As silent films gave way to talkies, this little gem transcended the “limitations” of silent film by sheer force of inventiveness. The story-line is of but marginal importance; a married country man (George O’Brien) is seduced by a vacationing city woman (Margaret Livingston), leaving his sweet wife (Janet Gaynor) and child to worry as he hocks the livestock to spend money on his mistress. One night, as they kiss under the moon, she suggests that he run away with her back to the city. He is indignant, what about his wife? Her answer, “what if she got drowned?” He fools his wife into sailing with him on their boat, where he intends to get her overboard to drown, capsize the boat, and float home on bulrushes. At the crucial moment, he has a change of heart. They have a day on the town, at first he’s just trying to get her not to be afraid of him, then it turns into something of a second honeymoon. On the way home, a storm rises and the boat is capsized. He manages to get to shore, but she is lost and presumed drowned. In the end, she is found alive, he is happy, and the city woman slinks back home. Morals triumph, hooray!
The incredible things about this movie are all the visual effect. Double exposures abound, communicating the hustle and bustle of the city. The light is so beautiful. It has such an important role to play in the storytelling. The scenes with the mistress are moonlit and exquisite. Leading lady Gaynor seems to radiate light from within, her skin an alabaster canvas. Instead of placards in neat typed text on black, as in most silent films, the text is written in a font that looks like paint strokes. It dissolves in at crucial moments (the suggestion from the mistress) and sits over the image, pregnant with meaning and holding the tension of the moment that white on black just can’t match.
A feast for the eyes. This is a film I’d love to see again, on a big screen next time.