February 26, 1919 [The Wicked Darling]

Seemingly another simple melodrama of the slums--the "rose in the gutter" rises, assisted by the (ruined) gentlemen--and both save each other, while her former associates--with hints of prostitution always floating in the "foul and filthy air"--depart and/or expire.

But almost from the start, inventive camerawork--and more: a--I want to write "Freudian"--mood permeates, one of impulses and instincts. A literal rose is tossed into the gutter, and it fades to our heroine, Mary--and even that is noticeable: Priscilla Dean's face is pretty--but easily twisted by shame or sorrow--and this is a compelling constant in the picture: the attention to faces, sometimes glaring in unforgiving light, often grotesquely avid--such as one Kall Pasha as the Bartender, whose displays of threat and rage seem frozen in some animal hysteria, posing for Tod Browning, the director, as though the camera--and by extension, the viewer--were in danger of his mad-dog bite. And Spottiswoode Aitkin as "Uncle" Pete Fadem, cheating at Solitaire, his hungry-cat smile oiled as if it had swabbed a tanker's deck. And perhaps most of all Lon Chaney as the girl's "companion," "Stoop" Connors, his head a resisting block of clay, always half-turning away in secretive plots, his eyes glimmering wetly.

They all have something to hide, from purloined goods to their true feelings, from a lack of resolve to a dreaded sense of purpose; and the streets they move in are sprayed with shadows and grime--but their faces thrust out of the gloom, like cheap but convincing sideshow figures--unnerving because I can't tell where the person ends and the greasepaint-and-putty disguise begins.


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