The Danger Game (1918)
This “melodramatic comedy” feature was produced in Fort Lee, New Jersey after much of American film production had already migrated to California. It stars relative newcomer Madge Kennedy, who would go on to a long career in movies, television and theatrical performances.
The first part of the print is missing, so new intertitles inform us that Madge plays Clytie Rogers, the spoiled daughter of privilege, who fancies herself a bohemian and a novelist. Having spent her father’smoney on a vanity press publication of her first book, she is distressed to find that the critics are trashing it in their columns. One in particular – a certain James Gilpin – is very cruel, and suggests that the most preposterous plot device she uses is depicting a society girl as a successful burglar. Meanwhile, she’s being courted by a rather obvious gold-digging gigolo (Paul Doucet), who is the only one who “understands” her genius. Upset that her father (Ned Burton) disapproves, she vows to run away and marry the gigolo, and leaves a note to that effect, which her parents read over breakfast.
When it comes to it, however, Clytie gets cold feet at the altar – or rather the clerk’s office where she and her beau go for the license. She sneaks off and finds herself a cheap room in a rooming house whose proprietor assures her that “literary people” often flop there. Still determined to prove herself, she decides to send a letter to Gilpin informing her that she will take up a life of crime to demonstrate the realism of her novel. As she posts the letter, she notices the open window of a wealthy home, and decides the time has come to go for it. She sneaks inside, with the intention of powdering her nose and making a quick escape. Unfortunately, the man of the house awakes from her nap and catches her, grabbing a strap on her dress as she attempts to alight from the window again. Both of them holler for a cop, who is only too happy to take Clytie into custody.
At the police station, she suffers various indignities, choosing to eat the Gilpin review rather than have the desk sergeant find it on her, and being forced to share a bench with a large African American woman in the women’s section of the jail (fortunately, this display of Clytie’s racism is mercifully brief). Somehow, she is confused by the police for “Powder-Nose Annie,” a notorious criminal, and her picture appears in the evening editions, which Gilpin (Tom Moore) happens to be reading at the same time as her hate mail. He puts two and two together and goes down to the station, quickly bringing the cops into the picture, and arranging for her release to look like a successful break-out in order to teach her a lesson. He now masquerades as a member of the underworld and offers to team up with her for future jobs. He takes her out slumming to various low-life joints and defends her honor when someone gets fresh with her.
Over time, it becomes obvious that the two of them are falling in love, and that no further criminal activities are planned. One night, however, her old jilted boyfriend spots her in a restaurant with Jimmy, and he follows her back to the boarding house and threatens suicide if she won’t come back to him, despite the fact that he’s now living with a new girl, whose mother is coming out on the train to see him marry her daughter. Now Jimmy sets her up to burglarize the room next door to where the gigolo’s love nest is, so that she’ll overhear him pretending to be interested in marrying another girl. She tells him to do the decent thing and goes back to her parents. They announce that James Gilpin is being received, and she decides that, if nothing else, she can finally tell him off. She is surprised to discover that he’s actually the man she’s been pal-ing around with for weeks, and when he proposes, she agrees.
This movie has its funny moments, and as contrived as the scenario may seem, it wasn’t out of place for the period, but it feels a bit behind the times, when compared to yesterday’s Harold Lloyd short from earlier the same year. The camera work and editing of that movie seem surprisingly modern and dynamic, even if the story doesn’t make any sense, whereas here, where there’s more time to work out the story, the film making is just adequate. I was surprised that the police station was set up in almost exactly the same way as a typical Keystone Kops set, and it’s often hard to figure out the geographical relationship of two separate shots in the same location. What really hurts, unfortunately, is the standard of the acting. The acting suffers from the fact that almost everyone is playing a character who is pretending to be someone other than they really are, and when that’s done for comic effect (in any era), it tends to encourage people to OVER-act. Madge over-acts to show Clytie is really not a burglar, Tom overacts to show that he’s not really a hood, Paul overacts to show he’s not really suicidal, even the parents over-act when she first comes home, to make her feel guilty for abandoning them. There are a lot of embarrassing performances here, and only occasionally are they pitched to really work for a laugh.
So much for the “comedy” side, but the love story could use a bit of work also. I think if a woman had written this (there were lots of women writers in film at the time, but not on this production), Gilpin would have gotten his comeuppance just as Clytie got hers – realizing that in fact a “society girl” is just as good at crime as a snooty literary critic is at pretending to be a hood, perhaps, or finding himself in over his head with a real crook. Instead, it comes down to him being right and her being wrong, and we are led to believe that she is “cured” of her silly ambition to write, instead of having lived new experiences that can inform her future work. The first book of a new author is often a bit of a howler, after all, but Gilpin never concedes that Clytie has any talent, he just wants her as a submissive wife, or so it seems. Anyway, this isn’t the worst movie of the year, but it’s not one of the great breakthroughs, either.
Director: Harry A. Pollard
Camera: William Fildew
Starring: Madge Kennedy, Tom Moore, Paul Doucet, Ned Burton, Mabel Ballin
Run Time: 1 Hr, 3 Min
I have not found this available for free on the Internet, if you do, please comment.