Maurice Tourneur | Figures de cire / Wax Figures
| The Wishing Ring | Alias Jimmy Valentine
| Trilby | A Girl's Folly
| The Poor Little Rich Girl
| The Blue Bird | Victory
| Lorna Doone
Classic Film and Television Home Page
Maurice Tourneur was an important director of early feature length films.
His son, Jacques Tourneur, was also a major director.
There are some common characteristics of Tourneur's films.
Repeated units in the composition (see individual film articles for details):
Some common images in the films of Maurice Tourneur:
- Compositions with repeated similar objects - which can be
furniture, candles, buckets, or any other object
- Repeated copies of architectural features such as windows,
walls, arches, fence posts etc.
- Groups of people in similar uniforms, whether these are school uniforms,
police or military uniforms, a standard way of traditional dress by an ethnic group,
or any other common standard clothes
(top hats held by canes: Wax Figures, many groups: The Wishing Ring,
women dancers at party, uniformed musicians, white tie and tails, men carrying portrait, curtain footmen: Trilby,
actors in studio commissary: A Girl's Folly, unborn children, women sailors: The Blue Bird)
- The repeated objects sometimes contain other repeated objects
within them: such as a series of bookcases, each one of which
contains many books
- The repeated objects can be rectangular, leading to nested
series of repeating vertical and horizontal lines in the composition
- There are sometimes repeated triangular units in the composition
(A Girl's Folly, two brackets holding shelf near ceiling: The Blue Bird,
church exterior: Lorna Doone)
Directing and its metaphors:
- Wash on lines (The Wishing Ring, Alias Jimmy Valentine)
related (village women doing wash: The Wishing Ring,
wash in stream: A Girl's Folly,
heroine wrecks bathroom sink and water erupts, hose used after mud fight: The Poor Little Rich Girl,
boy and girl wash hands at kitchen pump: The Blue Bird,
hero washes hair at public fountain: Lorna Doone)
- Telephone poles (Alias Jimmy Valentine, at docks: Trilby, A Girl's Folly)
- Top hats (top hats and canes at restaurant: Wax Figures, hero at start of betrothal party, with white tie: Trilby)
- Hand gestures in time with music (singing students at tavern: The Wishing Ring, painters wave while heroine sings: Trilby)
related (silhouettes playing instruments moving to music: The Blue Bird)
- Dancing (opening, morris dancers, maypole: The Wishing Ring, betrothal party: Trilby,
ice skaters, dancing to organ grinder, spirit dancers over fallen heroine, dancer lures heroine back to life in dream: The Poor Little Rich Girl,
silhouettes dancing: The Blue Bird,
heroine accompanies with harp: The Last of the Mohicans)
- Festive group meals in restaurants (Wax Figures, tavern: The Wishing Ring, Trilby)
related (meals at children's home, rich children in silhouette, grandparents, Luxuries eating and drinking: The Blue Bird)
- Directing (woman artists' models costumed and given props for posing: Trilby,
film director in studio, chessboard metaphor for blocking out actors on movie set: A Girl's Folly)
related (boy's magic hat makes souls of objects visible: The Blue Bird)
- Men dressing other men (exhibit: Wax Figures,
Squire puts gardener's apron on hero, Earl is shaved and has gouty foot bandaged by servants: The Wishing Ring,
Red waits for hero when released from prison with hero's coat and hat, hero gets friends jobs with new clothes: Alias Jimmy Valentine,
film director studying and approving actors' costume and make-up, dresser helps actor hero: A Girl's Folly)
related (heroine dressed as boy as punishment: The Poor Little Rich Girl, kids get clothes on by magic: The Blue Bird)
- Figures of people (wax figures in museum: Wax Figures,
dolls arranged by girl: Alias Jimmy Valentine, sculpture in studio: Trilby,
statue in Garden of Lonely Children: The Poor Little Rich Girl,
statues in palace of Night: The Blue Bird)
- Multi-focus shots (betrothal dinner: Trilby,
partying of the Luxuries: The Blue Bird, crooks' hideout: Lorna Doone)
- Pans (slow pans across rooms: Trilby)
- Use of elaborate shadow regions as "masks" blocking out part of the screen
(circular mask outside prison: Alias Jimmy Valentine,
arched mask in music tour shots: Trilby,
dream sequence seen through arched mask: The Poor Little Rich Girl,
Happinesses seen through arched doorways: The Blue Bird,
parabolic arch: Victory,
mouth of cave: The Last of the Mohicans)
- Silhouettes (Alias Jimmy Valentine, man as silhouette behind shower curtain: Trilby,
Pickford and organ grinder enter house: The Poor Little Rich Girl,
stylized silhouettes with cutouts: The Blue Bird,
people as silhouettes in foreground of shots: Victory, dawn with drummers and flag: The Last of the Mohicans)
- Shadows of people (hero sees shadow through museum wall: Wax Figures,
hero first seen in film next to shadow: Trilby, on staircase: La main du diable)
- Smoke (Paris chimney: Wax Figures, steam from mother's stove: The Blue Bird,
camp-fire in rain storm, pipe, gunsmoke: The Last of the Mohicans)
Subject matter and characters:
- Moveable sets, architecture, and objects with moving parts
- all of which can be considered as Kinetic Art (maypole: The Wishing Ring,
train observation car: Alias Jimmy Valentine, stage curtains pulled: Trilby,
revolving movie sets: A Girl's Folly,
elevator in mansion: The Poor Little Rich Girl,
furniture moving by magic: The Blue Bird) related (heroine's toy merry-go-round: The Poor Little Rich Girl)
- Shots staged through doorways or windows (The Wishing Ring, Alias Jimmy Valentine, Lorna Doone,
through glass doors to street: The Poor Little Rich Girl,
poor mother walking seen through window, Happinesses seen through doorways: The Blue Bird)
- Overhead shots showing the layouts of multiple rooms (bank: Alias Jimmy Valentine,
different sets on the movie stage: A Girl's Folly) related
(long shots showing theater audience, boxes and stage: Trilby)
- Glass buildings (film studio: A Girl's Folly, conservatory: The Poor Little Rich Girl)
- Bridges over streams (A Girl's Folly, Lorna Doone)
- Porticos (strange building: Wax Figures,
heroine's home in dream: The Poor Little Rich Girl,
hero's bungalow, hotel: Victory)
- Paths straight towards the camera (path to heroine's front door, steps: The Wishing Ring,
sidewalk, bridge: A Girl's Folly)
- Plant decorations (flowers in restaurant: Wax Figures,
geraniums on window sill, stolen roses: The Wishing Ring,
ivy at Christmas betrothal party, palm on stage: Trilby,
flowers on children's window sill, decorations at Luxuries' party: The Blue Bird)
- Arches (Earl's garden: The Wishing Ring, last area in concert tour: Trilby,
street with rich children's house, palace of Night, Happinesses seen through doorways: The Blue Bird,
fort gates: The Last of the Mohicans, Lorna Doone)
- Poor people with tents (Gypsies: The Wishing Ring, third area in concert tour: Trilby)
- Men who treat children well (hero: Alias Jimmy Valentine,
parents, grandparents, men who care for Unborn Children: The Blue Bird,
hero dandling a baby: Lorna Doone)
- Men who protect women from sexual harassment (Alias Jimmy Valentine, Victory, Lorna Doone)
- Thieves (comedy of heroine stealing roses: The Wishing Ring, safecracker: Alias Jimmy Valentine)
- People pressured to transfer property (Trilby hypnotizes people to give him money: Trilby,
poor mother wants kids to give bird to sick girl: The Blue Bird)
- Men being chased by authorities, perhaps to be put in jail
(for singing too loudly in pub and drinking: The Wishing Ring, safecracker: Alias Jimmy Valentine,
womanizing actor by girlfriend: A Girl's Folly)
- Locked-in characters (hero in wax museum: Wax Figures, bank vault: Alias Jimmy Valentine)
- Creative figures in the arts (painter: Trilby, film director, cameraman: A Girl's Folly)
- Birds (parrot, heroine's cage bird: The Poor Little Rich Girl, blue birds, pet bird: The Blue Bird)
- Humans in animal suits (bears, the Silly Ass: The Poor Little Rich Girl, dog, cat: The Blue Bird)
- Blacks (black dresser, stagehands in film studio: A Girl's Folly)
- Gays (Sugar: The Blue Bird, villains: Victory)
- Native Americans (The Last of the Mohicans)
- Gypsies (The Wishing Ring)
- Historical settings in traditional Britain (The Wishing Ring, Lorna Doone)
related (British colonial New York: The Last of the Mohicans)
- Location filming that gives a documentary look at real institutions
near New York City (Sing Sing prison: Alias Jimmy Valentine, Fort Lee film studio: A Girl's Folly)
Figures de cire / Wax Figures
Figures de cire / Wax Figures (1914) is a roughly eleven minute short,
about a man who spends the night in a sinister Wax Museum. This is a mild horror film.
