"Wild Oranges" (1924) is a silent romantic drama starring Frank Mayo, Virginia Valli, and Ford Sterling. Directed by King Vidor and adapted from the novel by Joseph Hergesheimer, this film captures the bittersweet theme of love and loss. The story begins with John Woolfolk, played by Frank Mayo, marrying and losing his young bride on the same day in a horse and carriage accident. John takes to the sea in his small sailing boat with his first mate, Paul Harvard, played by Ford Sterling, to forget the untimely death of his wife and also avoid ever falling in love again. After spending three years traveling at sea on the small sailing boat, John and Paul come across a beautiful island off the coast of Georgia. They decide to stay there for a while, but they have no idea that the island is inhabited by the lovely Millie Stope, played by Virginia Valli, and her grandfather, Litchfield Stope. Millie and Litchfield live in a dilapidated mansion and suffer from an extreme case of fear.
The third inhabitant of the island is Iscah Nicholas, a homicidal maniac who is described as "half man and half animal." Iscah stalks Millie and constantly threatens her. He even promises to kill her grandfather if she doesn't give him a kiss. When John meets Millie, it is love at first sight for these two, eventhough he is in denial and tries his hardest to resist falling in love with her. However, John soon entrusts his heart to Millie and wants to take her and her grandfather away from the island, but Iscah has other plans for them. When John shows up in Millie's house to take her and her grandfather out of the island, he discovers that Iscah has killed the old man and is trying to force himself on Millie who is tied up to her bed. Will John be able to rescue Millie before it is too late? "Wild Oranges" is a largely forgotten silent gem superbly directed by a young King Vidor at Goldwyn before they merged with Metro to form Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM). Vidor, whose career began in 1913 with "Hurricane Galveston," went on to make such classics as "The Big Parade" (1925), "The Crowd" (1928), "Show People" (1928), "Hallelujah!" (1929), "Duel in the Sun" (1946), and "The Fountainhead" (1949). When he finally retired in 1980, Vidor entered the record books as the longest working director in film history. Although "Wild Oranges" is not a masterpiece of the silent cinema, it is certainly an entertaining film. Vidor always studied reality to make everything believable about a scene and to make the audience feel it. He was really ahead of his time, and his direction is what actually makes the film so realistic. There are many suspenseful scenes such as the one in which Iscah threatens to feed Millie to some crocodiles if she doesn't kiss him. The crocodiles appear to be real and the scene is very well done. The film's viewing experience is greatly enhanced by its breathtaking photography. It is a beautiful print tinted in a variety of tones including sepia, blue, pink, and orange shades. The film's landscape is rather impressive with its omnipresent orange trees and orange blossoms. It almost seems one can smell their aroma. Perhaps what I enjoyed most about the film are the tender and moving love scenes between Millie and John. I found it rather amusing that Millie wasn't afraid of John despite her fear of strangers. One of the most romantic scenes is when Millie first meets John and lovingly touches and rubs his shirt. Dialogue is definitely not necessary to understand tender moments like these. In "Wild Oranges," largely forgotten actor, Frank Mayo, is excellent as the widower who is scared of falling in love again. Virginia Valli, who was an established star at Universal by the mid 1920's, gives the best performance of all the cast members as the sweet and lovely Millie who captures his heart. Definitely worth watching, King Vidor's "Wild Oranges" is a steamy melodrama where fear and desires run deep.
* It is interesting to note that Virginia Valli was married to popular leading man of silents and early talkies, Charles Farrell, from 1931 until her death in 1968.