Victory (1919)

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  • directed by Maurice Tourneur
  • starring Jack Holt, Seena Owen, Lon Chaney, Ben Deeley, Wallace Beery, Bull Montana
  • Uncommitted wanderer Alex Heyst takes pity on a troubled woman and gives her refuge on his island.

 “A man don’t hide away in a lonely island like that unless he’s got something to hide from.”

It took me about halfway in to fully connect with Victory and if it weren’t for superb performances and the glorious photography of Tourneur, I never would have gotten there at all. Based on the novel by Joseph Conrad, this was the first film adaptation of the author’s work and it was the only one that he lived to see.  I can’t imagine what he thought of it because I’ve never known a Conrad story that could fully be told in 60 minutes or less. So going into it expecting depth, as I did, led to being thrown off that the story was mainly sticking to the surface.

As he did with the very different The Blue Bird, Tourneur seemed to make striking compositions and near-visible atmosphere his priorities with Victory. He did take advantage of the incredible island locale with cutaways to a smoldering volcano and plenty of landscape shots, but interestingly enough the most memorable moments visually were the interiors. Where the script lacked in providing a roundedness to motivations and personalities, Tourneur filled it in with his camera, giving each character his or her own trademark visual treatments. He shot Alma with a thick, glowing halo around her most times; the psychological jaggedness and unpredictability of Ricardo was highlighted with stark streaks of light and the diagonally cast shadows from window blinds; and Heyst was by comparison shot fairly flat, representing the serene and lonely life for which he strived.

Though I enjoyed it most for it being a tour de force of technique, it all came together in a big and tense way during the final showdown between Heyst and the gang. The stunts were great, the murders were brutal, and I found myself for the first time invested in the death- and love-induced awakening of Heyst’s spirit.

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About classixquest
all the things I should have seen

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