The Circle (1925)

  • Not to be confused with the movie of the same name that just came out last month. This one’s silent & in black & white, and was made 92 years ago. Just to be clear.
  • This movie contains a 20-year-old Lucille LeSueur (aka, of course, Joan Crawford).
  • Based on a play by W. Somerset Maugham (of THE RAZOR’S EDGE (1946) fame).
  • Directed by Frank Borzage.
  • Opening title card:

“It is the intention to herein point up that old, yet so valuable, moral – –

“Man may select a wife – but he should be careful whose wife he selects!”

  • So, at Cheney Castle, there was never a scandal until Clive Cheney, the lord of the house & descendant of a long-ass line of non-scandal-makers, has a wife (this is where Baby JC comes in) named Catherine who decides to run away with a man called Hugh Porteous – who, rottenly enough, served as the best man at Clive & Cathy’s wedding. Ouch!
  • To tell Clive she’s leaving, Cathy pins a note to their toddler, and when the toddler waddles out of bed post-nap, Clive finds the note, that concludes “Try not to be bitter toward me.”

FAT CHANCE, Cathy!

Jesus!

  • Flash forward 30 years, and the note-bearing toddler (apparently it has a name, and it’s Arnold) has become the lord of Cheney Castle, and is totally in love with this girl called Elizabeth (Eleanor Boardman).
  • Oh, just kidding – she’s not just a girl – she’s his wife.
  • Title card: “‘Teddy’ Luton was a friend…”

Yeah, I’ll bet Teddy Luton is a “friend.” Why call him “Teddy” when you can call him “Hugh Porteous Jr.”?!

(Okay, I might be getting a little too involved in this, way too early. I’ll try to calm down a bit.)

  • Arnold the Grown-Up Toddler (played by Creighton Hale) is kind of a creeper, you guys! If they wanted him to be a sympathetic character, they probably shouldn’t have introduced him to us by having him grinningly leer at Elizabeth & Teddy (Malcolm McGregor) from the front door, while wearing a monocle. Not someone whose side I want to take in any argument – that’s how negatively our first look at him came across. If I was Elizabeth, I wouldn’t want to be married to a leering Monocle Man, either! (I’m sorry about what I said about Hugh Jr. – I didn’t know the full story!)
  • As chance would have it, Lady Catherine (now played by Eugenie Besserer) and Hugh #1 (now played by George Fawcett) are coming to Cheney Castle today for a visit, for the first time since she left 30 years ago.
  • “Arnold is unbearably fussy! He keeps this place like a tomb!” says Elizabeth, as she throws open the grand living room curtains.

Strike 2, Monocle Man! Strike 2.

  • What! They thought Clive (now played by Alec B. Francis) was in London, but actually he’s come back early! And Catherine & Hugh are on their way to the Castle as we speak! Gasp!

(I don’t mean for this to feel sarcastic in tone at all – it really is quite a startling development!)

  • They try to get Clive to go take a nap…and then try to get him to leave immediately on a hunting trip to Scotland…but to no avail.
  • The scenes in which Elizabeth, Arnold, Teddy, & Alice Shenstone (the other dinner guest, played by Eulalie Jensen) communicate to each other while Clive is looking the other way are pretty funny. I like how in this communication, they are a team, despite the other…circumstances of the situation.
  • Elizabeth breaks down and tells Clive that Lady Catherine is on her way. He takes it with great dignity. (Way to go, Clive!) Also, he definitely suspects that Teddy and Elizabeth have the hots for each other. He’s a wise one, that Clive. (He also doesn’t wear a monocle, which is key.)
  • The music that plays every time they switch to a shot of Catherine & Hugh’s car approaching implies that Lady Catherine has become a batty old loon. I guess we’ll find out soon enough.
  • Meanwhile, Elizabeth & Teddy are not stealthy about their canoodling at all. In the 15 minutes we’ve known them, they’ve been walked in on like…eight times. Keep your hands to yourselves, dummies!
  • Elizabeth is distressed to learn that Lady Catherine the Older is not frail, sweet, and cloaked in elegant black lace. (For real – this is almost a direct quote.)
  • Hugh Porteous, on the other hand, has aged into a slightly chubby grump. All he seems to do is scowl, throw curse words into his sentences, and then scowl some more.
  • Also, update: Lady Catherine does appear to have turned into a bit of a batty old loon. This image is enhanced by the too-many feathers she wears on her hat and the black & white circus tent she’s wearing as a dress.
  • All Catherine & “Hughie” do whilst at the Castle is fight, and it really turns Elizabeth off the whole ‘Elope with Teddy’ idea. Monocle Man is delighted.
  • Except there’s this really cute scene where Catherine finds an old picture of herself & reluctantly shows it to Hugh, who smiles (as much as Scowly Hugh can smile) and says, “You’re just as lovely as ever, Kitty.”

Dawww.

  • Elizabeth walks back in at the ideal time, and sees Catherine with her head on Hughie’s shoulder – and that is enough for her. Their love has lasted all these years – and Hughie scowlingly confirms this, when asked.
  • Okay – Strike 3 for Monocle Man was when he decided to have his heart-to-heart with Elizabeth…with his father in the room, to whom he keeps turning to look at for encouragement. Give me a break, Arnold! Grow a pair.
  • Wait…what the fuck? Elizabeth & Teddy decide to go for it & run away…except once they’re on the road…we realize that Arnold is the person driving their car? What?!
  • Monocle Man pulls the car over, punches Teddy in the face twice, & leaves him stranded in the woods, driving back to the Castle with Elizabeth the Reclaimed.
  • Clive & Hughie think this is a hilarious development, and laugh a million miles over it.
  • I’m not laughing, though! This is sad! I do not want Elizabeth to end up with Monocle Man!
  • That’s how it ends?!?! With Monocle Man leading Elizabeth up to their bedroom, with Clive & Hugh still howling away downstairs?! No! I HATE THAT.
  • What a letdown of a movie! Fuck you, The Circle! You turned out to be kind of the worst.
  • Ps: My face definitely looks like Scowly Hugh right now.
  • Boo.
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