FORBIDDEN FRUIT (Cecil B. DeMille, 1921, USA, 87m, BW)
Cast: Shannon Day, Theodore Roberts, Bertram Johns, Clarence Burton, Theodore Kosloff
Director: Cecil B. DeMille
Mary (Agnes Ayres) works as a seamstress for the wealthy Mallory family to support herself and her worthless husband Steve (Clarence Burton). James Mallory (Theodore Roberts) seeks to seal a deal with millionaire oilman Nelson Rogers (Forrest Stanley). When the millionaire is left without a dinner date, Mary is recruited to take her place and charms the wealthy Nelson. Steve takes the $20 from her that Mrs. Mallory (Kathlyn Williams) had given her for her services, thinking she earned the money through prostitution. Steve kills Mary's songbird when the bird keeps him from sleeping, and Mary returns to the Mallory household. When the butler conspires with Steve to blackmail Nelson and steal some jewels, Mary screams when she is awakened by her villainous husband. Soon the butler and Steve gamble over the money. The butler is killed by Steve, and he sets his sights on eliminating Mary, but Nelson hears the scream and comes to the rescue of the troubled seamstress.
Forbidden Fruit is essentially a remake of The Golden Chance (1915), an earlier film by DeMille and screenwriter Jeanie Macpherson, in which a woman of modest circumstances and unhappily married is given an opportunity to escape both her impoverishment and despicable husband. The parallels to the Cinderella story are made explicit with some elaborate fantasy sequences. The opulent sets and costumes were certainly part of DeMille’s attempt to appeal to women, his target audience for these films. The somewhat frothy narrative culminates in a rather effective dramatic climax.
Forbidden Fruit is one of DeMille’s better marital dramedies, at least from what I have been able to view. It’s a pity that it has not received official home media release but I believe we can blame that on the lack of big names. Thomas Meighan, Bebe Daniels and, of course, Gloria Swanson still command a certain amount of clout among silent fans.
Forrest Stanley was born in England and he is probably most famous today for playing one of the sinister suspects in the horror-comedy classic The Cat and the Canary. As for the leading lady, Agnes Ayres made six films in 1921. Forbidden Fruit was the first but the last was the movie that would grant her cinematic immortality, albeit as something of a footnote.
While Ayres is considerably better in Forbidden Fruit than in The Sheik, she still cannot hold a candle to Cleo Ridgely, who starred in The Golden Chance. Ayres comes off as a pretty and all but her performance does not have much depth. She seems to feel only the immediate emotion (love, pain, sadness) but offers no complexity to enrich her acting.
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