Romola (1924)

Romola (1924)

Director: Henry King Writers: George Eliot (novel) Will M. Ritchey "Adaptations of novels made up a large proportion of motion pictures in the 20s, as the medium of cinema began to see itself as continually more prestigious and legitimate. The trouble is they were still figuring things out when it came to translating from one narrative form to another. Romola is taken from a novel by the brilliant 19th century author George Elliot, and her work is typically rich in character detail and interwoven subplot. However this movie version pares the story down to a basic melodrama, with a handful of simple characters flitting from one plot point to the next. As if to compensate, the action is peppered with lengthy title cards, which while they preserve little snatches of the original text, break up the flow of visual storytelling. But all is not lost. The language of images was well developed in Hollywood. Romola's director is Henry King – not a well-remembered figure, although he ought to be. King's shots are consistently stylish, and he has a good handling of space and framing. Take for example when Dorothy Gish is abandoned amid the festivities after her sham wedding. We see a close-up of her, distraught, while the dancing revellers around her make a wild, blurry backdrop – far more effective than some expressionistic process shot, because it is realistic as well as evocative of mood. But what was really King's greatest strength at this point was the slow, methodical performing he encouraged from his cast. It is this that really brings out all those layers of character that are missing from the screenplay. Look at the scene in which Lillian Gish gives the ring to her father to examine. The camera is simply held in mid-shot as the old man turns it over in his hands, and so much more comes out of that moment as a result. And the strength of the mise-en-scene is proved as for some key scenes those pesky intertitles disappear altogether – such as when Powell proposes to Lillian. It's a pity so few directors these days are bold enough to simply performances play out like that. And this approach really suits star Lillian Gish. After parting ways with her old mentor D.W. Griffith she briefly formed a production company with King and, while it's rarely acknowledged, she did some of her best work with in their handful of pictures together. In an age when overt mugging and gesture were the norm, Gish is beautifully subtle, the emotions drifting across her face like clouds across the sun. The villainous turn from William Powell is also nicely understated. Powell is probably better remembered for the series of jolly father-figures he played in the sound era, but as a young man his thin lips and piercing eyes marked him down a bad guy. But here he refuses to live up to the stereotype, portraying Tito as a villain by his deeds and not by his mannerisms. There are some nice touches from even the smallest parts in Romola, and it is generally very well cast." - Source: IMDB - Lillian Gish ... Romola Dorothy Gish ... Tessa William Powell ... Tito Melema (as William H. Powell) Ronald Colman ... Carlo Bucellini Charles Lane ... Baldassar Calvo Herbert Grimwood ... Savonarola Bonaventura Ibáñez ... Bardo Bardi Frank Puglia ... Adolfo Spini Amelia Summerville ... Brigida Tina Ceccaci Renaldi ... Monna Ghita Eduilio Mucci ... Nello Angela Scatigna ... Bratti Ugo Uccellini ... Bishop of Nemours Alfredo Martinelli ... Captain of the Barque Attilo Deodati ... Tomaso


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