Its settings have some visual interest, but otherwise it seems a lesser work.
Tourneur includes a building with what seems to be an unusual portico, high above
the street. The two friends question a working man outside this structure.
I was unable to understand all the architectural aspects of this building,
and what the portico is for. A title card suggests it might be for a "fete foraine"
(French for a "fun fair" or carnival).
But the whole composition is striking.
Wax Figures has repeated container units:
- The Wax Museum stalls, each containing another waxwork display.
The stalls also use repeated ropes across their entrances, and repeated cards below
describing the exhibits.
- The boxes exhibiting waxwork heads, surrounded by skulls.
- Narrowly pyramidal stands, briefly seen, each with a waxwork head on top.
- The shelves containing bottles at the bar.
Repeated Rectangle Compositions
There are also two shots of outside walls. One shows the two friends before they
go into the museum. The other shows the second friend, alone in a corridor between two walls outside,
near the film's end.
These walls display patterns of wooden strips and frames. The patterns are complex,
and have nested vertical and horizontal sections, in the "Repeated Rectangle Compositions"
Maurice Tourneur manner. All of these walls display strong vertical sections; within some but not all
of these verticals, are nested horizontal bands.
Although these two shots play little role in the plot, in some ways they are the
most visually interesting shots in the picture, due to their geometry.
The outside of the bar also has a series of strong vertical panels, made up of the
window sections and doors.
The restaurant has a shot, showing the hat-check woman returning the guests'
top hats on ends of their walking sticks. This is a different kind of vertical composition.
It is also an example of "a group of characters with identical clothes".
Men Dressing Men
Wax Figures contains a macabre variation on the Tourneur subject
of "men dressing other men". One of the waxwork exhibits shows jailers
dressing a prisoner for the guillotine.
The Wishing Ring
The Wishing Ring (1914) is an hour long comedy, set in
an antique village in Britain. Tourneur had a flair for Britain
in 1600 - 1800: his Lorna Doone is also set in the England
of that pre-modern period.
The comedy in The Wishing Ring is gentle. It is not slapstick-oriented.
It is more like romantic comedy.
Uniformed Groups - and the Compositions Built on Them
Many of the characters in The Wishing Ring fall into identically-clad groups:
Tourneur uses such groups to create striking compositions. He
especially likes to show identically-clad people standing, making
strong vertical lines on the screen.
- The male students all have a common uniform.
- So do the guardsmen who keep the peace in the town.
- And the Earl's footmen.
- When the hero first meets with the Squire, both are in similar
frock coats - not an official uniform, but striking similar all
- The young women in the village seem to dress nearly alike,
with aprons, and the older women all wear cloth caps.
- At the party, the villagers, male and female, are in the dress
clothes of the day.
- And the four women who pull back the opening curtain are also
in identical outfits.
The four young women with the curtain all stand in stiff posture.
Even as they dance and move around on screen, with a slow stately
rhythm, they keep their strong straight standing posture. They
form a series of moving vertical lines, that slowly change position
in intricate groupings and maneuverings.
The male students at the tavern, singing merrily away, also form
repeated patterns on the screen, each one being in an identical
uniform. Their chairs also form a repeated visual motif in this
composition. The chairs and the people form a complex, dynamic
pattern on screen. The enthusiastic hand gestures, in time with
the music, add a further dimension of rhythm.
Later in the film, both the Morris dancing, and the Gypsy camp,
are more compositions made out of repeated, similarly dressed
humans. So are the shots of the guardsmen and the village women
flirting with each other.
Tourneur likes to show repeated units in his compositions. In
several movies, such as Alias Jimmy Valentine and Victory,
these repeated units are furniture, bookcases, chairs, wall decorations,
windows and plants: not human beings. But in The Wishing Ring,
humans also take part in such repeated unit compositions.
Tourneur also uses repeated, identical objects in many shots.
The objects are WITHIN a single shot, typically, and are used
to make a striking composition in that shot.
- The village women all have buckets near the well.
- The school Chancellor has twin quill pens, each tilted at
- There are candles in the Earl's bedroom.
- The gardener is first seen tending a stand of Cannas. Like
the candles, these tall flowers form vertical lines.
- The heroine has a row of geraniums on her window sill. (A
nearly identical set is used by the heroine of A Girl's Folly.)
- The windows at the Squire's house are tall, and in a row -
the hero moves past them on his way to nab the Rose Thief.
- Outside the Squire's house, we see smaller repeated windows
- and a bench in front made up of X-backed modules.
- The altar at the church has numerous repeating panels in front,
each with a flower motif.
- There are also many candles on the altar, and a rail in front
with many vertical bars.
- The arches in the Earl's garden.
- The tents at the Gypsy camp, and the tilted poles used to
hang the pot.
Tourneur loves scenes of wash hanging on lines. In The Wishing Ring,
we first see wash in the background, when the guardsmen
arrest the hero. Later, we see full scenes of village women doing
the wash. There is also wash on the line in back of the gypsy
A Hunted Hero - and Jail
In the gentle comedy The Wishing Ring, the hero gets in
trouble for singing too loudly in a pub, and is arrested and thrown
in jail overnight to work off his drinking. He is first seen looking
hunted, peering around a corner, in the opening titles.
Quite a few Tourneur heroes are hunted by people. This can be
serious, like the safecracker in Alias Jimmy Valentine
who is hunted by the police, and thrown in prison. Or it can be
lightly comic, like the womanizing actor in A Girl's Folly
who gets surprised by his girl friend. Still, quite a few Tourneur
heroes seem to be mild-mannered types who try to evade authorities
who are chasing or trying to hunt them down.
