One hundred years ago this week, after seeing The Man of the Forest Grace Kingsley made some good points about bad guys:
If I were a screen heroine I’d marry the villain in the first reel, get me a good band of cowboys to protect me and my husband, and live happily ever after. Because it’s the villain’s faithful love for the heroine that’s always his undoing, despite the fact that he’s a right smart boy and usually a snappy dresser, in the bargain.
He just will kidnap the heroine and then, of course, it’s all off with him. What girl wants to be kidnapped without having even a chance to powder her nose? I really believe if the villain kept on with his cool plotting and didn’t let the heroine go to his head so, that he’d win out in the end.
It’s a shame Kingsley didn’t write that movie! It would have added some variety to the usual fare. Of course, silent movie villains came in many shapes and sizes (Fritzi Kramer mentions that now, people need to be reminded that not all silent movie villains were Snidely Whiplash, even if many of them had moustaches that could possibly be twirled). There were many recent villains that I imagine Kingsley would not recommend marrying, like Erich von Stroheim in Blind Husbands or Lon Chaney as Blizzard in The Penalty.
The film that prompted these thoughts, The Man of the Forest, told the story of Helen (Claire Adams) who was visiting her uncle’s ranch to assist with a cattle round-up. Milt, aka the man in the forest (Carl Gantvoort), was also there to help and his attentions to her made the nearby ne’er do well bootlegger Harvey (Robert McKim) jealous. So naturally Harvey kidnaps her and Milt rescues her. You can see why Kingsley’s mind might have wandered to an alternative plot, but it was exactly what the audience wanted; she reported:
Miller’s was packed all day yesterday. The crowds were amply rewarded, for there’s not a dull moment, as attested by their frequent applause.
So even though the film wasn’t a classic, a happy Sunday afternoon at the movies was had by all. It’s been preserved at the Eye Filmmuseum in Amsterdam.