Woman Disputed (1928)
After dawdling along with a romance in an Austrian border town, Norma Talmadge's latest picture, an adaptation of Dennison Clift's play, "The Woman Disputed," strikes its stride in the war scenes through a rather ingenious incident, most of which undoubtedly was inspired by Guy de Maupassant's classic short story "Boule de Suif." The situation in this famous French tale has served the screen many a time, but never quite as well as it does in this current offering, which was launched last night in the Rivoli Theatre.
Two directors are credited with the production of this photoplay. They are Henry King, who first made the whole production, and Sam Taylor, "who tacked on the present closing sequences. Mr. King's opening incidents are not a little slow, what with a superfluity of close-ups and the depiction of frolicsome events arising out of a tragedy. Yet these glimpses are beautifully photographed, and, once Austria and Russia are at war, Mr. King gives some stirring scenes. He uses his characters expertly and does valiant work with an old situation. At times one may wonder how Mr. King is going to clear one of the characters, but soon quite a shrewd situation is developed that may cause those familiar with De Maupassant's narrative to pardon its being employed in this pictorial adventure.
Whether any young man would be quite as bitter against a friend because he had lost in love is doubtful, but this point does not affect the interest in the story. Paul Hartman is an Austrian and Nika Turgenov is a Russian. Both are enamored of Mary Ann Wagner, an unfortunate young woman who finds her affection finally centred on one man. Nika and Paul quarrel about a slur flung at the girl by the Russian and then comes the war, with Nika hating his rival more than ever.
The pivotal situation in this film is after Nika suspects a spy of signaling the position of his guns. Eventually he captures the Austrian town and a warning is posted that no persons must leave it. Several take a chance and some of them are captured. Among them are several who have evinced contempt for Mary Ann.
The prisoners are brought before Nika and after a summary hearing one or two are sent outside to face a firing squad. There remain a priest, a young Count and his wife, and two or three others, who, seeing what has happened to those that have come before Nika, can expect nothing but death, the penalty set for attempting to leave the precincts of the municipality. Suddenly a soldier enters with the information that another prisoner has been captured endeavoring to reach the next town.
Mary Ann (Miss Talmadge) is brought in and Nika at first greets the girl with a half smile. Then his face becomes serious and he instructs the soldiers and the suspected citizens to leave the room while he interrogates Mary Ann.
Eventually there is the scene, similar to that in "Boule de Suif," where those who have held their heads aloft at the sight of Mary Ann plead with her to make the sacrifice demanded by the Russian officer.
This chapter ends, as it did in De Maupassant's work, with the girl going to Nika's quarters. The other touches which give it a spark of originality are best left to be seen.
Miss Tamladge acts her part intelligently, although she usually wears clothes that look extremely new for that type of girl. Gilbert Roland is good-looking and quite acceptable in the part of Paul. Arnold Kent, however, distinguishes himself as the young Russian officer. He reveals a wonderful control over his features during the dramatic incidents and in cheerier scenes at the outset he does what he can to make the sluggish chapters entertaining.
The proceeds of last night's performance were contributed toward the Christmas Fund of The New York American and The New York Evening Journal.
Love and War.
THE WOMAN DISPUTED, with Norma Talmadge, Gilbert Roland, Arnold Kent, Boris De Fas, Michael Vavitch, Gustav von Seyffertitz, Gladys Brockwell, Nicholas Soussanin and others, based on the play by Dennison Clift, directed by Henry King and Sam Taylor; "The Love Charm," a prismatic novelty; "Nicked Nags," a "Krazy Kat" cartoon. At the Rivoli Theatre.