When we first meet the heroine of The Wishing Ring, she
too is peeping furtively over a wall - similar to our first look
at the hero in the credits. She is a thief of sorts, like Jimmy
Valentine to come: she steals roses. And like Jimmy, she is deeply
Men Dressing Men
Men dressing other men is a recurring activity in Tourneur. In
The Wishing Ring, the Squire puts a gardener's apron on
the hero, telling him to watch his roses.
The Earl has his gouty foot bandaged by his servants, and is also
shaved by them.
The heroine toys with the footman's lace collar ruffle. In A
Girl's Folly the hero toys playfully with an actress' skirt.
Kinetic Art and Movable Architecture
The maypole around which the villagers dance is a form of movable
architecture. It involves circular motion, like the revolving
movie sets we see in the studio in A Girl's Folly. The
train observation car in Alias Jimmy Valentine is also
One can see Kinetic Art / Movable Architecture used by other directors:
We argue in these articles that Maurice Tourneur influenced Fritz
Lang, and that Lang influenced Ulmer.
- Fritz Lang has a revolving set in the
Petit Casino episode of Dr. Mabuse, Der Spieler (1922).
- Props that recall kinetic art shows up Edgar G. Ulmer,
such as the revolving bed in Detour and the moving outer
space machinery in The Man From Planet X.
- Some of the machines in Jacques Tourneur can also be seen
as Kinetic Art: the fan in Stars in My Crown, the covered
motor boat in Appointment in Honduras, the snow plow in
Alias Jimmy Valentine
A Multi-media Smash Hit
Alias Jimmy Valentine (1915) is a light-hearted melodrama
about a safecracker who reforms. Jimmy Valentine was created by
short story writer O. Henry, in his tale "A Retrieved Reformation"
(1903). The story was dramatized by Paul Armstrong in 1910, becoming
a hit Broadway play, Alias Jimmy Valentine. It is this
theatrical version that was adapted by Tourneur into a movie.
Tourneur emphasized in his writings that he considered Armstrong's
play to be much richer and better developed than O. Henry's brief
The film was remade in the 1920's twice, under the same title.
Maxwell Karger directed a 1920 version with Bert Lytell in the
title role, and Jack Conway did the 1928 version with William
Haines, and Lionel Barrymore as the policeman who tracks him down.
The 1910 play was so popular that a hit song was composed in tribute
to it, "When Jimmy Valentine Gets Out" (1911), by vaudeville
legend Gus Edwards. This was later sung by Bing Crosby in the
movie The Star Maker (Roy Del Ruth,
1939), the musical biography of Gus Edwards. Jimmy Valentine was
an early example of a multi-media sensation. The article on crime
writer Jack Boyle also suggests
that Jimmy Valentine helped inspire Boyle's own sympathetic thief,
Boston Blackie, who also had a prolific career of movie adaptations
in the silent era.
What Makes a Hero?
In O. Henry's story, the secret crook Jimmy Valentine impresses
respectable people with his good looks and beautiful, high-style
clothes. The people impressed presumably include the heroine of
the story, who falls in love with him. This is part of a long
literary tradition of Rogue stories
about charming non-violent criminals: they all tend to worm their
way into the upper classes, where they do not really belong, by
faultlessly aping their elegant clothes. Often times, the crooks
are even better dressed than the upper crust characters they are
infiltrating. This is the case with O. Henry's Jimmy Valentine,
whose clothes wow everyone he meets.
Tourneur's film takes a drastically different approach. The hero
here first meets the heroine when he defends her from the forced,
unwanted attentions of a vicious cad. This is a genuinely decent
action on the part of the hero. It is part of his affection for
women and children, an affection that redeems him from his life
of crime in the film. It gives the heroine a reason of genuine
substance for falling in love with him, too. The film also is
an early example of feminism, exploring the issue of sexual harassment
all the way back in 1915.
Robert Warwick and Pantomime
Leading man Robert Warwick was 36 when this film was made. The
genial Warwick is not anyone's idea of a tough looking criminal.
Rather, Warwick looks like a good natured nice guy, who will be
especially decent to women and children, a man who will make a
good husband and father, the sort of person you would want as
a friend. Warwick is mildly handsome, in the manner of turn of
the century stage matinee idols.
He does a terrific job in the role. He has an excellent gift of
pantomime. His expressions firmly convey the emotions his character
possesses, without either over or under acting. One can always
easily read his character's feelings, in shot after shot. Such
performers must have been fairly rare in the silent film industry
in 1915, and highly valued. Tourneur favored long pantomime conversations,
in which it was easy for the viewers to guess what each character
was saying, without any title cards. These show ingenuity on the
part of both Tourneur and his performers, and are gracefully done.
Warwick would go on to a lengthy career as a character actor in
talking pictures. He was almost always cast as a distinguished
looking, sympathetic authority figure, playing an endless succession
of governors, prime ministers, district attorneys, generals, admirals,
and Marine Colonels. He has small roles in many Preston Sturges
films, which was certainly a compliment, as Sturges was a great
connoisseur of character acting.
The article on Fritz Lang suggests that
Alias Jimmy Valentine anticipates some shots in Lang's
film The Spiders (1919, 1920). Robert Warwick has a small
role as the newspaper publisher in Lang's While the City Sleeps
Men Dressing Men, Girls Playing with Dolls - and Metaphors
Tourneur has a number of shots, showing the little girl, with
her dolls lined up in a row. These dolls also form repeated verticals
in the image, especially in the last of the three shots, which
shows both the girl and all of the dolls praying. The little girl
has presumably arranged her dolls to echo the humans, and their
activities. This is a bit like what Tourneur himself does, arranging
his actors into their poses in front of the camera.
In A Girl's Folly (1917), Tourneur's self-reflexive backstage
look at filmmaking, we see the director arranging his characters
on the set, and blocking out their motions during rehearsal. A
title card compares this to a hand arranging chess pieces on a
board. (There is a publicity still showing director Pedro Almodóvar
arranging the characters in his latest movie on a giant chess
board, circa 1990.)
Tourneur's men in Alias Jimmy Valentine show affection
for each other by dressing their friends. Red is waiting for the
hero when he is released from prison, with his friend's coat and
hat; later the hero returns the complement by getting Red and
Avery jobs that get them into new clothes, images that are milked
for comic relief.
This too is similar to the way Tourneur as director arranges for
his characters to wear various costumes. In A Girl's Folly
much is made of the director studying and approving each actor's
costume and make-up for their role on-camera. The leading man's
dresser is also a character, and he is shown helping the hero
get dressed up to the nines.
Tourneur likes shots that are "rich in context". A shot
of a town will contain much detail. One often notices all the
detail more on a second viewing. A shot of the heroine with the
kids will contain much detail about their typical domestic life.
Not all of this detail is underlined. One has to get used to looking
for it, studying the image.
Visual Style: Repeated Rectangle Compositions
Alias Jimmy Valentine has a rich visual style. Many of
the shots are complexly composed.
Tourneur favors strong, repeated but varied verticals within his
shots. These are intermixed with horizontals and diagonals. Often
times, both verticals and horizontals are thick, and form repeating
rectangular regions within the shots.
The front door of the heroine's house has two vertical, rectangular
panels making up its front door. These are flanked by two more
vertical rectangular windows. This is one of the film's simpler
compositions; it shows Tourneur's love of verticals. A series
of steps forming horizontals makes a contrast on the image's base.
