PAINTED LADY, THE
(D.W. Griffith, 1912, USA, 12m, BW)
The Painted Lady
Directed by D. W. Griffith
Written by D. W. Griffith
Starring Blanche Sweet
Cinematography G. W. Bitzer
Distributed by Biograph Company
Release dates October 24, 1912
Running time 12 minutes (18 frame/s)
Country United States
The Painted Lady is a 1912 American short drama film directed by D. W. Griffith and starring Blanche Sweet. A print of the film survives. So much is compressed into this short, it could easily have been a feature. Suffice it to say, it contains a perfectly lovely performance by Blanche Sweet. Warch her face, particular;ly in the ending scenes.
The elder daughter has always been her father's favorite because of her strict adherence to his rigid precepts. The younger daughter is rather gay and frivolovis, though innocently so, and horrifies her elder sister when the latter catches her in the act of powdering and painting her face. To the mild reprimand of the elder daughter the younger exclaims, "Well, you have to do it if you want to be attractive." The strength of the assertion is proven at the church lawn festival, the younger sister being surrounded by a host of friends while the elder passes the time in almost absolute ostracism. However, a stranger appears at the festival who pretends to be attracted by the elder daughter, she, in turn, being surprised and flattered. This is for a sinister purpose, however, for the stranger is a crook. Under the pretense of affection for the girl he gains her confidence regarding her father's business affairs, and with the knowledge he has acquired, he attempts to rob the house. This attempt works disaster for himself and the girl.
Blanche Sweet - The Older Sister
Madge Kirby - The Younger Sister
Charles Hill Mailes - Their Father
Kate Bruce - Their Mother
Joseph Graybill - The Stranger
William J. Butler - The Minister
Lionel Barrymore - At Ice Cream Festival
Elmer Booth - At Ice Cream Festival
Christy Cabanne - At Ice Cream Festival
Harry Carey - At Ice Cream Festival
Gladys Egan - Little Girl in Arbor
Dorothy Gish - Belle at Ice Cream Festival
Lillian Gish - Belle at Ice Cream Festival
Charles Gorman - Hired Hand
Robert Harron - Beau at Ice Cream Festival
W. E. Lawrence - Boy with Dog
Walter P. Lewis - At Ice Cream Festival
Walter Miller - At Ice Cream Festival
Jack Pickford - Beau at Ice Cream Festival
Henry B. Walthall - At Ice Cream Festival
A full story and plot integrated into a look at social constraints being usurped by modern women in 1912, but even more interesting are the deeper emotions of a specific wallflower (the older sister), who naively encounters her first love, followed by a blade of confusion which lacerates her mind by discovering the man to be a fraud. It's actually much more expansive than I've made it sound, something of a miracle for a twelve minute reel at this early date. Per usual, D.W. Griffith was successfully experimenting with the language of film though his editing decisions, the script structure, how to plant unspoken ideas through images, the temporal plane of the plot itself driven by composition, cutting and the power in his use of close-ups, as well as understanding the nuances one needs in such a shot, which Blanche Sweet performed like peak Elisabeth Huppert doing the time travel that would entail. The story is gritty and dark, one could argue it as an early antecedent to pulp, but mostly I was impressed by its structure, in which action peaks during the second act, leaving the crippling after-effects of the woman's baleful romance to unfold during the third act, finally transporting us into the film's full emotive resonance and ultimate roar.
This Griffith short can be read both as an indictment of the gender order and a frank portrayal of mental illness and its consequences. Blanche Sweet (from “Corner in Wheat” and later in “Judith of Bethulia”) is the eponymous woman, perhaps better described as “the Unpainted Lady,” since her strict father refuses to allow her to dress up or wear makeup. When she goes to the ice cream festival (?!), she is unpopular, because of her plain looks. Finally, a man (Joseph Graybill, from “The Last Drop of Water” and “Enoch Arden”) shows interest in her, but it’s only to find out if her father has anything worth stealing. When he breaks in to their home in a mask, Blanche shoots him first and asks questions later. This is where her mind starts to go, and she tries to introduce her father to her lover as he lies dead. Later, her mother (Kate Bruce, who we’ve seen in “The Sunbeam” and “The New York Hat”) catches her talking to herself. Finally, she puts on makeup and goes to their old rendezvous point only to collapse in shame. It seems as though the real tragedy here is a society that forces her to judge her value as a person only in terms men’s opinions and her family’s lack of understanding when the symptoms become clear.
An outstanding character study on female nature and insanity that arguably predates movies like Kazan's A Streetcar Named Desire and Fellini's Nights of Cabiria, Griffith's The Painted Lady stars Blanche Sweet in a moving performance as the older and lesser popular of two minister's daughters. Some day she catches the eye of a charming stranger at a ball, and she is so willing to live for the first time ever that doesn't notice anything wrong --but you might. (Specially if you have read Eugenia Grandet or Washington Square. Not that this short film has the same fate for its socially-challenged heroine, but still.) On a side note, the aforementioned ball is actually a festival full of silent screen personalities, most notably Griffith actors, among them the Gish sisters, Lionel Barrymore, Robert Harron, Harry Carey and Elmer Booth.
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