One hundred years ago this week, the Eighteenth Amendment prohibiting the sale of alcohol had recently been approved by the enough states and ratified as part of the Constitution. It was to go in to effect on January 16, 1920, and Grace Kingsley spared a thought for screenwriters:
A temperance film lecture in these piping days of prohibition is quite like telling a man in the penitentiary that he mustn’t steal chickens any more, or the little boy on the desert isle that he mustn’t fire off firecrackers. What, by the way, will some of our scenario writers do when prohibition becomes law? How can the good young man be got to steal the papers, and what excuse will the erring husband have for being led astray by the vampire? Also what will become of all those temperance films, with their inevitable red hearafters full of ladies whose sufferings, whatever else these sufferings have effected, have not in the least spoiled the beauty of the ladies’ curves?
Having said all that, she was shocked to actually enjoy the unintentionally funny film on offer this week:
All of which leads up to The Craving, the temperance story starring Francis Ford, at the Symphony this week. Francis Ford obligingly plays the “horrible example.” Yet, after all, where’s the moral, since every time he takes a drink, visions of beautiful ladies arise, from the bottle and the glass—and appropriately clothed for a dip, too! My goodness, won’t every man be asking Francis for the brand? The only other punishment (?) for his drinking was that he yielded up the secret of the formula for a certain high explosive to a morbid gentleman who roached up his hair so as to look like the devil, and who seemed to have no particular use for it when he got it. But hold! Maybe he thought the formula was the secret of the hero’s drink!
It helped that the film was “wonderfully well produced, acted and directed,” and the trick photography was “remarkable and beautiful.” The Craving has been called the last temperance film, but it didn’t fit the usual trope: reform and sobriety don’t solve the hero’s problems, a big explosion killing the man after the secret does (just like movies made now!)
However, Prohibition did put an end to films based on the Ten Nights in a Bar Room model; after it was repealed in 1933 they were seen as old-fashioned. Later films about alcoholism were more subtle: viewers of A Star is Born or The Lost Weekend could figure out on their own that too much booze was a bad idea.
The Craving been preserved at the EYE Film Institute, and they have made it available on YouTube.
Kingsley announced the founding of yet another production company this week:
by no less a person than Albert Capellani, who ranks as one of the foremost directors in this country, and who for some time has been one of the towers of strength in the directorial department of the Metro Pictures organization.
It was called Capellani Pictures Company. But this is the really eye catching detail: the new company “is backed by Capellani’s own money, for the most part.”
Then and now, it was unusual for somebody to spend his or her own money. Capellani had been making films since 1905; he directed the first adaptation of Les Miserables (1912) that Kingsley had enjoyed so much a year earlier. At Metro Pictures he had just directed Alla Nazimova in The Red Lantern.
His new company’s first film was Oh Boy! based on the musical by Guy Bolton and P.G. Wodehouse. After two more films, the company dissolved and he went to work for Famous Players-Lasky. He moved back to France in 1923, but couldn’t get any projects made there. He died of complications from diabetes in 1931.