The town shots in the same episode also show vertical lines around
doors and windows of the shops. The door posts are topped with
lights, and are heavily emphasized by the architecture.
Later, when Warwick is waiting for his job interview with the
father, he is next to a bookcase. The many books form small, repeated
verticals. So do the walls of the bookcase, and its doors. The
walls behind the case have two heavy, repeated rectangular regions
set into the woodwork; their boundaries form both horizontals
and verticals. The shelves of the bookcases, and the rows of books
themselves, also form repeated horizontal stripes within the image.
This is a typical image within Alias Jimmy Valentine. It
contains the intermixed verticals and horizontals prevalent in
the film. Within the bookcase, there is row after row of books,
forming repeated rectangular horizontal regions, and also repeated
pillars and walls in the case making regularly spaced verticals.
Such regular pulses of similar rectilinear regions are a building
block of the film's style. These are all within the bookcase;
they do not make up the whole image. Instead, these are mixed
and matched with another, differently shaped series of repeating
rectangular regions, the big panels in the room's woodwork. Such
interacting series of different rectangular images, each themselves
intermixing horizontals and verticals, is a design strategy throughout
Similarly, the shot in which Red waits for the hero to be released
from Sing Sing shows similar building blocks. We see rows of windows
in the background, of a prison building. These make up a complex
pattern, in which both vertical and horizontal groups of windows
are intermixed. Superimposed on these, is a set of metal fence
bars in the middle ground. These fences are strung between a series
of prominent metal poles, that form strong verticals in the image.
Red's standing figure is aligned with one of these posts, emphasizing
the vertical line. Between the fence posts, horizontal metal bars
run across the image. The fence, and the windows behind them,
each make up a series of interlocking vertical and horizontal
shapes. As usual in an image from this film, the vertical lines
are stronger, and form the dominant structures of the image; but
the horizontals are prominent too. Within each group, there is
much repetition, forming regular pulses within the composition.
The flashback to the robbery shows the three crooks, their heads
all arranged in a vertical line. They are watching through a doorway,
that forms a strong vertical rectangle. Suddenly, marching policemen
are seen, whose bodies are also verticals. So are the nightsticks
the policemen are swinging.
Wash and Phone Lines: Use in Composition
An early outdoors shot shows wash hanging from a line. Later shots
show power and telephone wires strung from poles. Both of these
would become visual signatures of the director Ozu Yazujiro.
One has no idea if Ozu were familiar with Tourneur's work, or
whether this is just a coincidence. More importantly, there are
many shots here which show the complex rectilinear grids that
make up the "typical" Ozu composition.
Immediately following the release of the hero from prison, we
see one of the films' most beautiful shots. It is masked by a
circular frame. Tourneur loved such frames in his exteriors, not
always circular. William K. Everson's book American Silent
Film (1978) has some fascinating photographs on this subject,
as well as some interesting coverage of Maurice Tourneur in general.
This shot contains one of the few circles anywhere in the film:
a wheel of a cannon on the outskirts of Sing Sing. However, the
shot is dominated by the many power or telephone poles it contains.
They are arranged into a haunting geometric pattern, one that
conveys a sense of mystery and beauty. The shot is in two halves:
the left is complex, containing a sloping diagonal, the canon,
a filled in background, and towering over everything else, the
tallest power pole. The right side of the shot is relatively empty.
It contains a mysterious structure, also vertical, which could
be an atypical power pole.
Tourneur likes shots that show various regions and their interconnections.
The film has shots through windows and doorways, showing one room
emptying into another, or the outdoors and indoors being joined
up. The prison scenes have shots through bars, as does a shot
at the bank; both of these link up rooms. A railway scene includes
a sequence shot from a moving observation car - very striking.
The overhead shot at the bank (the best in the film) shows us
many different rooms all interconnected, like a maze. Later, near
the start of A Girl's Folly there will be a similar shot,
showing all the different sets on the movie stage.
An anti-Illusion style
Several of the shots show visual wit. Tourneur is clearly delighting
in his own visual virtuosity. He is clearly hoping that his audience
is liking these ingenious shots, too. The attitude seems to be:
"we are trying to make this film as lively and as visually
fresh as possible for you, dear viewers, so that you will have
a good time". Tourneur clearly WANTS viewers to notice the
shots in the picture. Such conspicuous devices as silhouette shots,
unusual camera angles, picturesque views of real places such as
Sing Sing, trick effects in the credits, iris frames, halo lighting
of the edges of characters' heads, unusual title cards, clever
pantomime conversations, deeply staged shots through windows and
doorways abound. One would think that most cinema audiences would
pick up on such shots, and notice their technique. This is not
an "illusionistic" film, designed to convince viewers
they are seeing raw reality all the time, and are "really
there" while the action of the film is taking place. Instead,
the viewer seems intended to notice that he or she is watching
a movie. The viewer is presumed to be a visual sophisticate, who
will be charmed by the skill Tourneur and company are displaying
with the shots.
A Horror Film
Trilby (1915) is a horror movie, of sorts. I found the story disappointing, although the film
has some good visual style. It is based on a hugely successful novel by George du Maurier (1894),
about a sinister hypnotist named Svengali, whose hypnosis turns a naive young artist's model Trilby
into a famed concert singer. Trilby can't sing well normally - but when hypnotized by Svengali,
she is one of the world's greatest performers.
Even today, when a previously limited actress or singer is guided to an
outstanding performance by a director, the pair are compared to Trilby and Svengali.
The characters have become proverbial. However, this fame is a bit misleading -
the film is quite different. For one thing, the film gives no detail about how
Svengali gets good performances out of Trilby. He simply hypnotizes her, and the next thing
you know, she is singing like a canary. Nor does the film ever explain anything
about how his hypnotic powers work: he just waves his hands and Trilby is hypnotized.
None of this is plausible, detailed or interesting. It all seems like an arbitrary,
Mainly, Trilby is a horror film, about a woman who is forced by hypnosis
away from her young nice guy boyfriend, and into a new life under the control
of a sinister, unattractive middle-aged man. It was likely a strong influence
on a later horror film, The Magician (Rex Ingram, 1926), about another young woman
forced away from a noble young lover into a life under control of an ugly middle-aged
mesmerist. I didn't especially like The Magician, either.
I confess I don't understand the appeal of this plot - and Trilby the novel and play
was one of the biggest hits of its era. Does it reflect a concern about the social controls
middle-aged men have over the lives of young women, and the ease in which they can use their power
to wreck young love? Does it deal with fears that women might not like conventional heterosexuality,
as represented by these noble-but-sort-of-wimpy young lovers, and prefer alternate sexual
arrangements? Is this some sort of S/M fantasy about hypnotic sexual control?
Does it reflect fears that women's careers, such as Trilby's singing success,
are "hypnotizing" them away from love and marriage?
Is it simply racism: Svengali in the original novel was a stereotyped Jewish villain,
something that has been mercifully left out of Tourneur's non-racist film version?
Is it a sexist "explanation" of women's achievements on-stage, suggesting their performances
are really produced by middle-aged males behind the scenes? Who knows? Maybe all of the above,
for different members of the audience.
