Friday, September 19, 2008

The Soul of the Beast (1923) Film Review

Plot Summary - Oddball silent film about a girl and her elephant. At the Hamm's Mammoth Circus, orphaned beauty Ruth (Madge Bellamy) performs riding atop her best pal's head, Oscar the Elephant. She flirts with him (yeah, you heard right) - he's stuck on her. One day the circus owner, "mean and stingy" Hamm (who happens to be Ruth's step-father and only married her mom to get ahold of the circus), forces Ruth to perform inside a cage as the "Wild Girl" after the original performer quits. A huge storm starts to bring down the tents and Oscar must come to her rescue as she's left trapped inside the cage. Ruth and Oscar run away together to live in the nearby Canadian woods, but she gets separated from her elephant ending up at this village tavern full of lumberjacks where she ends up working. She doesn't seem too worried about where her lost elephant is (luckily bright Oscar, left tramping about the woods, is in search for her) as she flirts with lovestruck, ga-ga new boyfriend Paul (Cullen Landis) - he's supposed to be lame, but I didn't really see that. Paul has a creepy cretin (Noah Beery) after him for some money he feels Paul owes him - that guy gets up to some really awful stuff to get at poor Paul. Meanwhile, the circus owner wants his runaway "meal ticket" back as he's on the chase to locate Ruth.

Review - This is an unusual, somewhat weird, and melodramatic adventure story, with a small touch of comedy and not one, but two different evil villains. There are some behind-the-scenes glimpses of the circus near the beginning of the film which seem to feature every cliche in the book as far as the performers are concerned - we see the fat lady, bearded lady, thin man, a man fighting a bear, and the three ring "Big Top" where the main show performs. A little annoying is the French-Canadian characters who are made to speak in rather silly broken-English via the title cards. The elephant is quite the actor and steals more than a few scenes in this - particularly amusing is a scene where he steals (and drinks) this man's beers through the tavern window. The DVD of this I watched is from Grapevine Video and features an okay print - it's a bit fuzzy and the faces are somewhat washed out is the main problem with the image, but I've seen far worse. The DVD includes an orchestral score that is not the perfect match for this story and kind of annoying, though was okay through a couple of the scenes. Rating - 7 to 8/10 stars

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