February 6, 2013

Women in horror during the 1920s - part 5

Staying with Hollywood for another day, it's time to look at the first werewolf movie ever made (or at least the earliest one which has survived): "Wolf Blood" also known as "Wolfblood: A Tale of the Forest". Although not made by a major studio, this Ryan Brothers production is notable for being directed by and starring George Chesebro. If you don't know who he was, shame on you for not watching old Republic westerns! Only kidding, I've never watched any of them either.

Of far greater interest to me is the centre of the love triangle in this movie, Marguerite Clayton, As an actress who was coming to the end of her 179 movie career, her name hardly trips off the tongue of horror fans, but I still think she deserves some recognition.

Marguerite Clayton in Wolf Blood (1926)

Marguerite Clayton as Edith Ford

In a change from starring in short westerns about Bronco Billy, Marguerite Clayton plays the owner of a logging company. How emancipated is that? Well, not very when push comes to shove. She's clearly a socialite who has inherited the business and doesn't really know what to do with it. If her 5 minute "flapper party" doesn't give that away, her engagement to a rich doctor (Ray Hanford) and the fact that handsome Dick Bannister (George Chesebro) is the real guy in charge of the lumberjacks surely does.

Students of women in film would get a lot out of "Wolf Blood", but don't worry, I'm not going to write the essay for them. Even though women had something a lot closer to equality in 1920s' America than ever before, it wasn't without some male resentment albeit often treated humourously in the movies. Generally, "new women" were portrayed as shrewish or sluttish, so the Edith Ford character here is a joy to watch as a more traditional, less emancipated heroine in spite of her initial backstory.

Edith loves getting flowers.

There's no "hard of heart like a man" Clytaemnestra stuff going on in this movie as Edith is quite the girlie-girl. She changes her outfit at least half a dozen times while the men appear to wear the same clothes throughout, she's as indecisive about the two men in her life as Bella Swan in "Twilight" (2008), and she loves getting flowers. Just ignore how she wears pants later on and you're good to go.

Actually, now that I've mentioned "Twilight", there is a proto-"Twilight" love triangle in this which seems weirdly familiar. Okay, so there are no real vampires or werewolves, but there is a doctor who performs a blood transfusion and a guy who everyone thinks is a werewolf. Could Stephanie Meyer have watched this movie at some point in her life? Who knows? It's funny where ideas for stories come from as even the most original is as old as the hills. They don't call these emotional relationships full of conflicts "the eternal triangle" for nothing.

What's this? Women can read?

All traces of whatever businesswoman Edith Ford was meant to be are thrown out of the window once she starts playing nurse to her injured Dick. Oh yes, I did just write that. There's sensuality in her performance, and I have to admit that (imitating the language of another of the characters in the film) I wouldn't mind me some of that Marguerite Clayton lovin' myself. She's absolutely gorgeous in some scenes, and she's a cuddler. I'm not entirely convinced by her chemistry with either of the male leads, but given the limitations of such a stagey production, her acting is better than you'd see in a lot of other movies from this time.

Pensive, sexy Edith

Some of Marguerite's scenes are pure eyecandy, but not in a gratuitous way. Take the shot above which could be straight out of a German expressionist movie. Perfectly framed and lit, it highlights how alone Edith is with her thoughts. Who should she choose, Edward or Jacob? Sorry, wrong story, but you get the idea.

Unless you watch a lot of silent movies or are a big movie buff, the chances are that you didn't realise how many of these old movies were tinted. Just as we all take sound and colour for granted nowadays, tinting was the "in thing" back in the 1920s. I'm not a film historian (I just watch a lot of films) so I've been surprised by it myself. Apparently, there were certain rules attached to which tints and where to use them. I don't know them all, but I assume that green was meant to highlight being outside. In a movie like this with so much forest action, it seems logical. I find green to be a depressing colour though, and I think it makes Marguerite look even sadder in the still below. She has such an expressive face.

Pretty as a picture but so sad.

Call me a pervert ("Hey Dr Blood, you're a pervert!"), but I found Marguerite Clayton very attractive in this movie. I suppose that's the point or some hideously ugly woman would have had her role instead. Only saying. The more of these old movies I watch the easier it is to appreciate the unflattering hairstyles, bizarre fashions, and a way of life which is completely alien to me. It also helps enormously when a genuinely beautiful women is in a movie rather than the modern trend to throw in a "girl next door" type and praise her as the Emperor's new clothes.

To end this post, I have to draw your attention to some of the amusing dialogue on the intertitle cards. Remember how I said that "new women" in the '20s often had fun poked at them. Well, here are two examples from Pop (Frank Clark):

Are you sure about that, Pop?

True story.

Now let's watch the movie together. It's just over an hour long.

Minor spoiler:

Although it's only a horror movie for the last 20 minutes or so, "Wolf Blood" features an offscreen transfusion using wolf blood (hence the title) as a means to introduce the Loup Garou myth. Like so many early horror movies, the drama relies on an impossible medical procedure. While it is actually within the realms of scientific possibility according to the documented case of Dr. Jean-Baptiste Denys (the eminent physician to King Louis XIV of France) who transfused the blood of a sheep into a 15-year-old boy, such a thing would only work with a very small amount of blood and is more likely to be fatal. Whatever the case, you wouldn't turn into a werewolf (or a weresheep) afterwards! Also, you have to question why Dr. Horton didn't use his own blood?

Tomorrow: Agnes Esterhazy in "The Student of Prague" (1926)

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