Starring Thomas Meighan, Leatrice Joy and Lois Wilson
December 1922

There may be a limited number of plots in the world, but even so, the scenario writers work some of them overtime.

For instance, there's the plot about the idle wife who fancies she loves the patent-leather lounge lizard until her child is taken ill and she is reconciled to her strong, silent husband over a cradle. If I see that picture just once more, I'll go raving mad and bite an usher. So a month that has a real original plot in it is a red letter on my calendar. And this month the plot is "Manslaughter."

It is the study of a young lawyer's struggle between love and his law - and anybody who knows the legal mind will realize that this is some struggle. Justice is observed to such an extent that the girl - for all her money and beauty and charm - is actually sent to prison. But the blow - which redeems her - nearly finishes off the young lawyer - he sinks down and down until she has to redeem him by way of fair play. So it is love that triumphs after all in a happy ending.

The tale, by Alice Duer Miller, made quite an impression when it first appeared in magazine serial form. Now Cecil De Mille has made it over into one of his typical "superspectacles." Of course, the atmosphere is changed a lot in the making. The society folk of Alice Duer Miller are not the society folk of Cecil De Mille - they are not to be found in any social register or anywhere else, I believe, except in one of Mr. De Mille's pictures. But they involve all the details that make these films so popular - the champagne parties, the fancy motor cars, the freak headdresses and furs and jewels and the flowery subtitles.

And then, as if modern high living was not riotous enough for one picture, the director goes back to that reliable old authority on the hot time in the old town, ancient Rome. In his speech to the jury, the young lawyer says, "Our dances of today are like the revels of the Romans," and immediately out come the sandals and tigers and gladiators and wine bearers of a life-sized Roman feast. It lasts so long that we sympathize with the other attorney who tells the judge that they are in a courtroom and not a schoolhouse and with the judge who says, "Objection sustained."

But all this has its box-office value, and it is excellently acted by a hand-picked cast. Never have we seen Leatrice Joy seem so beautiful and sympathetic or Thomas Meighan so appealing - in spite of a somewhat smug role. And the prison scenes - where Lois Wilson shines - are remarkably realistic and impressive. "Manslaughter" may make some of you laugh in the wrong places, but it will never bore you.

starring Thomas Meighan, Leatrice Joy and Lois Wilson
December, 1922

Cecil B. De Mille has declared himself another holiday. This director has his happiest moments when he stages a riotous scene. Here he goes back to the erring Caesars to depict Rome falling thru love for lust - his idea being to show a comparison with the modern era when "excitement eaters" are bringing madness to the world in their search for pep and pleasure. If he had arranged Alice Duer Miller's story, "Manslaughter," to follow the original, he would have hit all six cylinders.

Yet is must be called a compelling picture, if for no other reason than that it moves directly to its climax - revealing an exceptionally fine sample of straight-forward story-telling - a reminder of the old Biograph days.

The pampered heroine gets behind Satan and prison walls and the scenes building to the climax are unusually gripping. Take particular notice of the incident when the motorcycle officer is catapulted thru space when his machine strikes the girl's sporty roadster. It is unusually clever direction. The silly flapper is convicted of manslaughter by the prosecuting attorney - the very man to whom she is engaged. This is dynamic, if false in the sense that we cannot imagine any true lover sending his sweetheart to jail to cure her.

The theatrical note creeps in with a vengeance, for the holier-than-thou hero takes to alcohol and sinks to the gutter and stays there until the thoroughly redeemed girl emerges from prison and rescues him. Her reformation is convincing; his is not. In fact, he proves to be the weaker character of the two.

De Mille has used the entire Lasky equipment, studio, sets, costumes and extras, besides having a large and competent cast, to give breadth to the story. It will cause some discussion - this picture. It will be talked about. There is no denying that it contains a healthy punch - even tho that punch is aimed here and there at your intelligence.

Leatrice Joy indicates in her portrayal of the jazz-mad girl that stardom will soon be her reward. It is a conspicuously fine performance - one endowed with emotional feeling and capricious impulse. Thomas Meighan is as convincing as his role permits him. At least he tried and nearly succeeded in making the character a regular fellow.

Return to reviews page