Seen April 23, 2009: The Wind, a silent movie from 1928 directed by Victor Sjöström, starring Lillian Gish, Lars Hanson, Edward Earle, Dorothy Cumming, Montague Love.
Gish plays Letty, a woman who is moving from her home in the green eastern US to live with her cousin Beverly (Edward Earle) in dry, windy, dusty Texas. On the train she meets a man Wirt Roddy (Love) who flirts with her and warns her that the wind will drive her crazy. She arrives to find cousin Beverly’s wife Cora (Cumming) most unwelcoming. Cora is perhaps a bit touched in the head, and at any rate is hostile towards and jealous of Letty. She insists that she won’t share her house or her husband, and Letty is forced into marriage with Lige (Lars Hanson), a decent man but a man that she doesn’t love.
The main character is, as the title suggests, the wind, which blows and shifts the dry sand around through the starkness of the territory and the hard-living people trying to survive it. Into this setting Roddy shows up again, his evil lust for Letty pushing him to her as she is being driven mad by the weather and her situation.
This is a wonderful movie. I’ve seen it before, but in this instance I saw it in the theater, as part of a silent movie program of monthly showings in Manchester NH and in Wilton NH. This one was at the Palace Theatre in Manchester, with (as with all in this series) live music composed and performed by Jeff Rapsis. The film was preceded by a short interview with Gish done some decades later (as it was the other time I saw it; probably drawn from the same source DVD). Gish talked about how the production used an array of aircraft engines and propellers to generate the wind when needed, and about how the weather was so hot that at one point she burned the skin off of a hand while opening a door. Unfortunately she also talked about the ending – this featurette should be seen after watching the movie, not before.
While some of this movie is quite over the top (especially the bits about the wind having an alter ego as a wild stallion), it is highly enjoyable, one of the best silent films I know of. To some degree you have to have some experience with and get a feeling for silent movies before you can appreciate and enjoy them, especially the longer dramatic ones. But I’ve often felt that this is one that can be enjoyed without any such background.