the REEL WORLD: 1923

Our Hospitality

Buster Keaton plays Willie McKay, born into the midst of the bitter Canfield-McKay (read: Hatfield-McCoy) feud in Kentucky. His mother rescues him from the town when he is an infant (the baby is played by Keaton's son, Buster Keaton, Jr.). He returns in the 1830s, as an adult to claim his inheritance. He imagines the McKay homestead to be a large, beautiful estate, only to find that it is a ramshackle old house, near collapse (there's that class thing again). He ends up in the Canfields' palatial house. When they realize who he is, they vow to kill him, but because they are Southern gentlemen they cannot do so while he is a guest in their house. As Willie darts in and out of the house, narrowly avoiding attempts on his life, he courts the Canfields' sister, played by Natalie Talmadge, and finally ends up saving her from going down a waterfall.

Keaton was one of the screen's first geniuses, and Our Hospitality is brilliant and hilarious. Even though Keaton's face is stony, you can tell exactly what's going on in his mind. Keaton did all his own stunts, and the sequence on the waterfall is astonishing. Highly recommended.


The White Rose

This one was directed by D. W. Griffith, and shot on location in Florida and Louisiana. Mae Marsh plays Bessie Williams, a grown orphan trying to find her way in the world. Bearing a letter of good conduct from the orphanage where she was raised, she finds a job at the reception desk of a hotel. At first she is shy and meek, completely ignored by the young men at dances and parties, but a coworker helps her cut her hair, learn to apply makeup, and use flirtatious body language; suddenly she is very popular, and doesn't realize that she has gained a reputation as a bit of a slut (her name changes in the title cards from "Bessie" to "Teazie").

Meanwhile, a wealthy and earnest young man named Joseph Beaugardé (the wide-eyed Ivor Novello), planning to become a minister, has decided to go out into the world and get to know the "common people," to see just how hard his job will be. Although it is assumed that he will marry another Southern aristocrat, he is smitten by Teazie, and they spend an evening by a lake cuddling with each other. Later he overhears two other women discussing how loose Teazie is, and, destroyed, he leaves to be ordained.

Of course the cuddling was more than cuddling, and soon Teazie is the mother of an illegitimate child. Fired from her job, she tries desperately to find another, but is denied at every turn because of her baby. Shots of Joseph establish that he has become a successful and popular minister, giving powerful sermons that reflect his unspoken guilt for seducing Teazie. He feels especially awful after speaking to a man who knew her and insisted that for all her flirtatiousness, she was really a "good girl." Finally Teazie, carrying her child in a suitcase to hide it, gets caught in a terrible rainstorm and stumbles from house to house, begging for shelter. Turned away from the Beaugardé household, she finds herself on the steps of "Auntie" Easter, a large black woman who takes her in. (A contemporary review that appeared in the New York Times states, "Why Mr. Griffith had to insert a close-up of a blackened white woman, playing the part of a buxom, good-natured negress, is singular." But at least this time Griffith's black characters weren't trying to kill or rape the white ones.)

Teazie is near death, and Auntie Easter summons Joseph's fiancée, Marie Carrington (Carol Dempster), for help. By this time Joseph has confessed all to Marie, and she has forgiven him. Finally Joseph joins Marie to say a few words over the poor dying waif, and in an electric moment, recognizes her and realizes he is the father of her child. With Marie's blessing, Teazie and Joseph are married immediately, and Teazie makes a full recovery. Conveniently, there is a young man who has been waiting in the wings for Marie. He is the son of a lazy family, but has made good for himself by writing a book about what he has observed through a grocer's shop window.

The movie is fatally overlong and melodramatic, and the neat finish with partners for everyone at the end is a bit ludicrous, especially considering the strong implication that no one but purebred aristocrats would be accepted as spouses for Beaugardés or Carringtons. Still, The White Rose is notable for Mae Marsh's sympathetic portrait of a single mother, and for Joseph Beaugardé's transformation from a naïve, judgmental youth to a thoughtful, compassionate man.


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Emily Way (emily@vex.net)
Last updated August 20, 1998