Chesterfield Pictures Corp.
directed by Burton King
Released October 1, 1928
Cast: Creighton Hale (Harvey Baremore), Virginia Brown Faire (Druid Baremore), Lloyd Whitlock (John Kimball), Florence Dudley (Doris)
Grapevine's release of "The House of Shame" is a surprisingly good film with quite a bit to recommend it. It's likely few silent film fans have ever heard of it. It was produced by poverty row Chesterfield Pictures and does not have a cast of the first echelon of stars - however, there are some stalwarts of the silent cinema whose names are well-known and who bring a quality to the film far better than one may originally expect.
Virginia Brown Faire takes the female lead, and she is both lovely and talented in the part. Creighton Hale is one of the two male leads; however, it's unfortunate that he's all too often cast as the wimpy, spineless character - yet, his part in this film couldn't have been cast better, and he does a superb job. The third lead player is Lloyd Whitlock, a name that may not be quite as familiar to silent movie fans, yet an actor who appeared in over 200 films between 1916 and 1949, obviously making the transition from silents to sound seamlessly. He, too, is a welcome addition to this cast.
The story revolves around the marriage of Druid (Faire) and Harvey Baremore (Hale) - a marriage that is in trouble due to Harvey's affair with another woman, Doris (played well by Florence Dudley). Of course, Druid is unaware of the affair. It is the affair, however, that requires Harvey to spend beyond his means; therefore, he steals from his employer, John Kimball (Whitlock), where he is a cashier in Kimball's stocks and bonds office. During a party at their house one evening, a policeman shows up for a parking violation by one of the guests, but Harvey is convinced the policeman is there to arrest him. He confesses his embezzlement to Druid who offers to intercede with Kimball on her husband's behalf. Kimball is agreeable to letting Harvey off the hook in exchange for Druid's company. The arrangement is non-sexual, the agreement being until Druid "willingly relents." Harvey is not aware of this deal, only that his wife has successfully interceded for him with Kimball. Druid goes out with Kimball reluctantly but dutifully for her husband until she finds out that Harvey is seeing Doris. When Harvey finds out that Druid is seeing Kimball, he goes to Kimball's apartment one night with a gun while Druid is there. However, Kimball has a plan to show Druid just how despicable her husband is.
As the description indicates, this is pure melodrama, but it is good melodrama. It has a very adult theme with the sexual implications of the "arrangement" made very clear. For example, when Druid is in Kimball's office asking for mercy for her husband, Kimball tells her, "A pretty woman can usually find a way to shield a man from his sins" and, seemingly as incentive, he reminds her that she has come there to save her husband from 15 years in prison. "There's a solution to this problem, Mrs. Baremore, and I'm sure we can find it." Sometime later in the relationship, they are in a restaurant, and Kimball asks, "Won't you ever relent, Druid?" indicating that nothing sexual has happened yet, but that this is what Kimball is seeking. Druid replies, "It was our bargain, John, that I need not relent . . . unless I do so willingly."
The sexual implications were obvious enough that Harrison's Reports let exhibitors know in their review that, "The National Board of Review has placed its okay on the picture without a cut, while the New York State Censorship Bureau made but on elimination showing an actual theft of bonds, giving as their reason for the elimination "Inciting to Crime." (1)
The depiction of characters is handled almost flawlessly in this film because Druid will end up with Kimball in the end; it's as we want it to be and, to the viewer, is justified. Although the above conversation may make one feel that Kimball is simply a lecherous man using his money and position to use (and eventually throw away) a married woman with whom he's enamored - the story doesn't lead us down that path. First of all, Kimball has not required a sexual relationship of Druid - only her company. And, for whatever it may mean, he tells her, "There wouldn't be anything sordid about our affair, Druid . . . if you'd only give me the chance." After seeing Harvey out with Doris, she tells Kimball, "Perhaps I'll give you that chance . . ." And that's another point in favor of the script - Druid has remained the faithful wife remaining very "distant" from Kimball --- only considering "relenting" after she has seen her husband's unfaithfulness.
