Forbidden Fruit (1921)

Posted By: Someonelse
Forbidden Fruit (1921)

Forbidden Fruit (1921)
DVD5 | Silent with English intertitles | NTSC 4:3 (704 x 480) | AC3 2.0 @ 256 Kbps | 01:26:30 | 2,89 Gb
Genre: Melodrama | USA

Rare old film from the amazing David S. Bradley Film Collection at Indiana University.
A beautiful shopgirl with a worthless layabout husband gets to live out her Cinderella fantasy when a rich acquaintance needs some eye candy to trick a male visitor into staying in town. Essentially she becomes an escort - but with clothes like these, who cares about dignity? (Cecil B. DeMille, whatever his other flaws as a director, is always on point with his costume game.) The problem comes when she and the mark really do fall (duh) for each other, and her husband, eager to get rich quick to impress her, turns to crime.

Apparently DeMille's remake of his own 1915 The Golden Chance, Forbidden Fruit is in its leering wish-fulfillment narrative a spiritual successor to Don't Change Your Husband and Why Change Your Wife?, but also anticipates his later biblical spectacles in a shallow way (the Adam and Eve motif is completely dropped in favor of Cinderella).

More than any of DeMille's films, though, Forbidden Fruit reminded me of the big-budget absurdity of his early sound picture Madame Satan. As in that film, he tries to combine sex comedy, melodrama, and spectacle, with weird results. There are some very cool technical gimmicks, as you can see from the screenshots below. Much of the film is tinted and there are gorgeous color intertitles. One really crazy trick is the moving image embedded in the lower corner of a couple of title screens.

Fun fact: Alfred Hitchcock once (around the time of his Selznick contract) named this as one of his top ten favorite movies!

IMDB

Forbidden Fruit (1921)

A brief consideration of DeMille's remake of The Golden Chance, titled Forbidden Fruit (1921), is chronologically out of order in assessing his career but instructive with respect to filming upper-class consumption as spectacle. The Mallory (previously Hillary) mansion now has an arched vestibule with glass doors, gigantic potted plants, and a sunken garden, an elegant space that must be traversed before gaining entry to a high-ceilinged living room that dwarfs its occupants. Mary Maddock (formerly Denby) is still married to a shiftless bum named Steve, but she is no longer the daughter of a judge. Persuading her to play the role of a dinner guest, Mrs. Mallory (Kathlyn Williams) orders her maid to "phone Celeste—tell her to open her shop and send me her best selection of gowns, lingerie, slippers, stockings, gloves, and fans." A parade of uniformed bell boys subsequently arrives with huge packages as Mary (Agnes Ayres) receives the attention of several maids.

Forbidden Fruit (1921)

Forbidden Fruit (1921)

She is seated at a semicircular dresser in an elegant boudoir with slender columns encircling a bed on a circular carpet. Unrestrained by scruples, the seamstress is delighted by the finery, removes her wedding ring, and admires a large solitaire. She also manages to pass the "ordeal by fork" with minimal assistance and plays the role of a socialite with aplomb. During one sequence, she and Nelson Rogers (formerly Roger) even attend a play-within-a-play titled Forbidden Fruit.

Forbidden Fruit (1921)

Forbidden Fruit (1921)

DeMille interrupts this Cinderella fantasy with an even more sumptuous fairy tale in the form of flashbacks to a magnificent eighteenth-century court that is a feast for the eyes. Indeed, Mary wins forgiveness for her deception by confessing that she could not resist playing Cinderella because she was "unhappy and lonely and heart-hungry," an admission that serves as a pretext for one of the film's glittering flashback sequences. After Steve's death, an epilogue titled "Life's Springtime" provides a resolution when Nelson (Forrest Stanley) arrives with a slipper to claim his Cinderella and kisses her while holding her foot.

Forbidden Fruit (1921)

Forbidden Fruit (1921)

What conclusions may be drawn about the nature of a consumer culture from this brief account of the remake in comparison to The Golden Chance? First, DeMille escalates the level of conspicuous consumption in Forbidden Fruit so that historical flashbacks are required for more ostentatious spectacle than those afforded by contemporary life. Consumption, in other words, represents an endless cycle in which time is but another dimension of waste as history itself becomes commodified. Second, the characters evince little or no compunction about the enjoyment of luxury, although Victorian sentimentalism dictates moralizing attitudes as well as didactic intertitles. Third, Mary Maddock appears to move in the smart set with relative ease, signifying that social mobility is a result of cash rather than cultivation. And last, the commodification of film spectacle, especially in extravagant and outré flashback sequences, leaves very little to the imagination of spectators for whom visual appropriation serves as a substitute for material gratification.

Forbidden Fruit (1921)

DeMille's film language in effect is translated into a readable hieroglyph for a mass audience that is increasingly female and that has limited access to luxury goods as displayed on the screen. Whereas The Golden Chance demanded some input from the spectator in response to its moral ambiguity and inconclusive ending, Forbidden Fruit simply requires an awestruck audience.

Sumiko Higashi, Cecil B. DeMille and American Culture: The Silent Era (99-100).
Forbidden Fruit (1921)

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