Wid’s Weekly – The Film Authority – Published in Hollywood
Thursday, December 25, 1924
This is Beautiful But Blaa as Drama. Watch Your Step
LILLIAN AND DOROTHY GISH in Romola
Inspiration—Metro-Goldwyn Length 14 Reels
- DIRECTOR.Henry King
- AUTHOR.George Eliot’s story, adapted by Will Ritchey.
- CAMERAMEN.Roy Overbaugh, William Schurr and Ferdinand Risi.
- GET ’EM IN.I can’t see this for big box office values, except where you make rash promises, which I would advise you not to do.
- PLEASE ’EM.The atmospheric background is beautiful, but this misses entirely as entertainment. There are a few good moments, but on the whole it doesn’t stir you.
- WHOOZINIT.Lillian Gish, Dorothy Gish, William Powell, Ronald Colman, and a lot of Italian players.
- STORY VALUES…. There were good situations here, but they tried to tell too much story, and as told, none of it carried a wallop.
- TREATMENT.I believe the evident struggle of photographing abroad, under baffling conditions, hampered the director and players in getting across what they were striving to register.
- CHARACTERIZATIONS.William Powell dominated. Lillian Gish, as the sweet, sad-faced child, and Dorothy Gish, as the slapstick roughneck, did their well-known stuff, but instead of impressing as characterisations, it was rather an effect of the Gish girls running around in a lot of foreign atmosphere.
- ARTISTIC VALUES.Certainly this is impressive as an artistic achievement, figured from the composition and photographic viewpoint.
When they have to tell you how to pronounce a title, I believe that the title is a flop. Before I saw this film I was ready to say that it was going to be a tough job to get the customers past the box office, because of the exploitation angles available. I knew that if the picture was big enough it could pull, in spite of these handicaps. Unfortunately, the picture is not big enough.
Henry King is a darn good director, but Henry here was undoubtedly licked before he started by conditions necessary to be faced in eleven months of knocking around Italy, grinding atmosphere.
I never read this book. I am willing to display my ignorance. I am willing to go on record with the statement that about 90 per cent of the prospective ticket purchasers will not only never have read this book, but will not be impressed with the fact that it was written by George Eliot. At least I knew about George, and when I discovered that it was her book, then I was interested.
There were some excellent situations in this yarn. Unfortunately, as visualized, these situations do not register. I attribute that principally to conditions under which the film was shot, and afterwards, conditions under which it was edited, since friction existed, during that period, between the director and the company for whom it was made. I still feel that possibly some of the failure to make this story register was due to the fact that they did not build a continuity which would high spot certain big moments and bridge over the routine mechanics.
This thing, as it is, just drifts and drifts and drifts. It runs too much in the same tempo. Too much attention is paid to the doings of people who really mean nothing to the audience. Savonarola and his career might be of interest if this had been figured as a study of Italian history, but where we were supposed to be following the adventures of a quartette of young people, the priest’s trials and tribulations failed to get a rise, although they took up an awful lot of footage.
There was a great situation where the young willun’s foster-father loomed up at-the banquet, but they let it flop. As Frank Tinney always said, they put it over but it laid there.
I have liked the work of Lillian Gish, and I have liked the work of Dorothy Gish in many things. I couldn’t become the least enthused about either of them in this. A lotta Dorothy’s stuff was too broad, and too evidently a request for a laugh, to fit in smoothly. Lillian seemed to be taking herself too seriously. Throughout the picture I got the reaction that you were expected to consider that Lillian was giving a great characterization, just because she was Lillian Gish. Each of the girls pulled, upon occasion, their whirl gig run and dash stuff, which has caused some people to dub them the “Windmill Sisters.”
They opened this up with a sequence showing a pirate attack upon a merchant vessel. Once more we had the galley slave action on the screen. This sequence was rather well done photographically, but really did not give you a thrill. There were a good many mob sequences in the picture, but none of them meant much. It was an odd thing as a reaction, but on the first night’s showing in the Egyptian Theatre here the only spontaneous applause, excepting the introduction of the players at the first, came when on the screen appeared the leaning tower of Pisa, looming up at the back. To be sure that no one missed this tower, they put in a terribly crude title explaining its presence. Many other titles were decidedly crude, although at the end they didn’t even attempt to explain how hero Colman, in a rather mysterious manner, managed to get out of jail, where he had been languishing through considerable footage.
On the whole, I got rather the impression from ‘this of watching a lotta college students seriously doing Shakespeare before the marvelous buildings of their university. Everyone seemed so thoroughly to feel the weight of the undertaking.
My hunch about this would be that if you think it wise to occasionally hand your gang something about which in your exploitation you can high-hat them a little bit, then this will serve your purpose. You will have to do some plugging to get them in, but that may be accomplished. I have a feeling that while they will not particularly like it, they will be afraid to attempt to argue about it or pan it.