As for Hale's character, he is unlikeable from the beginning, as he should be. The opening scene shows the two at breakfast on their veranda; however, it's not the loving couple we expect. Harvey is sitting at breakfast table looking at mail. "Well, Druid, another bill I suppose." "Why, Harvey, you know I haven't been extravagant," she says. Then the maid brings in a box with a new dress. Harvey scowls. "I suppose the party tonight was just another excuse to buy some new clothes," to which she replies, "But, Harvey, it's been ages since I've had anything new!" Harvey storms out, and the next scene we see is of him at the office, obviously "cooking" the books and then calling his girlfriend and promising her an expensive necklace." The character is established
Another very important point in favor of the story is that it builds as it moves along. For example, Druid has indicated that she would consider "relenting," but as she prepares to go to spend an evening at Kimball's apartment for the first time, she is hesitant and concerned. She finally tells her maid that she is not going out - she has decided against the rendezvous. Harvey receives an anonymous letter that his wife will be at Kimball's apartment that evening. He calls her to tell her he'll be working late. Druid apparently has not given up on their marriage as she pleads, "Please, Harvey - please won't you come home tonight?" His response: "I told you I'd be working late. Goodbye!" Hurt, but not angry, Druid decides that she will go to see Kimball."
Again, the story continues to build. Is Harvey ignoring the letter? We find later that he did not.
A final exchange between Kimball and Druid is necessary to solidify our approval of Kimball as the true hero of the story and accept the inevitable pairing of the two at the end. He tells her, "For the first time in my life, I'm really serious, sincere . . ." adding "I love you, Druid, I love you!" At this point there is knock on the door. Kimball answers it, and Harvey comes in the door with a gun.
There is a neat twist to the story, though. He asks Druid to leave the room so they can settle this. Then, he tells Harvey that he is the one who sent the anonymous letter to get him there that evening. We find out that Kimball wants to show Druid just how despicable her husband really is. Without giving away too much of the end of the story, let's just say Kimball's plan backfires initially, but all comes out in the end.
For those who may not be familiar with Virginia Brown Faire, she was a very lovely actress who appeared in over 70 films between 1920 and 1935. A handful of her silent films are available for home viewing today, but "The House of Shame" is one of the few in which she can be seen as a leading lady and portrayed so beautifully. Another video that is highly recommended for those who would like to see more of her is Hoot Gibson's "Calgary Stampede" (1925) - actually a sign of things to come as most of her sound careers was spent serving as a leading lady for such cowboys as Rex Lease, John Wayne, Tom Tyler and more. She, above all others in the cast, makes this film work. Her emotional range is excellent, expressive but in a natural manner, and able to elicit sympathy while exuding a certain sexiness that is required for this role.
As noted, Creighton Hale always seemed to be cast as characters we did not like. Hale began his career in 1914 even having a minor role in Theda Bara's "A Fool There Was" (1915). D.W. Griffith used him in at least three of his features, and silent movie fans today may remember seeing him as Dr. Mueller in Ernst Lubitch's "The Marriage Circle" (1924) or in Paul Leni's "The Cat and the Canary" (1927). Hale, though, was the most prolific of our cast in the sound era working in film and television up until 1959 claiming over 300 appearances. He deserves great credit for drawing a deep disgust from the viewer as Harvey Baremore, offering venom-spewing expressions when confronting Kimball about seeing his wife and allowing us to accept (and delight?) in his ultimate "comeuppance" at the end of the story.
Lloyd Whitlock, as mentioned, had a success career in both silent and sound films, albeit never as a star of the first caliber - but as one of the hubdreds of stalwarts who added so much to films. It's a pleasure to see him in this sympathetic leading role in "The House of Shame," and he turns in a very appealing and convincing performance.
Sadly, it appears this film was ignored by major publications such as Harrison's Reports, The New York Times, Photoplay and others with no review to be found. While other releases from minor companies such as Chesterfield often received at least some acknowledgement, it is difficult to understand why this film - considering it is a pretty good entry - was overlooked. One trade publication, however, Variety, did give notice to the film noting that the production ". . . may be considered meritorious since it brings a finer product into the states rights field than has been available previously." And although the publication felt the film would do well "in the minor stands, split weeks and daily changes," the reviewer did find faults. For example, "Miss Faire, who photographs well and looks snappy in certain poses, has been subjected to more and longer closeups than suitable. Girl looks good but can't stand a close camera for long, difficult facial contortions" - an assessment that belies Faire's lovely performance. And although the reviewer gave credit such as, "Fairly smooth continuity resulting in a picture which moves along at a good speed," he/she felt the "Direction not any too good." (2)
Grapevine's release is a good to very good print that is very enjoyable to watch. Contrast is fine, and the David Knudtson organ score provides the appropriate moods and tone to each scene. Although it only runs 54 minutes, the film appears to be complete, coinciding with its announced release length of six reels. An added feature to the DVD is the Snub Pollard comedy "Drink Hearty" (1920). "House of Shame" deserves a look.
1. "House of Shame review. Variety (August 29, 1928).
Copyright 2014 by Tim Lussier. All rights reserved
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