An Unusual Critical Favorite: May 1-15, 1922

And Women Must Weep

One hundred years ago this month, there were plenty of comedy shorts in the theaters, but only one tragedy short. Playing with a feature-length comedy called The Ruling Passion, Grace Kingsley was impressed by the now lost And Women Must Weep:

“You may, in fact, both laugh and weep this week at the California. For there’s tragedy on the bill as well—a perfect gem of a two-reeler illustrating Charles Kingsley’s poem, “Three Fishers,” and “The Fisher’s Widow.”

She got two details wrong: it was just one reel, and the second poem was by Arthur Symons. But director Robert C. Bruce packed a lot into ten minutes. His film got excellent reviews everywhere it played. The anonymous film writer in the New York Times admired it so much that he or she had little to say about the feature, a Revolutionary War melodrama called Cardigan, and devoted most of the review of what was playing at the Capitol Theater that week to And Women Must Weep:

It is an emphatic success. There is scenery in the picture, magnificent inspiring views of the sea and the seaside, and also a tense dramatic episode which, it would seem, must break through the most artificial human crust and touch responsive heart-chords. It is the simple story of three fishermen’s wives and their husbands who do not come back. It is especially the story of the youngest wife, who searches in vain for the body of her man, all the time hoping, you may be sure, that she will not find it, so that she may cling to her hope that he will come back alive. But when the other two women, who found the bodies of their men, have at least the solace of taking flowers to their graves, the young wife has to stand at the cemetery gate watching them forlornly, without even the comfort of a headstone and a mound on which to kneel.

It is a sincere, true little tragedy, effectively photographed, staged with convincing simplicity and humanly acted.

Sumner Smith in Moving Picture World was equally impressed, writing that it was:

without qualification a wonder. Bruce has caught the spirit of the poem and carried it out in every scene. The views of the sea and the shore, shot from many angles, are marvelously beautiful…There are no broad gestures here, no suggestion of hysterical melodrama when the fishermen put out to sea and when their bodies are discovered after the storm, but the poignancy of Kingsley’s poem is intensely conveyed.

The highest praise came from the National Board of Reviews in their publication Exceptional Photoplays. Motion Picture News pointed out that they had never before reviewed a one-reeler. The Board thought it was opening up new possibilities for the medium of film:

 And Women Must Weep may be called an attempt to transfer the images and the emotion of a poem to the motion picture screen. In this attempt this little one reel film is at moments decidedly successful…It presents one of the few instances where the actual transfers of written poetry has been made to screen in terms of movement in pictures. This is the shot from the top of the cliff, where one looks down at a long shadowy line of swells moving slowly in to shore, and experiences the exact sensations to be received from reading the lines “And the harbor bar be moaning…”

But that one image of the moaning bar, with its movement like sound, is tremendously suggestive of what may yet be done in literal and spiritual rendering of written poetry on the screen.

Movies could be Art! That notion was just beginning in the early 1920’s. The National Board of Reviews went on to include And Women Must Weep on their year-end list of the forty best pictures of the year, along with better remembered films like Nanook of the North, Grandma’s Boy, and Blood and Sand.

According to the distributor it wasn’t just the critics that enjoyed it; Moving Picture World reported that after the New York City screenings they said “prolonged applause from the audience marked the final fadeout every time the picture was shown during the week.” Now it’s hard to imagine a popular movie based on a poem — audiences just aren’t familiar with poetry any more.

Mayo Methot

One of the actors was noticed by critics. The New York Times thought all of the acting was fine, especially “the unnamed young woman who plays the part of the desolate wife.” Moving Picture World also singled her out for “special mention” and identified her: Mayo Methot. At the time she was working for the Baker Stock Company in Portland, Oregon, but she soon married the cameraman on Weep, Jack LaMond, and they moved to New York City where she became a noted Broadway actress. They divorced in 1927, and in 1930 she moved to Hollywood and found work in film. She has the misfortune of being remembered now mostly because she and her third husband had a terrible marriage. They both drank too much and fought, then he cheated and dumped her for a much younger woman. But her marriage to Humphrey Bogart was many years away.

And Women Must Weep was the first of a ten film series made by Robert C. Bruce called Wilderness Tales. They were released one per month. The others weren’t based on poems, and they didn’t get quite as much praise (it would have been hard to beat) but they were admired. Film Daily wrote:

Bruce has achieved in this new series a classical form of pictorial entertainment…This latest Bruce series is certainly the very best that he has done. It offers a classical entertainment that can be used in high class programs and safely shown to discriminating audiences.

In their jokey “Ain’t It Grand” column, Film Daily pointed out how useful good shorts could be. Headed “Man, man; make some more” they said about Weep:

An’ whatta picshure! Get it. It’ll help. An’ if th’ feature ain’t so awful good, it may steal the show. Sea stuff. Great photography. Bully all th’ way. 

Thank goodness this style of writing has died out! The distributor, Educational Films, sold the series not only with advertising in the trade papers but also with a sixteen-page rotogravure brochure. It contained mostly photographs, plus the positive reviews they got. According to Exhibitors’ Trade Review:

the idea of the brochure now being prepared is not to present advertising arguments for the pictures, but to provide a pamphlet so beautiful that most exhibitors and others who receive it will want to preserve it for the sheer beauty of the work and of the pictures reproduced.

This was really unusual for movie advertising then:

There will be very little reading matter in the brochure. What little there is will be superimposed on beautiful scenic pictures, and will be incidental to the photographic art.

Unfortunately, it looks like exhibitors didn’t preserve it — I checked WorldCat and Ebay and didn’t find any copies.

The series was a financial success, too. The Capitol contracted for the whole series, and so did other large first-run houses in Newark, Brooklyn, Boston and Chicago, according to Moving Picture World.

A surviving Wilderness Tale called Flowers of Hate is on the Internet Archive.

“Ain’t It Grand?” Film Daily, February 14, 1922, p. 4.

And Women Must Weep,” Exceptional Photoplays, January-February 1922, p. 6.

And Women Must Weep Has Premier at Capitol,” Moving Picture World, March 11, 1922, p. 164.

“Capitol and Other First Runs Taking Entire New Bruce Series,” Moving Picture World, March 25, 1922, p. 364.

“Educational Films to Issue Brochure,” Exhibitors’ Trade Review, March 18, 1922, p.1111.

“Scenic Tale Still Making a Hit,” Moving Picture World, September 8, 1923, p. 192.

“Short Reels,” Film Daily, February 12, 1922, p. 20.

Sumner Smith, “And Women Must Weep,” Moving Picture World, February 11, 1922, p. 662.

“Wilderness Tales Approved,” Motion Picture News, July 8, 1922, p. 193.

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