Sunday, February 13, 2011
"The Red Kimona" (1925).
“The Red Kimona (1925) is a silent romantic drama starring Priscilla Bonner, Carl Miller, and Theodore von Eltz. Directed by Walter Lang in collaboration with Adela Rogers St. John and Dorothy Arzner, who wrote the story, and Dorothy Davenport Reid, who co-directed and produced, this film was the subject of a landmark California lawsuit. The story begins with a naïve small town girl, Gabrielle Darley, played by Priscilla Bonner, who finds escape from her cruel home life in the arms of a handsome stranger, Howard Blaine, played by Carl Miller, who promises to marry her in New Orleans. Soon Gabrielle finds herself working as a prostitute in New Orleans and clinging to the belief that Howard really loves her. When Gabrielle discovers Howard buying an engagement ring for another woman, she ends up killing him. Gabrielle’s murder trial draws much publicity and she finds herself befriended by a rich society woman, Mrs. Beverly Fontaine, played by Virginia Pearson, who professes concern for her. After her acquittal, Gabrielle goes to live with Mrs. Fontaine intending to start a new life. Unfortunately, with the publicity value of being seen with her protégé gone, Mrs. Fontaine sends Gabrielle riding alone. Unable to find an honest job because of her past, Gabrielle becomes homeless and penniless.
“The Red Kimona” (1925) is a social commentary film that was made from a woman’s point of view. Dorothy Davenport Reid had entered film production following the drug-related death of her husband, Wallace Reid in 1923. Her first two films were produced in association with Thomas H. Ince, but for her third effort, “The Red Kimona” (1925), a strange main title spelling for Kimono, which was corrected in the publicity for the film, she formed her own company. Gabrielle Darley, on whose life story the film was based and who had since married a prominent physician was unhappy with “The Red Kimona” (1925). Gabrielle Darley sued, claiming the film denied her right “to pursue and obtain happiness,” as guaranteed by the California constitution. Eventually, in 1931, she won, and Dorothy Davenport Reid began the decade penniless.
I think “The Red Kimona” (1925) is an interesting film that seems very modern in its sensibilities. In fact, the film denounces the social hypocrisy towards Gabrielle Darley. Overall, I found it to be a frank discussion of a society that often fails women. Priscilla Bonner gives a restrained but moving performance as an abandoned woman. Her eyes were so expressive and conveyed so much emotion. One of my favorite scenes is the one in which Priscilla Bonner looks in the mirror and sees herself wearing a wedding dress and veil and then all of a sudden she notices that she is not wearing a wedding dress and veil but instead, a red kimono. I liked how the red kimono stood out because of its crimson color in contrast to the usual black and white. Only 80 minutes in duration, “The Red Kimona” (1925) includes a thrilling finale with crossed fates, redemption, and true love.
Born in Washington, D.C., on February 17, 1899, Priscilla Bonner’s first featured film was “Homer Comes Home” (1920) with Charles Ray. While she never became a star, Priscilla appeared in some 30 silent films and co-starred with such luminaries as Will Rogers in “Honest Hutch” (1920), Lon Chaney in “Shadows” (1922) and Ronald Colman in “Tarnish” (1924). Priscilla had one of her greatest film successes in “Drusilla with a Million” (1925), which only helped to support Hollywood’s opinion that she was an accomplished actress taking on more fulfilling roles. In July 1925, Priscilla was thrilled to know that she would be John Barrymore’s leading lady in “The Sea Beast.” Priscilla’s acting ability didn’t cause her to lose her role, but rather John Barrymore’s meeting and infatuation with Dolores Costello. If modern audiences know Priscilla at all, it is because of her role as Harry Langdon’s leading lady in “The Strong Man” (1926) and “Long Pants” (1927), which were directed by Frank Capra. At the time Harry Langdon was rejecting the advice of Capra. Priscilla was very fond of Capra and thought Langdon would have soared with him. In 1927, Priscilla appeared in Clara Bow’s most famous film, “It” (1927), as a single mother. Priscilla retired from films after “Girls Who Dared” (1929). She died on February 1, 1996. She was 97 years old.