starring Clarine Seymour and Richard Barthelmess


June, 1920

David Wark Griffith still has his whip in "The Idol Dancer," but he uses it sparingly and only on a slave person who probably was used to it. Many of my confreres report this a disappointing picture, but I suspect if anyone else had made it they would have considered it very good. You can't help expecting a lot from D.G. Merely because he is D.G. I quarrel with him as frequently as any gent whose business it is to comment upon the work he does, but between ourselves the quarreling is largely inspired by the hope that it may make him so doggone mad some day he will take it seriously and double back to the time when he was at once the leader and the promise of the screen. He went all the way to the Bahamas for the local color needed for "The Idol Dancer" and brought precious little back that he could not have ordered in his Westchester studio, or found in Florida. Unless it be the native canoe in which the men of the threatened village paddle umteen miles in umteen minutes to save Clarine Seymour and Richard Barthelmess and the other worth-saving persons of the cast from manhandling, arson and sudden death. However, better a real background that seems a waste of money than an imitation that could be recognized.

The only really disappointing feature of "The Idol Dancer" to me is the commonplace and familiar story - familiar in the sense that it is the old complication of the lost sinner and the hopeful saint with their horns locked in a battle for the girl. It has a little new color in this instance because one boy is a beach-comber, an atheistical youth who is wiling to let the faithful worship what god they will so long as they leave him his gin and room on the sand to sleep of his excesses, and the other a New Englander with weak lungs who comes suddenly upon the beauteous Seymour dancing the hula-hula and straightway wants to live. For which neither you nor I could blame him. The Seymour herself is a native girl adopted by an old English salt, to excuse her speaking English titles, and renamed Mary. She wears not so very much in front and a little less than 'alf of that be'ind, as the gifted Rudyard phrased it, and she is a beauty bright from the bells on her toes to the permanent wave in her hair (a wave she never learned to do in the South Sea Islands). Moreover she not only negotiates the hula with considerable grace, but she plays the dramatic scenes with enough fire and sincerity almost to convince you that she is what she pretends to be, a dusky island belle. Richard Barthelmess is the heavy-eyed beach-comber, a youngish youth to carry his philosophy of life, but handsome and a good screen actor, with personal appeal plus.

starring Clarine Seymour and Richard Barthelmess
March 22, 1920

D.W. Griffith's latest work, "The Idol Dancer," with Clarine Seymour, Richard Barthelmess and Creighton Hale in the leading roles, is at the Strand this week. Apparently it seeks to set forth a story of savage, semi-savage and civilized human beings thrown together on an island of the South Seas and transformed into better beings by the action on their common humanity of eternal truths, true in the tropics as well as in New England.

As the story progresses, the religion of a white missionary and his nephew triumphs over the hostile spirits of a derelict beachcomber and an untamed girl of mixed and romantic ancestry. But the beachcomber has the remnants of a conscience, and the heather girl, although she dance a la Doraldina, has a sense for finer things.

In the end the beachcomber throws his bottle of gin into the ocean, and the girl casts her idol away. Also, she consents to wear clothes and, it may be imaged, will even go shopping on Fifth Avenue within a few months. All of which may indicate that to the mind of one at least, "The Idol Dancer" is not convincing.

As movies go, it is moderately good, and Mr. Griffith may be commended for another effort to keep out of the rut worn deep by others; but Mr. Griffith certainly meant his picture to be something more than just a movie, and isn't it possible that he is in danger of getting into a rut of his own? In attempting to show that the people of New England and the New Hebrides are fundamentally the same, he is in danger of showing simply that New England people and points of view may be imposed on a background of the New Hebrides - in the movies.

Miss Seymour won her first important laurels as Cutie Beautiful of Broadway in Mr. Griffith's "The Girl Who Stayed at Home," and in "The Idol Dancer" she is not a "mysterious dancing girl of barbaric beauty" as one announcement describes her, but just Cutie Beautiful in a grass costume doing the hula-hula. Mr. Barthelmess as the beachcomber, more nearly approaches the genuine, but he, too, for the most part, seems to be merely acting a part. And so do the others.

It may be of interest to note that Mr. Griffith and his party were on their way to the Bahamas to make "The Idol Dancer" when they were nearly lost at sea.

On the Strand program is one of Max Fleischer's enjoyable "Out of the Inkwell" cartoons, and a scenic entitled "Mountains and Soul Kinks."

For more information, see "The Idol Dancer" as our "Feature of the Month"

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