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Smouldering Fires

Smouldering Fires
February 16, 2019 - 8:40 pm

Access every screening in the UCLA Festival of Preservation with a $50 pass.

Live musical accompaniment by Cliff Retallick.

Smouldering Fires  (1925)

Preservation funding provided by The Packard Humanities Institute.

“Let no man be necessary to you” proclaims a plaque hanging on Jane Vale’s office wall, a creed that has enabled her to become a powerful and determined business woman; consequently, it has also eliminated any opportunity for romantic fulfillment in her life. After a workplace confrontation, Jane (Pauline Frederick) begins to have amorous feelings for Robert (Malcolm McGregor), a much younger man working at her factory. Despite their age difference, all seems well with their relationship until Jane’s younger sister Dorothy (Laura La Plante) arrives home from college, unintentionally becoming the third corner of a heartbreaking love triangle.

After spending years as one of cinema’s biggest stars, Pauline Frederick’s career was in decline when she revived it by playing mature, self-sacrificing women looking for one last fling of youth and romance, a notable example being her performance in Ernst Lubitsch’s Three Women (1924). According to a July 1924 issue of Universal Weekly, the story of Smouldering Fires was penned specifically as a starring vehicle for Frederick by the prolific writing team of Sada Cowen and Howard Higgen, and was deemed significant enough by Universal to spearhead their 1925 feature release schedule. To further bolster the film’s box office appeal, the role of the younger sister went to Laura La Plante, a Universal veteran at age 20 who was in the process of becoming one of the studio’s biggest silent era stars.

Perhaps the biggest star of the production, however, was director Clarence Brown, whose keen eye for detail helped him convey complicated bits of narrative visually, often with a single shot. Brown’s early experience assisting director Maurice Tourneur heavily influenced his use of numerous color tints to help set a scene’s mood; happily, the tints in Smouldering Fires have been carefully recreated in this restored version. Smouldering Fires was the fourth feature made during director Clarence Brown’s five-picture deal with Universal in the mid-1920s, and he parlayed his success during this period into a lucrative future career at MGM, directing the likes of Greta Garbo, Clark Gable and Joan Crawford. The story was later remade as Female by Warner Bros. in 1933, directed by Michael Curtiz with Ruth Chatterton in the lead role.Steven Hill

DCP, b/w, silent, 85 min. Production: Universal Pictures Corp. Distribution: Universal Pictures Corp. Director: Clarence Brown. Screenwriter: Sada Cowan, Howard Higgin, Melville Brown. Cinematographer: Jackson Rose. Editor: Edward Schroeder.

Restored by The Packard Humanities Institute. Restoration supervised by Robert Gitt, assisted by Jere Guldin and Michael Friend. Digitally scanned in 4K from color-tinted 16mm prints derived from the original 35mm camera negative.