ONE EXCITING NIGHT (D.W. Griffith, 1922, USA, 128m, BW)
Cast: Carol Dempster, Henry Hull
Director: D.W. Griffith
Writer: D.w. Griffith
Running Time: 128 min.
A young orphan finds herself courted by a manipulative, unpleasant older man. However, she's in love with a young stranger who may be involved with bootleggers.
ONE EXCITING NIGHT is an odd film directed by D.W. Griffith. It stars Carol Dempster and Henry Hull. The film is unusual for Griffith because it's a comic mystery. Although the film is too long, it's entertaining.
Dempster is an unknowing heiress who is always seeking the love of her mother. But the woman is not her mother. Dempster is being pawned off on an older suitor who is after her estate. At a party she meets and falls for Hull, but then odd happenings begin and there is a murder. The intricate plot is probably defeated by the long running time, but this film is underrated possibly because it lacks major stars. Yet Henry Hull is an appealing leading man here, and Carol Dempster is a surprise.
A minor actress in the teens, Dempster was elevated to stardom in the 20s by Griffith after she became his mistress. Although Dempster has historically been regarded as a dud, she's quite good here as the awkward heroine, Agnes Harrington. She has an angular beauty that was slightly out of step with the era's ideals, but in the right role, Dempster was a good actress.
I rightly guessed that this would turn out to be an "old dark house" movie, but it's probably the earliest one I've seen for this series. That doesn't mean that the "old dark house" concept started here; this was reportedly made to cash in on the success of the stage play "The Bat", which would have a straightforward version made just a few years later. I was curious to see what D.W. Griffith would do with the concept, and he concentrates on the backstories of the various individuals, which are more elaborate than is usual for the form; in fact, the "old dark house" antics don't really get going until the movie is halfway over.
Some of the cliches are already in place, including the cowardly black servant, and having it played by a man in blackface (Porter Strong's specialty) makes it just that much more painful; at least the other major black character isn't portrayed as a clown (though he may also be a white actor in blackface). Still, the movie is moderately entertaining throughout, and much more so during a spectacular climax involving a chase during a massive storm.
D. W. Griffith made his only venture into the mystery field here, primarily due to the success of the "old dark house" genre, stimulated by Mary Roberts Rinehart's novel, THE CIRCULAR STAIRCASE, which was very successfully filmed and staged (with Avery Hopwood) as THE BAT. The script written by Griffith (as Irene Sinclair) is extremely complicated, and engages the cast in a jointed series of plots revolving for the most part about attempts at discovery of a missing half-million dollars of bootlegger takings, secreted somewhere within a mansion that is replete with secret passages and hidden panels.
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