Metaphors for Directing
Tourneur's A Girl's Folly (1917) will show a movie director in a film studio,
much like the one where Tourneur actually worked, directing performers.
And his other films contain a number of metaphors for directing, such as
imagery of dolls, figurines and statues arranged into tableaux, and scenes of men dressing
The hypnotist Svengali guiding Trilby to great performances, can also be seen as a metaphor
So can the early scenes of artists and models. Trilby shows painters and sculptors
using models, staged, costumed and holding props, under the "direction" of painters and sculptors
as models for these artists' works.
The hero is quite an appealing figure. He is serious about his painting.
But otherwise, he is a genial, fun-loving man, who recalls the equally good-natured hero
of The Wishing Ring. He also seems like a genuinely loving figure towards the heroine.
Much is made of the hero's top hats. He kisses the heroine while wearing one at his
betrothal party. And at the theater he wears one along with his white tie and tails,
which is a fashion norm. Such top hats also serve as phallic symbols.
Some of the characters in Trilby fall into identically-clad groups:
The last four groups are at the theater in the finale: the part of Trilby where
uniforms are concentrated.
- The four women who dance at the betrothal patty are in similar
(but not identical) white dresses.
- The two working men who carry Svengali's portrait to his theater
are in identical work uniforms, including similar peaked, visored caps.
- The men at the concert are in white tie and tails.
- The musicians at the concert are in military-style uniforms,
of the kind more often seen in marching bands today.
- Two men in footmen's livery close the stage curtains.
Trilby contains repeating objects:
The cats are harmless enough, but not really likable: they try to eat the party food.
Still, they are far from the sinister cats that run through Maurice's son
- The tables and chairs in the restaurant near the start.
- The two identical "shelves" inside the heroine's birdcage.
- The easels in the art class.
- The cats, who all look much alike.
- The chairs at the betrothal party.
- The chairs, rows of seats and boxes at the theater, and the paired stage curtains.
- The pillars in the lounge at the theater, in the room with the conical chair.
These have interesting geometrical ridges and shapes.
After the hero meets his friends at the English docks, a shot points away from the ship.
It shows numerous poles or posts sticking up in the sky. This recalls the shots of telephone
poles in other Maurice Tourneur films.
An anti-Illusion style
When the hypnotized heroine is carted off by Svengali to begin their tour,
their activities are shown in shots masked with arch shapes at the frame top.
There are four such shots, and in very different locales. This marks out such shots
as being "different" from the film around them. In 1930's Hollywood,
such travel might instead have been the subject of a montage sequence, which also would
have separated it from the surrounding movie. Tourneur's approach is interestingly different.
It also allows Tourneur to intercut this material with non-tour shots featuring the other characters:
something that would be more difficult to do with a montage sequence, which usually is one continuous entity.
The arched mask is echoed in the last of the four shots, by actual arches in the set.
One pair of arches is nested, and in turn are viewed from within the arched mask.
The composition is beautiful and original.
The hero is introduced in a shot that shows him next to the shadow of another person on the wall.
This shadow moves a bit, and seems "alive".
A silhouette formed by a man within shower curtains is also notable.
The IMDB commentator "Cineanalyst" points out that Svengali enters two shots in mirrors, before he is
seen directly. These are both shots in which heroine Trilby sees him. This gives Svengali a
strange atmosphere. His final shot at the end also shows him in the mirror, with
his disciple Gecko looking on.
In addition to the shots with arched masks, other beautiful shots in Trilby contain curves:
All of these shots are striking. I would have liked more trains. This shot was perhaps
taken at a real life train station, and recalls the documentary scenes that fill
Alias Jimmy Valentine.
- A railway platform mixes a curved, maybe concrete platform, with curved railway lines.
- Glass bowls contain scalloped edges, in the still life showing the betrothal feast.
- A unique seat at the theater lounge is conical at the top, then balloons out to a
Repeated Rectangle Compositions
A number of shots are composed out of that Tourneur favorite, "repeated and nested rectangles":
Trilby has perhaps fewer such shots than some other Tourneur movies.
- A cabinet at the hero's room has two vertical doors, and inside contains horizontal shelves.
There is also a vertical room door at the right, with some horizontal panels.
- The heroine's bird cage has two long horizontal stages, one on top of the other.
Each is full of vertical bars.
- The shower curtain is in vertical sections, which in turn have horizontal lines
across them - as well as some other lines.
- The wall with the cabman is divided into a number of vertical zones. Some of these
in turn contain horizontal boards or bricks.
- The long shots of the theater have horizontal rows of seats below, a stage curtain with
vertical folds above.
The betrothal dinner is full of guests, all in lively activity. It is very hard to focus
one's eyes on any one of them. Such multi-focus shots were not uncommon in films
of the 1910's. They have tended to be less frequent in later films (although I cannot document this),
because, one suspects, directors realized that audiences found them a bit confusing.
The dinner table is seen from different perspectives, from both ends of the room.
The dancing after the dinner also approaches multi-focus overload.
The tour-shot-with-masked-top, showing what looks like a grungy farmer's market or fair,
is also startlingly rich in detail.
By contrast, the spectacular shots in the theater at the end are easy to follow. They are
indeed richly staged, mixing people on-stage and in the audience. This sequence is one of the
high points of the film. The staging shows many types of typical crowd behavior in a theater,
such as the way people move in and out during intermission. Tourneur also gets mileage out
of the stagehands pulling the stage curtains: this might be a simple form of the
Kinetic Architecture found in other Tourneur.
The betrothal party takes place at Christmas, and the studio is covered with ivy leaves.
This recalls the numerous flowers in the restaurant at the start of Wax Figures.
The theater stage also has a potted palm on the left hand side.
A Girl's Folly
Backstage at the Movies
A Girl's Folly (1917) is a delightful film. It is a backstage
look at movie making, being set in the Fort Lee, New Jersey film
studio where Tourneur himself worked. Tourneur gives us a whole
documentary style look at the filmmaking process and the studio.
Just as Alias Jimmy Valentine provided location shooting
at Sing Sing prison, so does Tourneur look at another complex
institution here. Both the prison and the studio contain a large
complex of buildings, many locales and unusual activities, and
denizens who are dressed differently from ordinary people on the
Fort Lee, New Jersey was at one time the center of United States
filmmaking, before the industry moved to Hollywood, California.
Fort Lee was right across the river from Manhattan. Similarly,
Sing Sing prison is just up the Hudson River from New York City.
(When crooks talk about "going up the river" as slang
for going to prison, they once were referring literally to being
sent up the Hudson to Sing Sing.) Both the Fort Lee studio and
Sing Sing prison were locations very close to the director's homebase
of filming. Neither was some sort of exotic location.
When Tourneur trains his camera on the studio, he is simply recording
his everyday life. And these scenes are rich in detail of that
life, just like his depiction of fictional daily life in the English
village in The Wishing Ring, and the small town in Alias
While A Girl's Folly is full of comedy, it is not the slapstick
comedy we tend to associate with silent film.
Robert Warwick is a good sport, in his self-satirizing look at
a leading man actor. The film opens with him primping in front
of his dressing room mirror, tweezing his eyebrows and putting
on make-up: both big no-nos for any 1917 American male who was
not an actor. This is funny to see, and suggests the truth behind
screen image. Soon, Warwick is all dressed up in he-man cowboy
clothes for his film role. He looks great, but we also realize
that this is an artificial image, just having seen him as a theatrical
sophisticate in his dressing room.
