Last week,I climbed this blog’s highest rooftop to announce that Thrilling Days of Yesteryear had agreed to co-host a giveaway sponsored by Flicker Alley: they are going to hand out a Blu-ray/DVD combo copy of their upcoming April 4th release of Behind the Door (1919), a World War I drama recently restored as a collaborative effort by the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, the Library of Congress, and Gosfilmofond of Russia. Memorably described by silent film historian Kevin Brownlow as “the most outspoken of all the vengeance films,” Doorstars Hobart Bosworth, Jane Novak, and Wallace Beery in a movie that blends romance, action, and suspense.
|Jane Novak, Hobart Bosworth|
|James Gordon, Bosworth|
Before his stint with the Navy, however, Oscar secretly weds Alice…and when her father discovers this, he arranges for her belongings to be stored at curbside. Alice joins Oscar on the “Perth” (his ship) despite a no-civilians rule on the government ship through a bit o’ chicanery (she poses as a nurse) …yet thanks to an unscrupulous U-boat commander (Wallace Beery), the future of our couple soon heads toward tragedy.
Produced by the legendary Thomas H. Ince, Behind the Door had its origins in a Gouverneur Morris short story, “Behind the Door,” published in McClure’s in July of 1918. Ince paid $10,000 for the rights to the tale (even though the war ended in November, Tom found the tale most compelling) and assigned his colleague Irvin V. Willat to direct the adaptation (from a script by Luther Reed). Ince and Willat had known one another since their days at Independent Moving Pictures Company (IMP), and Irv would later help the producer work out the technical kinks on Ince’s box office hit Civilization (1916)—it would be the film that started Willat’s directorial career. (Later collaborations between the two men include False Faces [1919—with Lon Chaney] and Below the Surface [1920—another submarine saga starring Hobart Bosworth]. Willat’s The Grim Game , starring Harry Houdini, was showcased on The Greatest Cable Channel Known to Mankind™ last year.)
|Wallace Beery, Bosworth|
No complete copy of Behind the Door is known to have survived. This restoration, a partnership between the LOC, Gosfilmofond of Russia, and the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, was pieced together from an incomplete 35mm print, a separate roll of shots preserved at the LOC’s National Audio-Visual Conservation Center (from Hobart Bosworth’s estate), and an edited 35mm print from the Gosfilmofond. There are two noticeable gaps in the film that have been reconstructed with still images, and the completion in continuity comes from the late Bob Birchard, who loaned out director Willat’s original script. Despite the heavy traces of decomposition, this version of Behind the Door looks positively splendid in many sequences, with first-rate tinting of scenes and an exquisite musical score provided by Stephen Horne.
I have to share this with you with regards to director Irvin Willat, courtesy of an e-mail exchange with Richard M. Roberts: “His sound career petered out by the late 1930's, but he was in a sound financial place partially due to the loss of his once-wife Billie Dove to Howard Hughes, who stole her away, but was nice enough to send a package of cash containing $325,000 to Willat as an apology. Willat said he first thought he'd go confront Hughes and shove the money down his throat, but after a few drinks decided Dove wasn't worth the fuss nor the cash, so he invested it in real estate.” Way to go, Irv! Remember: the deadline on the Beyond the Door giveaway is April 12—so be sure to check out this post for details on how to enter.