That is when he comes face to face with Louise again. She blackmails him into coming back later that night. Alvin wants Louise to let him go he loves Alice now. She does not want to and he throws her to the ground and he leaves to go home. Out of sorrow Louise kills herself. Before she died she wrote a letter to Alice’s father that Alvin had been her husband but he never loved her like he loves Alice.
The Scar of Shame was a really good film. It is one of the best silent films I have ever sat through. The ending of the film where Louise kills herself because she has “sinned” is nothing new but for some reason it seemed different, it did not seem cheesy to me. I think it comes down to the idea of nature vs. nurture. The movie Dope is along the same lines in some ways as The Scar of Shame, the main character in that reminded me a bit of Alvin. The Scar of Shame is so great from the direction to the acting and the lighting and the sets. I cannot recommend watching The Scar of Shame enough especially if you are really into film studies and silent films.