Warwick's costume and grooming bear more than a slight resemblance
to screen cowboy William S. Hart. Hart was a big star in 1917,
and also had a background as a leading man on stage, much like
Warwick's satirical version here. Both Hart and Warwick look like
giant men, especially in their heroic costumes.
The studio employees include black workers. Some are "grips":
the term used in studios for what are called "stagehands" in the theater.
The hero's dresser is also black. While these are not elevated positions
of authority, or in creative roles, they seem like "honest workingman" level jobs.
They show black people getting opportunities to work, on a fairly open level.
By contrast, eight years later MGM filmed a detailed backstage look at its Hollywood studio
called 1925 Studio Tour. This shows the lavish studio, and has many group portraits
of workers in backstage and craft professions. Everyone looks lily white -
until we get to the barbershop and shoe shiners. Then at last, we see black people.
At MGM, blacks seem have been employed only to shine shoes. It is a drastic change,
lowering black workers' status in a racist way.
Phone Lines - and Wash
When the train departs, Tourneur's framing includes phone or power
lines above it. They help make this an emotionally evocative composition.
The country women are seen doing their wash at the stream. The
wash is not hanging, however, unlike other Tourneur films.
Paths: Straight Towards the Camera
The sidewalk on which the country girl walks points straight towards
the camera. So does the bridge over the stream.
Earlier in The Wishing Ring, Tourneur included similar
shots of the path leading to the heroine's front door. These too
were perpendicular to the plane of the shot, leading directly
away from the viewer. So was a shot of the short steps leading
out of another door of the heroine's house.
The Opening Composition: Triangles
The opening shot of A Girl's Folly is strikingly composed.
It is full of triangles:
The three triangles all echo each other. Each has an apex pointing
up, towards the sky, and the top of the film frame.
- At the left background, we see the triangular glass roof of
a studio building - glass was used to let in light for filmmaking.
- At the right, we see a triangular outdoor staircase, with
a man standing at its apex, visually emphasizing the point of
- In front, we see paths on the ground, here shot so they form
a similarly shaped triangle on screen. Tourneur has people standing
and walking on these paths, visually highlighting them, and bringing
out their triangular form.
Tourneur likes repeating geometrical units in his compositions.
But here the units are triangles, rather than the more common
rectangles used by Tourneur.
The commissary scene, in which many actors are eating lunch, shows
Tourneur's fondness for putting groups of people into common clothes.
There are men dressed as cops: maybe real policemen, but more
likely actors, with the hero stopping for a laughing conversation
with one. There are groups of cowboys, groups of Indians, and
women all wearing similar caps on their heads, like the Old English
village maidens of The Wishing Ring.
Seeing people in elaborate, surrealistically out-of-place costumes
is a standard part of "movies set at film studios".
One always sees Roman centurions rubbing elbows with cowboys,
etc., on the streets of Paramount or MGM. A Girl's Folly
is part of this fun tradition - perhaps it even helped create
But A Girl's Folly differs in stressing groups of
performers, each wearing similar clothes: a "uniform".
That is closer to being a pure Tourneur tradition, part of his
The commissary scenes show Tourneur's fondness for happy groups
of people, partying together. They recall the singing-in-the-pub
scene that opens The Wishing Ring, and the wedding banquet
that closes it.
Many scenes have Tourneur's beloved "repeated objects",
as part of their sets and props:
Tourneur builds up elaborate compositions out of these repeating
units. As usual, the repeating objects are all WITHIN a single
- The early shot of the studio sets shows many similar walls
building up the sets. Two wall units are carried in motion through
the maze of sets.
- The duchess' set is constructed before our eyes, of wall units
- The hero's dressing room is full of framed pictures.
- The three women stand in a row, outside a studio with repeating windows.
- The studio set with the pool has two hanging ropes with nooses
at their ends. And two wall panels are of similar black color
- The bridge is made up of repeating cylinders.
- The banister at the heroine's house has repeating posts, each
with a knob around three-quarters up. The steps also form repeating units.
- The heroine's sill has many flower pots in a row, in front
of a series of windows.
- The train has many repeating windows.
- The editing room is full of workers at repeating tables, each
with identical film equipment.
- The boxes that litter the yard at the studio make repeating
- The commissary is full of tables, and seats at the lunch counter.
The Poor Little Rich Girl
Links to The Blue Bird
The Poor Little Rich Girl (1917) has features that link it to
The Blue Bird to come:
Unfortunately, the dream in The Poor Little Rich Girl is far more downbeat than
The Blue Bird. The beings the heroine meets in her dream are mainly nasty, while those
in The Blue Bird are mainly good, if sometimes awesome or scary. And the heroine
is definitely in danger.
- Both have child protagonists.
- Both look for the secret of happiness.
- Both condemn the search for riches and worldly success.
- Both have large scale dream sequences, in which the protagonists' dream
transforms the world around them.
- Both dreams have cemetery scenes.
- Both have melodrama about sick children.
- Pet birds.
- "Animals" that are humans in animal suits: bears and the Silly Ass in The Poor Little Rich Girl,
the dog and cat in The Blue Bird.
- Neighborhoods with both rich kids and poor kids.
- Sugar imagery: the servants putting sugar in tea in The Poor Little Rich Girl,
Sugar coming alive in The Blue Bird.
- Spectacles of characters: the procession of servants near the start of The Poor Little Rich Girl,
anticipates some of the pageantry of The Blue Bird. Each servant is carrying an object
related to their work.
"Young women in trouble while traveling through an eerie forest" returns as a Tourneur
subject in The Last of the Mohicans.
Taking care of children is a key Tourneur virtue. The Poor Little Rich Girl
shows the reverse of this: what happens when a child is unloved and neglected. It is pretty grim.
Architecture and Glass Walls
The glass-walled conservatory recalls the glass-walled film studio in A Girl's Folly.
Tourneur has a striking shot through the glass front door of the mansion, showing the street.
The heroine and the organ grinder are seen in silhouette, as they enter.
The elevator in the mansion, is a mild example of the Kinetic Architecture in Tourneur.
We can see it moving upwards through its grilled door.
The heroine has a toy merry-go-round. Although it's a stretch, this might also be related to
Kinetic Architecture. It does revolve.
Water and Washing
The Poor Little Rich Girl has some of Tourneur's imagery involving water and washing:
- The hose used to clean up the heroine after the mud fight
- While washing, the heroine wrecks the bathroom sink and water erupts.
The Dream: Masks and Architecture
In Trilby, Tourneur showed the heroine's travels, framed by a mask in the shape of an arch.
This made the scenes easy to identify, and marked them off from the rest of the movie.
In The Poor Little Rich Girl Tourneur uses the same strategy for the dream sequences:
they too are framed by an arched mask. Tourneur cuts back and forth between dream and reality,
and it is always easy to tell which is which: the dream shots are masked.
The first dream scene is set in "The Garden of Unloved Children". This is a set which is full of
the "repeated vertical and horizontal rectangles" that Tourneur loves. A huge staircase has steps
that form horizontal rectangles. And in the back is some sort of wall full of repeated vertical rectangles.
Later, Tourneur's Wall Street dream sequence will also have even bigger steps.
