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The Norma Talmadge Collection: Within the Law (a J!-ENT DVD Review)

June 14, 2010 by  



Norma Talmadge was known for her melodramatic roles during the ’20s.  One of the top box office superstars at the time, “Within the Law” is nowhere near her greatest works but considering so many silent films are lost especially films by Norma Talmadge, the fact that this film was included as an extra second film on “The Norma Talmadge Collection” is wonderful.  Overall, an enjoyable film but somehow loses its way during its final arc.

Images courtesy of © 2010 Kino International Corp. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: The Norma Talmadge Collection: Within the Law

DURATION: 105 minutes

DVD INFORMATION: B&W, 1:33:1, NTSC

RATED: Not Rated

COMPANY: Kino International

Released Dated: March 2010

Directed by Frank Lloyd

Based on a play by Bayard Veiller

Adaptation by Frances Marion

Produced by Norma Talmadge

Cinematography by Norbert Brodine, Tony Gaudio

Edited by Hal C. Kern

Art Direction by Stephen Goosson

Starring:

Norma Talmadge as Mary Turner

Lew Cody as Joe Garson

Eileen Percy as Aggie Lynch

Jack Mulhall as Richard Gilder (Son)

Joseph Kilgour as Edward Gilder

Arthur Stuart Hull as George Demarest

Helen Ferguson as Helen Morris

Lincoln Plumer as Sergeant Cassidy

Tom Ricketts as General Hastings

Ward Crane as English Eddie

Catherine Murphy as Gilder’s Secretary

DeWitt Jennings as Inspector Burke

Lionel Belmore as Irwin (Attorney)

Eddie Boland as Darcy

From World War I until the Great Depression, the most famous sisters in the entertainment world were the Brooklyn-raised Talmadges: Norma, Natalie and Constance. Norma, the eldest, was a dramatic actress of great talent and restraint, and revered by a public that could identify with the brave, tragic heroine through a myriad of melodramas and tragedies. Appearing in vehicles with exceedingly high production values and helmed by some of Hollywood’s finest directors, Norma developed into one of the screen’s greatest actresses, and by 1920 had eclipsed Mary Pickford as the top worldwide female box-office attraction.

KIKI showcases Norma in a rare comedic performance. A high-spirited Parisian gamine is determined to become a chorus girl and win the heart of the Follies manager (Ronald Colman) — even if it means performing some rather unladylike stunts.

Set and photographed in New York City, WITHIN THE LAW follows a shopgirl who is unjustly accused of stealing, and then sent to jail. She plots revenge against her former employer, using “Rich Men’s” legal tricks, yet staying “within the law.”

— Joseph Yranski, film historian

Norma Talmadge, the actress who would become the major box office draw in the early 1920’s, even surpassing Mary Pickford in the box office at one time.  Norma is the eldest sister of actress Constance and Natalie Talmadge and known for her film “Smilin’ Through” (1922) and “Secrets” (1924).

With Kino International paying their respect to both Norma and Constance with their own DVD collection, “The Norma Talmadge Collection” would include Norma’s 1926 comedy “Kiki” and her 1923 fim “Within the Law”.

Known to specialize in melodrama, Norma Talmadge plays the role of Mary Turner in director Frank Lloyd’s film (with an adaptation by Frances Marion) in which the actress plays a hard-working woman falsely accused by her employer and imprisoned for three years.

Her employer Edward Gilder wants to make Mary an example to his employees that if they steal from the company, they will go to prison.  Mary can’t believe that she is being framed for something she didn’t do and that her boss knows that she is innocent and before she is whisked away into prison, she vows that when she gets out, she will get her revenge.

While in prison, she meets Aggie Lynch (played by Eileen Percy) who stands by her and is willing to help her out when Mary gets out.

When Mary gets out, she is lonely and knowing that because she is a former prisoner, her life and getting a career is over and tries to commit suicide by jumping off a pier into the lake.

She is fortunately saved by a conman named Joe Garson (played by Lew Cody) and he takes her to his friend, who happens to be Aggie Lynch.

A few days later, for Mary, seeing that her life is not the same as a former convict, she reads an article in the newspaper of how innocent people are exploited by the law.  Only the rich have been available to avoid the law, while hardworking people can easily be incriminated by corrupt law enforcement and because it happened to her, Mary decides to join Joe and Aggie in conning the rich (within the law).

