Sunday, May 31, 2009

Jason goes to the Niles Film Museum for a Wallace Reid double feature

The Edison theater deviated a little bit from its formula last night. Usually they play a couple of shorts and then a feature, and they all feature different stars. But last night was a true double feature, and a showcase of Wallace Reid. For a time at the end of the teens he was one of the most famous movie stars, and certainly the most famous of the Famous Players-Lasky Corporation. Sadly, an addiction to morphine (brought on after an on-set train accident and the studio doping him up to continue making films) and alcoholism destroyed his career in his prime and eventually claimed his life when he was only 31 (he died in rehab). But he lives on in his movies, and we enjoyed two of them last night.

First up one of (in fact, the first of) his famous racing daredevil movies, THE ROARING ROAD. Reid play Walter Thomas "Toodles" Walden, a crack salesman for the Darco motor company. But he really wants to be a racecar driver. Darco has won the Santa Monica Grand Prize twice in a row, and no company has one three times in a row. So boss J. D. "The Bear" Ward isn't about to trust one of his cars to an amateur (in a side plot, he's even less likely to entrust the hand of his daughter, Dorothy "The Cub" to the likes of Toodles). All that becomes moot when the express delivery company has an accident and Darco's three racecars show up as heaps of scrap. But the enterprising Toodles buys the scraps and gets Darco's best mechanic Tom Darby to build them into one crack car that he enters himself. Of course, he wins, which wins him a big contract as Darco's west coast manager, but doesn't win permission to marry the Cub. Ultimately that'll take another feat of speed--driving a stock car from Los Angeles all the way to San Francisco in under 14 hours. Hey, I've done that before! But I suppose that was a more impressive feat in 1919.

The second half of the double feature was a mining western, THE GOLDEN FETTER. This time Wallace Reid is James (Jim) Roger Ralston, a mining engineer. Crooked Slade owns a mine that's a total bust, but that doesn't keep him from going back east and selling half of his stake to schoolteacher Faith Miller. Meanwhile back west Jim injures himself hiking in the mountains and ends up relying on the help of a couple of outlaws, getting himself into trouble despite being completely innocent. Faith eventually decides (based on doctor's orders) to head out west, get into the fresh air and sunshine, and check out her mine. She's dismayed to find that A) her mine is useless, and B) the town is really rough. Luckily Jim defends her on the second account, and hatches a plan to "salt" the mine with silver, making Slade think it is worth something so he'll buy back the half share from Faith. Of course, his trouble with mob law gets worse when the outlaws murder the sheriff and he is blamed. His head is in a noose when just in the nick of time the posse catches the real outlaws who confess and exonerate him. Faith has her money back, and presumably they live happily ever after. After all, Reid was known for a time as "The Screen's Most Perfect Lover"
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