The Dream: Machinery
The father in the Wall Street dream is seated at a huge machine, that literally turns out money.
It's a striking metaphor. One wonders if it were a bit of an influence on
Fritz Lang's Metropolis (1926). Metropolis
has even bigger machines, and a title card talks about how they and the city produce money for the rich.
The snakes the heroine imagines, and other animals, perhaps influenced
Howard Hawks' Fig Leaves (1926).
The Blue Bird
The Blue Bird (1918) is an adaptation of the 1909 fairy-tale
play by Maurice Maeterlinck, apparently the second of the seven
film versions of this popular story. (I saw George Cukor's
1976 film version when it came out, but all I remember, aside
from Ava Gardner's amusing performance, was the entrance of Night
(Jane Fonda), wearing a spectacular headdress as part of her costume.
Cicely Tyson was pretty good as the Cat.)
The Blue Bird came out a few years after the Wizard of
Oz films made by L. Frank Baum's own production company. I think
Tourneur's film is much better than any of the early Oz films
I've seen. Both are full of fantasy locales, characters and events.
The superiority of imagination and style in Tourneur's The
Blue Bird is decisive in almost every shot. While Tourneur
hardly created the fantasy film as a genre, he also gave it one
of its finest moments here in the silent era.
No Plot, No Characterization
While the story is full of events, it does not have a plot in
the strict sense of the term. Plot can be defined as a series
of events linked by causality: one event causes a second event
to happen, which causes a third event to happen, and so on. By
contrast, each new fantastic event in The Blue Bird seems
logically unrelated to the ones before. Now milk comes alive,
now we visit the kingdom of Night, now we meet the luxuries, here
are some blue birds by the sea shore behind a door, etc. It is
an hour and a half of events that simply succeed each other, without
any causal or logical links. The Wishing Ring and
A Girl's Folly are also episodic, but not in the extreme way
that The Blue Bird is.
In addition there is almost no characterization. The two kids
are likable, but neither has a strong individual personality,
the way Dorothy does in The Wizard of Oz (1939). The same
is true of most of the fantastic characters the kids meet. The
Dog and Cat come closest to having individuality, in the conventional
sense. Because the film lacks either plot or characterization,
it is sometimes hard to watch. It becomes hard to absorb each
new fantasy development, in the story's long procession of events.
Taking Care of Children
There are a few thematic links with Tourneur's other films.
The men who take care of the Unborn Children are quite tender.
So are the parents and grandparents in the film. Tourneur's concept
of a hero as a man who is good to children can be seen here.
Metaphors for Directing
When the boy turns the diamond in his magic hat, the inner souls
of objects come alive. This is perhaps one of Tourneur's
metaphors for directing. The boy's actions cause things to become visible,
and take on new appearances they didn't have before. Most of the souls
are elaborately costumed, and have dramatic behaviors that reveal their nature, too.
The magical way the kids get their clothes on echo the scenes
of people dressing other people in Alias Jimmy Valentine
and A Girl's Folly.
A Gay Character
Sugar, the "soul" of a loaf of table sugar, seems to look and act in a style
that suggests a gay man. He is a sympathetic character, but has little to do
in most of the film but hang around and accompany the others on the quest.
Both Sugar's hat, modeled on the sugar loaf, and his lollipop fingers,
seem like phallic symbols.
An odd note. The poor child's crone-like mother is actually played by a male actor,
Edward Elkas. He is quite effective.
The poor, sick child's mother tries to get the boy and girl protagonists to give
their bird to the poor child. This oddly recalls Trilby, and the way its
sinister hypnotist caused others to "lend" him money. This is evil in Trilby,
while the giving of the bird is portrayed as good in The Blue Bird.
The boy and girl wash their hands at the inside kitchen water pump.
This is one of several scenes in Tourneur that show washing, often at fountains or water.
Later, water from this pump will turn into the soul of Water, with a dress
whose lines suggest flowing water.
Berylune's palace has a reflecting pool inside.
A stop-motion animated sequence shows the furniture in the children's house
moving around by itself. This is caused by "magic", in the film's storyline.
In A Girl's Folly, we saw revolving movie sets, that carried a whole set-full
of furniture around. In The Blue Bird, we again have a whole room full
of furniture, but each individual piece of furniture is moving separately.
The wild partying in the scenes of the Luxuries recall the rowdy
goings on at the crooks' hideout in Lorna Doone. These
scenes are shot with a bewildering variety of actions, all going
on on-screen at once. Pre-1920 directors seem much less afraid
of such multi-focus shots than most later directors will be. One
thinks of the chase in Griffith's The Curtain Pole (1909),
the restaurant in Griffith's The Mothering Heart (1913),
the saloon in Raoul Walsh's Regeneration
(1915), and the hero's club at the start of Fritz Lang's
The Spiders (1919).
Shadows, Steam, Silhouettes
Tourneur keeps up his interest in stylization of figures. The poor mother is seen
in outline in a striking shot through windows, walking outside the children's home.
This is also an example of Tourneur's fondness for shooting through windows and doors.
There are many shots of the party at the rich children's house, staged as silhouettes.
The house itself is a silhouette, and is strikingly non-realistic. The musicians' silhouettes
hold and move their instruments rhythmically in time with the music, a variation on the "hand gestures
keeping time with music" in other Tourneur films.
The later shot of the chichi clock tower is also a silhouette building.
Early on, steam rises from the mother's stove.
The shadow of the birdcage is seen at night, at the kids' home.
Repeated Objects and Uniforms
The flowers on the children's window sill are repeating.
The unborn children all wear similar clothes - although it hard to tell
if they are exactly the same under their veils. The women sailors who take them
aboard the boat also seem to be in matching sailor outfits.
Repeated Rectangle Compositions
A number of shots are composed out of that Tourneur favorite, "repeated and nested rectangles":
- The bird cage has numerous vertical lines; these strips in turn
are organized into horizontal bands. The cage lines are angled, making them different
from the usual flat Tourneur rectangles.
- A wall at the kids' house has a series of windows: each window is a vertical rectangle,
which in turn contains a grid of smaller, square-like panes.
Below this, a series of vertical rectangle panels cover the wall.
- Later at night, we see the kids looking out their windows.
These windows are rectangular grids of panes.
- The rich children's house, seen in silhouette, has grids of windows,
each of which in turn consists of panes.
- There are two staircases at the palace of Night. Each in turn consists of
many horizontal steps, each of which forms a rectangle, when looked at straight-on.
The second staircase is seen through a geometric arrangement of vertical panels.
This arrangement has a Constructivist or Mondrian-like feel.
- The Unborn Children's home has repeated architectural units, too.
But they involve curving shapes, as well as vertical lines.
- The fences outside the children's house near the end, also seem
to be made up of modular units. It is hard to see these in detail.
Repeated Rounded Arches
A number of scenes have repeated round arches:
These recall the series of arches in the Earl's garden in The Wishing Ring.
- The first, realistic view of the rich children's home, is a street shot through a pair of arches.
- Night's place has a series of arched doors, that the boy opens.
Later, we see various Happiness characters through round doorways. These doors
recall a shot through a parabola-shaped mask in Trilby. However, this frame in Trilby
is a mask, a purely visual device not part of the film's story - while the doorways in
The Blue Bird are part of that film's plot. (In terms of film theory jargon,
the arched mask in Trilby is "non-diegetic", i.e., not part of the story,
while the doorways in The Blue Bird are "diegetic", part of the story.)