But most of all, to get her revenge on her former boss Edward Gilder.

And the three become quite successful in conning the rich and getting their money, Mary also wins the attention of Edward Gilder’s son Richard and knows that if she can marry him, she can easily get her revenge.

But meanwhile, Joe is starting to fall for Mary.  Will her heart belong to her husband Richard or to the man that has helped and save her (Joe)?

VIDEO:

“Within the Law” is presented in 1:33:1 via black and white.  The quality of the film does show signs of negative damage (mainly at the edges) but nothing distracting.  It’s not the clearest silent film that I have seen but for a film that is nearly 90-years-old, “Within the Law” looks good for its age.  There are some interlacing issues but for the most part, considering that there are not many Norma Talmadge movies out there on video, this is one of those cases that I suppose we should be lucky with what we can get and in this case, the film is viewable and does not have any major damage whatsoever.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

The audio for “Within the Law” is presented in stereo (note: I don’t see the Dolby Digital logo) but features music composed and performed by Makia Matsumura.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“The Norma Talmadge Collection” comes with the following special feature:

  • Photo Gallery – Using your remote, viewers can scan through images from both “Kiki” and “Within the Law”.

There have many opportunities for me to catch a Norma Talmadge film.  I know many silent fans who love her work but I’ve always been more focused on the romantic comedies by her sister Constance.  But with the release of the Talmadge sisters DVD’s from Kino International, it’s hard to resist any of these two DVD releases and thus it will be my first foray into the films of Norma Talmadge.

Instead of starting off with “Kiki” (her comedy film), I’ve read so much about how Norma is more of a melodramatic actress and thus, I started off with her 1923 film “Within the Law”.

Norma Talmadge does a wonderful job in playing the character of a woman locked up in prison for a crime she did not commit but even though she becomes a con person herself when released, she stills stays within the means of the law and not become an outright criminal.  I can definitely see the difference in acting between Constance and Norma and Norma is much more suited for dramatic roles and it shows with this film.  In fact, while watching this film, there were scenes that were reminiscent of Greta Garbo in terms of mannerisms and camera shots.

But “Within the Law” suffers from a stagnating screenplay.  Not sure if its France Marion’s adaptation or Frank Lloyd’s directing but somehow the third part of the storyline felt it was lacking something.

I felt that Mary’s role became lessened towards the end of the film and it started to focus too much on the corrupted police and Edward Gilder.  It literally takes you out of the movie because you would not see Mary until the police setup is underway and by then, you start to lose interest.

In fact, Mary’s two other accomplices  Aggie Lynch and Joe Garson who do shine for most of the film, also seem to be underutilized at the end of the film.  Garson does play a major role especially at the end but it was merely OK.  I will say that “Within the Law” did peak my interest in actress Eileen Percy.   Her comedic role as Aggie Lynch is wonderful and I wish she was utilized much more towards the end of the film.

If anything, I don’t know how bad police corruption was back in the 1920’s (every decade has its share of police corruption) but sometimes I wonder how audiences viewed this film, especially if they felt law enforcement and the rich were working in tandem.  If anything, I really was hoping there would be some come-uppance with the character of Mary and possibly a major change within the police and the character of Edward Gilder.

But the way the film was written, the ending felt contrived and I wanted more Norma Talmadge and Eileen Percy and somehow, these two characters who grab our attention for most of the film, somehow are underutilized at final arc of the film.  I understand why it was done but I felt this uneven screenplay, somehow got lost at the end.

By no means is “Within the Law” a terrible film but it’s definitely not a magnificent film that I would want to see again and again.  I will say that I did enjoy the majority of it.  But I suppose since this is the second film on “The Norma Talmadge Collection” and is included as possibly an added bonus for the primary film “Kiki”, I’m not going to complain and just be grateful that Kino International added a second film to this DVD.  The fact that finding Norma Talmadge films is difficult and to find them on video is rare, I’ll be happy with what we can get.  But hopefully her more popular and well-known films will be released on video someday.

Overall, I’m sure many silent fans will be picking up this title and I’m sure with “Kiki” being the primary film, I have high expectations to that film than what I did towards “Within the Law”. Talmadge or silent cinema fans will more than likely enjoy both films on “The Norma Talmadge Collection” on DVD.






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