The Ace of Hearts (1921)

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  • directed by Wallace Worsley
  • starring Lon Chaney, Leatrice Joy, John Bowers, Hardee Kirkland, Edwin N. Wallack, Raymond Hatton, Roy Laidlaw
  • A romance between members of a secret society is complicated when the man is assigned to carry out an assassination.

One event, the assassination of “the man who has lived too long” and a secret society’s selection of whom is to carry it out, makes up the entirety of The Ace of Hearts. It’s a minor work overall, staying laser focused on this one lacking thread, but on the positive it’s a film with a good deal of mood thanks to little bits of noir and gangster film imagery, great utilization of just two or three sets, and highly illustrative if at times a little overblown performances.

There is a remarkable amount of things we don’t know and never find out about the inner workings of the group or its processes. Three basic things we’re noticeably never filled in on are the who, what, and why. All clues point to this extremist organization being a direct nod to the much-maligned, often-overstated communist groups that bubbled up during the first Red Scare period after WWI in the U.S. None of that is ever directly stated.

Nothing wrong with heightening a story’s intrigue by under-explaining some key details, but this was just bothersome and mainly came across as half-baked story as opposed to intentional mystery. Not knowing the true nature of the cause or its target created a huge void in the story to the point where one could basically fill in the details however they see fit.

The non-assassination half of the story is a spontaneous marriage between Forrest and the group’s sole female member, Lilith, after she thinks it will give him a boost in courage to carry out the mission. It was another swing and miss for the writing. In the hours following the couple’s wedding, both of them quickly realize that they now have other things to live for other than the cause. It all happens laughably fast. Will his act of terrorism result in a lifetime behind bars? Death? The one outcome that seems impossible is that the newlyweds will be able to escape together, and that painful thought, along with the potential collateral damage of a young couple in love at the table next to the target leads Forrest not to go through with it. But really at this point who cares? The mission itself was never really interesting and the love between Lilith and Forrest was neither believable nor important enough to interfere with a cause that I’m assuming these two people grew up with in their blood.

Kudos to Lon Chaney who was the main draw on screen and, through facial expressions alone, contributed more crucial plot points than did the actual script. Long before the romantic angle between Forrest and Lilith is revealed we see Farallone’s ears perk up at the sight of them and a constant sense of pain and jealousy wash over him. It takes a long time for Farallone’s feelings to ever officially come up, but up until it does it’s been clear as day on his sullen face. I get what the film was going for with the chirping birds message of all you need is love to solve society’s ills, but this definitely suffered by not flushing out just a little bit more of the characters’ motivations. Chaney’s performance went far in clueing me in on certain particulars, if only the script had been as thorough.

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About classixquest
all the things I should have seen

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