Tuesday, June 1, 2010

"Blind Husbands" (1919) Erich Von Stroheim

"Blind Husbands" (1919) is a silent romantic drama starring Erich Von Stroheim, Sam De Grasse, and Francelia Billington. Directed by Erich Von Stroheim, this film is about an Austrian military officer who is determined to seduce the neglected wife of an American surgeon. The story begins with Dr. Armstrong, played by Sam De Grasse, and his wife, Margaret Armstrong, played by Francelia Billington, vacationing at an Alpine inn where he plans to climb the Pinnacle with the help of his friend and local mountain guide, Silent Sepp, played by Gibson Gowland. Arriving with the Armstrongs is Austrian officer, Lt. Von Steuben, played by Erich Von Stroheim, who is smitten with Mrs. Armstrong. He constantly appears at her side and attempts to win her favor with his attention while Dr. Armstrong seems to be preoccupied with other matters. One day while Dr. Armstrong is out, Von Steuben wants to present Mrs. Armstrong with an expensive jewelry box that she admired at a shop. Wearing only a flimsy nightgown, she opens the door only enough to receive the gift. However, Von Steuben and Mrs. Armstrong hear someone coming, and she allows him to come in the room to avoid being seen. Once in the room, Von Steuben pursues her aggressively, and the only way she can get him to leave is to promise to give in to him at a later time. Von Steuben's opportunity with Mrs. Armstrong comes at the Pinnacle hut where Dr. and Mrs. Armstrong have separate rooms because of his planned early start to climb the mountain. The next day at the top of the mountain, Dr. Armstrong confronts Von Steuben for the truth about whether his wife consented to go away with him.

Erich Von Stroheim's directorial debut, "Blind Husbands," set a pattern that would be extravagantly expanded throughout his career. It took him only a normal seven weeks of shooting to film his own story of lust and betrayal played out in a pre-World War I romantic setting, the Austrian Alps. Working for Universal Pictures, at that time not considered one of the top American producing companies, Von Stroheim pleased his bosses by putting their company on the map with a sexy and sensational film that caused more comment than earlier Universal productions had generated. "Blind Husbands" had not only been a financial success for Universal but it was also voted one of the three best films of the year. By 1922, with the release of "Foolish Wives," Von Stroheim not only had happily become "the man you love to hate" as an actor, but he was notorious among the film establishment as an extravagant, temperamental director tolerated only because he would garner great amounts of publicity for the studio that hired him. However, credit must be given where credit is due, and "Blind Husbands" is a good film because Von Stroheim keeps an atmosphere of anticipation mixed with suspense throughout its entire duration. The viewer can only wonder if Von Steuben will succeed in seducing Mrs. Armstrong. The viewer also cannot help but wonder if Dr. Armstrong will catch his wife and Von Steuben in a compromising position. The suspense is at times overpowering, especially when Dr. Armstrong and Von Steuben make the ascent of the Pinnacle. Certainly risque for its time, the flirtation scenes are charming even today. One of the things that impressed me the most about the film was that it is so visually beautiful with its lush sets and lots of color tints in different scenes. Even though Von Stroheim had his problems, there were no resemblances between his own personality and the hateful image he presented on the screen. He certainly knew how to inspire fine acting. The high regard Zasu Pitts has always been held is largely due to her performance in Von Stroheim's "Greed" (1924) which many consider, even in its mutilated state, one of the greatest silent films ever made. The performance that Von Stroheim got from Mae Murray in "The Merry Widow" (1925) was probably worth everything else she ever did put together. "Blind Husbands" could have been one of those over the top melodramas that were quite common in the teen years. Instead, it is a film where the lead actors, Von Stroheim, Billington, and De Grasse, never overact, and always maintain a dignified demeanor. With a compelling story and an excellent cast, "Blind Husbands" is one of the most impressive directorial debuts of all time.


  1. Silent, Erich Von Stroheim, looks like the actor in Sunset Blvd. Who really does not seem to be the "other man" type. From the last picture you posted, looks like he runs into a little trouble in the romance department.. The pictures you posted are beautiful. "Blind Husbands", sounds like a really good movie. Thank you for posting our Silent Film fix. :)

  2. Dawn,Von Stroheim is the actor in Sunset Boulevard. He does not seem to be the "other man" type, but Mrs. Armstrong at times seems to be charmed by his attention and that is what keeps the story so interesting and suspenseful. The cinematography was impressive for its time.


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