starring Carol Dempster and Ralph Graves
The flowers that bloom in the spring (tra la) on New York's main street are the superdeluxe motion-picture productions, the silent dramas that replace the noisy dreams of the winter season. When the theatrical season begins to wane, every film producer, who has a little million-dollar spectacle in his vaults, rushes out, leases a big theater, and puts on his show as a rival attraction to the legitimate offerings. You pay your money, and you take your choice.
Among those seized with this spring fever was D.W. Griffith. "Dream Street" is his contribution to the silly season. It is one of those pictures that Griffith tosses off in his less-inspired moments. But, as you know, Griffith's less-inspired moments are, at least in some respects, better than the topmost flights of fancy of most of his rivals.
If you are looking for typical Griffith thrills in "Dream Street," you will not find them. But you will find much in it that captivates your imagination. The story, like the well-known mattress, was built -- not made. The characters were suggested by Thomas Burke, the London reporter who discovered the Limehouse district -- imported to this country in "Broken Blossoms." The continuity of the alleged plot was written by Rose and James Smith, who are not related to the reviewer. If the personages in the piece were suggested by Burke, the story obviously was suggested by Victorien Sardou, who wrote "La Tosca."
However, it is not fair to judge a Griffith picture by its plot. Griffith does not believe in plots; he believes in pictures. And, judged solely as a succession of beautiful pictures, "Dream Street" is an enchanting entertainment. Griffith has an eye for composition and rhythm. By an adroit use of lights, by clever settings and by skillful handling of his players, he can make you laugh, cry and get all excited over the silliest kind of wish-wash, clap-trap situations. The master magician of the movies hypnotizes you, and, while you are spellbound by his pretty pictures, he slams at your head an outrageously absurd and sentimental melodrama. In telling the simple story of a cheap vaudeville singer and her rowdy suitor, he weaves an atmosphere that is worthy of a tale from the "Arabian Nights."
Griffith exercises this hypnotism not only on his audiences, but on the players in his company. Take, for instance, the case of Carol Dempster. Miss Dempster is young, pretty, lively, and a beautiful dancer. After seeing "Dream Street," you would go before a notary and swear that she is an emotional actress. But she is not; she is merely graceful and attractive. Although she is a fascinating young person and more obviously pretty than Lillian Gish, she hasn't Miss Gish's great charm. Ralph Graves, seen as the rowdy suitor, was only half hypnotized. Sometimes he acts, sometimes he merely makes faces at the camera. Charles Emmett Mack, another important member of the cast, is a clear example of Griffith hypnotism. Before he was an actor, he served his art as a property man. Griffith made a few mystical passes before his face, and, behold, he gives a creditable performance of a difficult role. Two old-timers, W.J. Ferguson and Tyrone Power, are also seen in the cast.
That Griffith believes that visual appeal is more powerful than the written word is evident in the subtitles of "Dream Street." They are perfect examples of gaudy English. Whoever wrote them ought to be presented a handsome rubber plant. All the lovely mush in the picture about love, religion, good influence, evil spirits, and Hades probably was invented by Griffith himself. Griffith is like the old man in "David Copperfield," who could not keep the head of King Charles out of his conversation. The magician of the movies cannot make a picture without throwing in a few biblical references.
In spite of some obvious faults, "Dream Street" is worth seeing. After all, it is rather fun to be hypnotized.
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