In the Cyclone Belt – By Norbert Lusk (Picture Play 1929)

Picture Play February 1929 Volume XXIX Number 6

The Screen in Review

By Norbert Lusk

Lillian Gish, and the troubles of the Metro-Goldwyn sales force in disposing of her last picture. They tried to sell it by leaving out all mention of her name and boosting it as a rip-roaring Western.

Orlamond-Hanson-Gish-The-Wind

In the Cyclone Belt.

Gloomy and even morbid, “The Wind,” Lillian Gish’s final picture for Metro-Goldwyn, is nevertheless a fine and dignified achievement. Its lack of lightness will stand in the way of its success with the many, but the enjoyment of the – few — presuming that serious moviegoers are in the minority — is assured.

Lillian-Gish-8X10-Studio-The-Wind-Montagu-Love-Train-arrival-scene
Lillian-Gish-The-Wind-Montagu-Love-Train-arrival-scene

It is a study of the dramatic effect of climate on character, better portrayed than in “Sadie Thompson,” as a matter of fact ; but there the comparison ends. Miss Gish’s heroine is no flamboyant creature, but a timid girl from Virginia, who comes to live on her cousin’s ranch in Texas, which she fondly believes to be another Garden of Eden. Instead Letty finds herself in a barren, sand-swept country, where human existence is forever at the mercy of the devouring elements. When life is not imperiled by the violence of the wind, morale is undermined and sanity threatened by the monotony of it. This is portrayed as only the screen can portray an atmospheric condition.

Lillian Gish in The Wind

Letty incurs the jealousy of her cousin’s wife through the fondness of the children for her, and is driven from the ranch. In desperation she accepts marriage with Lige a well-meaning boor, in preference to death in the storm. She cannot disguise the repulsion she feels for the fellow, but he proves his decency by leaving her to earn enough money to send her back to Virginia. In Lige’s absence the villainous intrusion of Roddy causes her to shoot him and hurl the body into the rapidfy shifting sand, where it is quickly buried.

Letty Mason burying Wirt Roddy (Lillian Gish - The Wind)
Letty Mason burying Wirt Roddy (Lillian Gish – The Wind)

With such a tragic beginning, it really doesn’t matter whether the ending is happy or not. so I shall leave you to find out. But whether Letty and Lige are reunited is, after all unimportant in estimating the skill of the director, Victor Seastrom —also responsible for “The Scarlet Letter,” you remember—or the sensitive dynamics of Miss Gish’s acting.

Miss Lillian Gish - still frame (The Wind)
Miss Lillian Gish – still frame (The Wind)

Or, for that matter, the superb performance of Lige by Lars Hanson, who regretably has shaken the dust of Hollywood from his feet and returned to Sweden.

Lars Hanson (Lige Hightower) and Lillian Gish (Letty Mason) - The Wind
Lars Hanson (Lige Hightower) and Lillian Gish (Letty Mason) – The Wind

Unrelieved by the ghost of a smile, the picture is a somber cross-section of a life that is little known to those who prefer to see conventional heroines in the routine of familiar romances.

But its relentlessness is gripping. Sound effects are justified here, for they are concerned with the wind, which dominates the picture and every character in it. Montagu Love, Edward Earle, Dorothy Cumming, and William Orlamond are fully equal to the distinguished occasion. (Norbert Lusk)

 

*** The seriousness with which Lillian Gish took her work was undermined at MGM in 1927 when it was suggested that a scandal might improve her performance at the box office. “You are way up there on a pedestal and nobody cares.” said the producers. “If you were knocked off the pedestal, everyone would care.” Lillian Gish realized she would be expected to give a performance off screen as well as on. “I’m sorry,” she said, “I just don’t have that much vitality.” Shortly afterward, she returned to her first love, the theater, and the cinema lost her for the better part of a decade. Nothing new under the sun … History (always written by the victors) repeats itself. After Lillian Gish filmed “His Double Life” (1933), she didn’t make another film for ten years. When she did return in 1943, she played in two big-budget pictures, Commandos Strike at Dawn (1942) and Top Man (1943). The Cobweb (1955) marks the return of Lillian Gish to MGM after a 22-year absence.

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