Wednesday, August 31, 2011


The biggest surprise about this 'un's the fack that this burn was sent to me not by Bill Shute, but by Brad Kohler! Yes, one would find it hard to believe that Kohler would actually be interested in olde silent films but I guess he's about as much a fan of those old classic mooms as I was when I was 15, and the strange thing about this is that there ain't any bare titty or gratuitous sex anywhere in this feature which I always thought was the only reason Brad would wanna go and see a moom inna first place, unless the Three Stooges were in it of course!

Not exactly Griffith at his best, but then again I think this 'un runs rings 'round HEARTS OF THE WORLD which too many Canbys and Kaels out there probably consider cinema at its artiest top notch but just bored me silly with all of those lingering shots of Lillian Gish. Set on a South Seas tropical island worthy of a GILLIGAN'S ISLAND cannibal episode,  THE IDOL DANCER's all 'bout a small village where this gal of French, Java and Samoan blood (who looks pretty Caucazoid at that and she should, mainly because she's being played by a soon-to-deep-six Clarice Seymour)  lives with her grubby sea captain of a stepfather. The island is more or less being run by a New England missionary who is hell bent on changing the locals' native ways by converting 'em to Christianity. Given this guy's entire reason for existence and generally stodgy and dour manner, one could only hope that the natives would convert him and his equally sickening brood to paganism, and mighty quickly at that!

Almost simultaneously, two young men enter into "Almond Blossom"'s life...the first's a wayfaring scoundrel played by the usually over-sensitive Richard Barthelmess while the other's a nephew of the Reverend (stodgily played by Creighton Hale) who makes the usually pious doogooders in his gene pool come off like Aleister Crowley. A little bitta Almond Joy goes a long way though, and soon he's been smitten by this "loose woman" who rejects wearing the calico dress the preacher forces on her in order to make the area look a little more decent. Soon the two are vying for this Island lovely's attentions leaving us to ponder which one she will choose, the wild adventurer or the New England button-shoe'd schlep?

Meanwhile there are some evildoing tribesmen-cum-slaves on the other side of the island led by this Ernest Borgnine lookalike, and naturally the whole menagerie has their sights set on not only the bountiful treasures to be found in the village, but ol' Almond Blossom herself. While the men of the village go off on an extended fishing expedition the bad boys stage a big raid for booty of both kinds which might seem familiar to you and why not, because in fact this part of the film is pretty much the exact same climax that Griffith used in BIRTH OF A NATION a good five years earlier. I guess the guy figured why argue with success even if he did change the locale from the post-war South to the South Seas!

To be about as honest as I can muster myself up to be, I found THE IDOL DANCER rather slow going and nowhere near as engrossing as many of Griffith's other features (not to mention his early shorts which at times packed as much punch into their ten minutes as many films could in ninety). It is a nice enough presentation considering the print's strictly 1961 Blackhawk Films catalog faded look (and I will admit that the organ/piano duet used on the soundtrack is a whole lot more pleasing than the current mush used for many TCM silent productions), but the story's strictly grade b'zville and the entire gist, swerve and feel of this feature misses by a mile. It just doesn't get me at all, perhaps because I find the entire existence of the missionary and his family totally cubesville and more or less long for the wild savages to tear the entire bunch of 'em to shreds. (Kinda like the same way I just hafta take the side of the gangsters, bootleggers and degenerate sickos in many a moom considering how the good guys always seem to come off pastier than Johnny Mann!) This one character, a wild island gal who works for the Rev. yet retains a good portion of her pagan upbringing did make for good comedy relief, but otherwise I was WISHING...HOPING that the one island boy who gets into a fight with the missionary's son in one of those "My god can beat up your god" arguments woulda drowned the toffee nose...I mean, those New England Congregationalist types can get pretty annoying!

However, I gotta hand it to this one savage inna film who had me laughing out loud, this Wild Man of Borneo type who's working hand in hand with the scoundrel slave driver complete in his Screamin' Jay Hawkins garb and get this...two skulls strapped around the guy's chest that kinda makes him look as if he has two tits that look like skulls! Gotta say I thought that this guy's getup was the funniest thing in the entire flick, even funnier'n that scene where the native gal goes up to him in this weird mating ritual fashion which the title card says is an actual recreation of island courtship! Really, with a film like this who needs NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC?

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