Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Blot (1921) Louis Calhern

“The Blot” (1921) is a silent drama starring Louis Calhern, Claire Windsor, Phillip Hubbard, and Margaret McWade. Directed by Lois Weber, this film is a realistic look at genteel poverty in the 1920’s. This domestic drama is about a weary college professor, Andrew Theodore Griggs, played by Phillip Hubbard, who does not make a living wage. His pretty daughter, Amelia, played by Claire Windsor, is a threadbare librarian while his wife, Mrs. Griggs, played by Margaret McWade, maintains a shabby house of tattered furniture, frayed carpets and an empty pantry. On the other hand, the Griggs’ next door neighbor, Peter Olsen, a self-employed immigrant shoemaker, is prosperous and his large family lives a comfortable lifestyle. Amelia has two suitors, Phil West, son of the wealthiest college trustee, played by Louis Calhern, and Reverend Gates, who is dirt poor. Well-born, but ill equipped for the daily struggles of poverty, Mrs. Griggs despairs to the point of insanity when Amelia is diagnosed with malnutrition. She even decides to go into debt in order to buy her daughter nourishing foods. Unfortunately, the grocer demands cash upfront for all the purchases. Mrs. Griggs returns home and notices that the Olsens have a very tempting chicken cooling in the kitchen window. What happens next with Mrs. Griggs, Amelia, Phil West, and the Olsens is interesting.

“The Blot” is certainly a realistic look at some social issues of America in the 1920’s. Unlike most films at the time that showed the poor as country folk living on a farm or as urban dwellers living in crime-ridden tenements, “The Blot” demonstrates that the poor can live in middle class areas with the façade of a middle class lifestyle but lacking the money to finance anything out of the ordinary. I found it interesting that Mrs. Griggs thought the immigrant shoemaker and his family didn’t have good taste in shoes or cars. It seems like she was envious of the success of the Olsens. I also noticed Mrs. Griggs encouraged the romantic interests of Phil West, the rich suitor, and was displeased with the minister, the poor suitor, even though both men were worthy of Amelia. I loved the use of shoes in this film to point out class differences. It looks like Reverend Gates’ chances with Amelia might be undermined because he cannot afford shoe polish or nice looking shoes. I also loved how Phil West, Louis Calhern’s character changed for the better at the end of the film. His character appears genuinely concerned about Amelia and her family’s plight. Even at this early stage in his career the twenty-six-year- old Calhern had great screen presence. I thought Claire Windsor was wonderful as the gentle, trusting young woman to whom life happens rather than someone who creates her own life. A little known silent gem with historical value, “The Blot” deserves much more recognition.
Claire Windsor was born Ola Kronk in Cawker City, Kansas, on April 14, 1897. She was already a professional dancer, a single parent with a three-year-old son, when she arrived in Los Angeles in 1920. After working as an extra in a couple of features directed by Allan Dwan, Claire was spotted by Lois Weber while carrying a luncheon tray in the Robert Brunton Studios cafeteria. She was signed to a one-year contract and renamed Claire Windsor. The name was selected by Lois Weber because she felt it captured what she perceived as the English, patrician beauty of the actress. Claire’s best work is in the five feature films produced and directed by Lois Weber between 1920 and 1921: “To Please One Woman” (1920), “What’s Worth While?” (1921), “Too Wise Wives” (1921), “The Blot” (1921), and “What Do Man Want?” (1921). Each of the films deals with the male-female relationship, and Claire and Lois Weber are helped tremendously in that the male in three of the films is Louis Calhern who was to go on to a distinguished stage and film career. Lois Weber and Claire might have continued to work together had their films been successful at the box office, but they were not. Claire signed a contract with Samuel Goldwyn and she was later under contract to MGM from 1924 to 1926. From 1925 to 1927, Claire was married to Bert Lytell, who had once been the highest paid male star at Metro, but whose career was rapidly declining. Claire was a very busy actress in the 1920’s, but none of her post-Weber films are worthy of consideration. Claire passed away on October 23, 1972. She was 75 years old.

1 comment:

  1. Silent, This sounds like a really good film. Thank you for your wonderful post!!


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