The Goose Woman (1925) Eve's Leaves (1926)

The Goose Woman (1925)
March 4, 2011 - 7:30 pm
Robert Gitt & Jere Guldin, UCLA Film & Television Archive.

Preservation funded by The Packard Humanities Institute

The Goose Woman (1925)

The Goose Woman (1925)

Directed by Clarence Brown

Universal Pictures. Screenwriter: Melville Brown. Cinematographer: Milton Moore. Editor: Ray Curtiss. With: Louise Dresser, Jack Pickford, Constance Bennett, Gustav von Seyffertitz, George Nichols. 35mm, tinted, approx. 83 min.

Based on the short story by Rex Beach, the plot of The Goose Woman would have resonated with audiences of the mid-1920s by dramatizing a key component of the notorious 1922 Hall-Mills murder case—namely, a witness nicknamed “the Pig Woman” who gave unreliable testimony during the investigation in an attempt to solicit media attention.

Directed by Clarence Brown, the movie depicts the tale of Mary Holmes, a former prima donna who tragically lost her singing voice while giving birth to an illegitimate son, Gerald. Unable to move beyond this moment of great misfortune, she has descended into a life of crushing poverty and alcoholism, and bitterly blames her only child for the loss of her true love: celebrity. When a murder is committed next door to her derelict ranch, Mary hatches a plan to generate publicity for herself in the local press, unintentionally snaring Gerald as the prime suspect in the case. Fatefully, she is confronted with a decision that will determine her son’s destiny—and ultimately, her own.

Brown’s signature use of symbolism is clearly evident throughout the film (most notably in an early scene where Gerald accidentally breaks his mother’s only recording of her famed singing voice) and displays a deft hand guiding the moments of comedy that periodically relieve the story’s dramatic tension. Jack Pickford plays the role of Gerald with a reserved and nuanced performance, while Constance Bennett is impressive as Gerald’s fiancée Hazel, displaying some early signs of the innate screen charisma that would make her a star in the 1930s. But it is Louise Dresser who commands the picture with her portrayal of Mary and her astonishing transformation from disheveled harridan into a woman redeemed by the power of love.

Ultimately, critics and audiences alike favorably received the film, and Brown would again team with Dresser in his next film (the Rudolph Valentino hit The Eagle) before achieving greater fame at MGM directing the likes of Joan Crawford and Greta Garbo. The Goose Woman would be remade in 1933 as The Past of Mary Holmes featuring Helen McKellar and Jean Arthur.

Steven K. Hill

Preserved from 16mm diacetate prints. Laboratory services by The Stanford Theatre Foundation. Special thanks to Kevin Brownlow.

Preservation funded by The Packard Humanities Institute

Eve's Leaves (1926)

Eve's Leaves (1926)

Directed by Paul Sloane

DeMille Pictures Corp./Producers Distributing Corp. Screenwriters: Elmer Harris, Jack Jevne. Cinematographer: Arthur Miller. Editor: Elmer Harris. With: Leatrice Joy, William Boyd, Robert Edeson, Walter Long, Richard Carle. 35mm, b/w, approx. 75 min.

After parting ways with Famous Players-Lasky (Paramount) in early 1925, famed director Cecil B. DeMille decided to try his own hand at playing studio boss, and subsequently purchased the Thomas H. Ince studios in Culver City for $500,000. Rechristened the DeMille Studios, production quickly began on the first year’s program of 12 films—one of which was to be Eve’s Leaves.

Based on the play by Harry Chapman Ford and directed by Paul Sloane, the story involves a well-meaning sea captain who forces his daughter Eve (Leatrice Joy) to masquerade as a boy in a misguided attempt to protect her from the evils of the outside world—and possibly, to stifle her nascent interest in the opposite sex. Eve responds by provoking widespread mischief aboard her father’s tramp freighter (ironically named “The Garden of Eden”) which culminates with the shanghaiing of handsome—but disinterested— Bob Britton (William Boyd). When Chinese marauders capture the ship, gang leader Chang Fang (Walter Long) discovers Eve’s true identity and schemes to add her to his illicit possessions.

While the plot of Eve’s Leaves is loosely framed by melodrama, it is comedy that forms the true heart of this movie. Leatrice Joy, who had followed DeMille over from Paramount, displays her considerable talent as comedienne in the lead role of Eve—one of several masculine-feminine characters that she would play during the 1920s. William Boyd, who would later achieve greater fame as cowboy hero Hopalong Cassidy, is commendable as the object of Eve’s desire; but while their combined screen chemistry is palpable (as witnessed in the truly memorable “apple-kissing” scene), it is Joy’s ebullient performance that ultimately steals the show.

DeMille’s own directorial successes such as The Volga Boatman (which featured Boyd in his first starring role) and The King Of Kings were not enough to overcome his studio’s overall poor three-year performance at the box- office, and he (after a brief assignment with MGM) eventually reunited with Paramount where he remained for the balance of his career. Joy, who broke with DeMille in 1928, saw her career decline rapidly after the film industry’s conversion to sound, most likely due to her southern accent.

Steven K. Hill

Preserved by The Stanford Theatre Foundation and UCLA Film & Television Archive from two 16mm prints. Laboratory services by The Stanford Theatre Film Laboratory.

Preceded by:

Preservation funded by the National Endowment for the Arts and The Packard Humanities Institute

Big Red Riding Hood (1925)

Directed by Leo McCarey. Screenwriter: Hal Roach. With: Charley Chase, Martha Sleeper, Helen Gilmore.

A man can’t afford to buy a book, but attempts to read it anyway. 35mm, b/w, 10 min.

Preserved from a 35mm nitrate print. Laboratory services by Film Technology, Inc., The Stanford Theatre Film Laboratory. Special thanks to: Richard W. Bann, RHI Entertainment, LLC.