The visual effect in the two films is quite similar, though.
The shelf (at home) near the ceiling has two triangular brackets holding up it up.
These triangles do not dominate the compositions in which they appear -
but they are conspicuous anyway.
Victory (1919) is an adaptation of Joseph Conrad's 1915
The first twenty minutes of Victory are far and away the
best parts of the film. This is due to two reasons:
But 19 minutes into the film, a trio of villains are introduced, and seemingly hijack the movie.
This thoroughly unpleasant group draws attention away
from the hero, heroine, and everything else in the film. Mainly,
Victory should be considered a minor film in Tourneur's
career, one whose opening segments constitute its main interest.
- Tourneur's visual style is rich in these scenes, while much of the rest of
the film is much plainer looking.
- These early scenes involve appealing romantic melodrama.
Visual Style in the Opening: Repeated Rectangles
The opening scenes show the "repeated rectangles" beloved
by Tourneur. These are formed by:
Several of these show "repeated rectangles within repeated
rectangles". For example, each orchestra chair has several
rectangular regions formed by its horizontal chair-back bars;
and the numerous chairs themselves repeat the image. Similarly,
each the numerous hanging palm-fronds behind the hero itself contains
- rails on porches
- the chairs used by the orchestra, with their repeated ribs
in the backs
- the bookcases and books in the hero's study
- the louvered tropical windows
- the shades hanging down on the porches, with their closely
spaced horizontal lines and the few but regular vertical ones
- the fronds of the palms, with their repeated, not quite horizontal
- the two staircases shown inside the hotel
- and even the repeated rows of braid going horizontally across
the musician's uniforms.
The strange zig-zag wickerwork in one shot near the orchestra
platform offers a slightly diagonalized version of the repeated
lines. So do the remains of the leaf bases that ascend in slightly
angled repetition up the trunk of the giant palm tree.
Tourneur uses a parabolic arch type of mask in several images,
especially those outside in the hotel garden. This is a striking
geometric form. Tourneur often combines this with various curving
palm fronds, to make a composition full of curves.
Later, the shape of the parabolic mask is echoed by the curved
backs of the chairs pushed up against tables, during the hero
and heroine's nocturnal escape. These chairs also contain repeated
horizontal lines - and are themselves repeated by numerous copies
of the chairs, arranged within repeated groups around different
tables, a three-level deep use of repetitive imagery.
Porches - and Jacques Tourneur
When we first see the hero, he is sitting outside on the covered
porch of his tropical bungalow. This immediately invokes Maurice's
son Jacques Tourneur, who loved scenes
involving covered porticos, porches and walkways. Victory
will soon include shots of the porch and balcony of a large tropical
hotel, as well. The opening shot is a perspective view down the
hero's porch, also a favorite camera angle of Jacques.
Tourneur sometimes uses a composition in which the characters
in foreground are in silhouette, while the whole background composition,
including many people, is in bright, full light. The bad guys'
gambling is shown with such a shot, soon after they are introduced.
And we see the hero this way briefly in the hotel garden in the
Tourneur frequently stages shots so that women are above the hero.
He first sees the heroine while she is playing with the other
musicians on an elevated stage platform. The hotel keeper's wife
is seated at an elevated ticket counter. And later the same woman
will be on a balcony far above the hero. There are suggestions
that women have an elevated status or position, far above the
often sordid world occupied by the men in the film.
The script of Victory is by Jules Furthman, who will go
on to be a prolific Hollywood writer, with many scripts for Josef von Sternberg
and Howard Hawks. The screenplay is elaborate,
with numerous long title cards. It anticipates a number of Furthman's
- It is a tropical adventure story, with Europeans hanging out
as long time residents of exotic climes.
- The heroine is rescued from trouble by the hero, and goes
to live with him, as in The Docks of New York.
- The heroine copes with sexual harassment by odious men, anticipating
the more extreme problems faced by Anna May Wong in Shanghai
Express. (Sexual harassment is also a principal theme of Tourneur,
as is the hero rescuing the heroine from this.)
- There are dock and waterside scenes, as in The Docks of
New York, To Have and Have Not and Only Angels Have
- There is a whole group of characters who interact, instead
of one main focus or point of view.
Much is made in the script about how the hero is escaping from
life by being an observer, not a participant. He bluntly tells
the heroine that women have no place in his scheme of life, and
the titles imply that he has never had a relationship with them.
The hero is definitely a mature man, and is more like a Forty
Year Old Virgin than an inexperienced kid. This sort of virile
he-man in the tropics who avoids and has had no experience with
women will recur in The Naked Jungle (Byron Haskin,
1954). In both films, the woman at his isolated compound takes
him on as a challenge, although this is far more pronounced in
The three villains are really sick. All three are revealed as
sadistic killers. In addition, they seem to have what the script
keeps hinting is a gay relationship with each other. In addition,
the performances of the three on camera are limitlessly perverse.
They anticipate the equally repellent villainy to come in
The Last of the Mohicans (1920). Lon Chaney's performance
is remarkably strange, a real flesh-crawling inducing experience.
However, his technical virtuosity is much less fun here than in
almost any other role in which I have seen this great actor. These
sick puppies are an ordeal to get through, and the homophobia
of the conception is to be condemned, too.
Between the hero's rejection of women, the sexual harassers at
the hotel from whom the heroine is fleeing, and the three vicious
pervert villains, Victory is rampant with unpleasant sexuality.
It is a reminder that silent films often dealt with sexual issues
in a far more direct way than many of today's films (which often
seem more oriented to violence).
Lorna Doone (1922) is a historical romance, based on the
1869 novel by R. D. Blackmore. The movie simplifies the plot of
the book, and is quite swift paced, unlike some later epic adaptations
of adventure tales.
Lorna Doone continues Tourneur's exploration and condemnation
of what we today call sexual harassment. The villain here tries
to force his attentions on the heroine; she is rescued from this
by the hero. This is the same pattern as in Alias Jimmy Valentine
and Victory. A key scene also shows the hero dandling a
baby affectionately, which alienates other men; this recalls the
hero's sacrifice for children at the end of Alias Jimmy Valentine.
Like D. W. Griffith's Way Down East (1920), these films
contrast two types of masculinity, one protective of women, one
Lorna Doone contrasts a world of respectable people, with
an underworld full of criminals. This too recalls Alias Jimmy
Valentine and Victory.
The hero washes his hair at a public fountain at the start. This
is a bit like the clothes washing scenes in other Tourneur.
A Heavy Metal Hero
The hero is a believable looking farmer, played by John Bowers.
It is hard to imagine a commercial, entertainment film with a
farmer hero today - a sign of how much more urbanized we all are
100 years later. Still, there are plenty of farmers in our society
- it would be good if they were reflected more on screen.
His farmer's costume features a leather jerkin, that is full of laced-up
seams, flaps and metal rings - it could give any current heavy
metal rock star a run for his money. He also wears the huge leather
boots popular in silent movies, and later in comic books. This
is an example of how silent film liked to get its heroes into
The church exterior contains two parts, each of which is the same
triangular shape. This recalls the repeating triangles in the
opening of A Girl's Folly.
The characters are often framed through archways.