Wednesday, January 13, 2016


In my 2016 project to see more films directed by Michael Curtiz I delved into this silent effort from his early European career. I was expecting a full-on Biblical epic in the DeMille vein but what this turns out to be is a mostly contemporary set tale of sin and redemption. Yes, make no mistake - this is definitely a morality tale - but for the first hour of this two hour long film the Bible story of Lot and his wife in no where in sight. But right at the one hour mark we get our principal actors recast in the classic tale to illustrate the moral lines that are being delineated. The plot has older, widowed multimillionaire Jackson Harber wanting to marry the young model Mary who is not sure she wants to throw away her freedom. Her mother convinces her that this is her chance to lead a life in luxury and leisure and after some thinking she agrees even though she knows another man loves. This other man is the sculptor Harry Lighton who has been casting Mary in clay. Harry is poor, with few prospects and when Mary tells him of her choice he is despondent.

The engagement is celebrated by hundreds of revelers with an extravagant party at Harber's huge estate. The wealthy man's son Eduard arrives from Cambridge, accompanied by his tutor, the priest Varconi. The priest is disgusted by the bacchanalian party with its rampant sex and drinking. Mary spots young handsome Eduard and quickly moves to seduce him while Harry tries to convince her to break the engagement and be with him. When she refuses Harry shoots himself and is carried off to the hospital. As Varconi spirits Eduard away from temptation, Mary falls asleep and is transported in her dream into the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. In the dream she is the wife of Lot leaving her husband so that she can play a central role in the pagan rites of the goddess Astarte. An angel arrives to lead Lot and his wife out of Sodom but (as you knew from Sunday school) when the city starts to collapse Lot's wife cannot resist looking back and, because of her disobedience, is turned into a pillar of salt. This horrible (if fascinating) dream opens the eyes of Mary who wakes up, leaves the party and goes to Harry in the hospital to watch over him in his recovery.

Yeah, it's just as cheesy and obvious as you might think but it's a film made in 1922 so it's also exactly what I expect. And this is an entertaining film, by the way. SODOM AND GOMORRAH isn't some boring drama dragging it's story out in long shots and broad performances. The direction here is fluid for the era with some smartly chosen close-ups and well choreographed sequences that rival anything being done in Hollywood at the time. You can see why this Mihály Kertész fellow might have been seen to have a career in pictures in front of him! I might have preferred a shorter film that just told the Biblical story at more length, but I still really enjoyed this. 

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