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The Devil's Needle (1916)

The Devil's Needle (1916) Fine Arts/Triangle. Directed by Chester Withey. Scenario by Chester Withey and Roy Somerville. Cast: Tully Marshall, Norma Talmadge, Marguerite Marsh, F.A.Turner, Howard Gaye, John Brennan. 5 reels. Copy of the 1923 re-release located at the Library of Congress (35 mm.). It is available on DVD and Blu-ray from Kino Lorber. Excerpts are available on video from Grapevine
A review of the Kino/Lorber version can be found at DVD Beaver.

Review from Variety
Descriptions from Moving Picture World
Viewing comments
Further Readings

Review from Variety, July 28, 1915


David White, a famous artist Tully Marshall
Rene, his model Norma Talmadge
Wynne Mortimer Marguerite Marsh
Wm. Mortimer, her father F.A. Turner
Hugh Gordon, his junior partner Howard Gaye
Fritz, janitor of the studio John Brehnon
Buck, a dope Paul Le Blanc

"The Devil's Needle in this Triangle-Fine Arts five-reeler is a hypodermic. It's a very commonplace story and picture in these modern days, at least of picture making. The drug story has been so often sheeted there is nothing left for it, unless the Fine Arts plan is to keep drilling against the evil effect of drugs. About the only matter of moment in this film is that it causes two of the characters to renounce the drug habit, one, a girl (Norma Talmadge) very simply by exercising her will power (on a caption) and the other (Tully Marshall) by doing hard farm work in a field. If it's true that hard manual labor will kill the taste for drugs, Chester Withey and Roy Somerville, who wrote this story, deserve to have a niche in the film discovery hall. Mr. Withey directed the film. Everything in and about it is tame. The single chance for box office excitement was to have the posting in the artist's studio run to the censorship edge, but it never even got beyond a Methodist balance. An artists is induced by his model to take an injection of probably morphine. He starts downward in the good old way, but before getting a good start, marries the daughter of a wealthy attorney, said daughter then being engaged to a young man in her father's office. After a year the artist attempts to have his wife try the drug, then he leaves the house, returning to the model for some of the dope, the artist by this time being broke (although he seemed to have various habitations, once on a poor looking street, then again in a white stone edifice). The model, however, had reformed, but she bought the artist some of the drug, gave him a short lecture and the janitor of his flat took him into the country, where he was probably boarded for the work he did, as nothing developed in the film showing any sudden accession of wealth by the artist. It ended in the same old way, in this case very old, almost as old in pictures as this drug thing is. Once upon a time they used drug film as specials in the vice frenzy that nearly put pictures out of business. For the Fine Arts to revive it was to pull what must only be classed as a bad boy.

Description from Moving Picture World, July 14, 1916

THE DEVIL'S NEEDLE-(Fine Arts--Five Parts--July 16).--The cast: David White (Tully Marshall); Rene, his model (Norma Talmadge); Wynne Mortimer (Marguerite Marsh); Wm. Mortimer (F.A. Turner); Hugh Gordon (Howard Gay). Directed by Chester Withey.

Wynne Mortimer, a pampered society girl and daughter of William Mortimer, a prominent business man, chances to meet David White, a young artist whose fame is already assured, at an art exhibit. Despite the fact that she is engaged to marry Hugh Gordon, the junior partner of her father, she falls in love with the artist. He invites the girl and her father to visit his studio and the invitation is accepted.

Rene, a model, has been in love with David White for years, and he has seemingly reciprocated her love. When Wynne Mortimer appears on the scene, however, he forgets all thoughts of love for Rene. The model is quick to realize the change in her lover. Secretly, she has been a user of cocaine. To forget the heartache the growing attachment between her lover and Wynne causes her, she turns to the cocaine.

Wynne, led on by her interest in the artist and his insistence that she is the only one who can justly typify the spirit of a new picture at which he is at work, goes to the studio and poses for him. Hugh Gordon follows her and after a violent scene with the painter takes Wynne to her father, who upbraids her and forbids her to again see the painter.

David is dejected at the loss of Wynne and finally takes to using cocaine. Before he has become a complete victim to the habit, however, Wynne dares her father's vengeance and returns to the studio. She and David finally run away and are married. In his anger, Wynne's father turns her from home. David rapidly becomes a habitual user of cocaine and Wynne is forced to return to her home.

Rene, heartbroken at the evil she has done by really being responsible for the drug habit acquired by David, tries to reform him. It is not until David hears his wife, however, declare that she will stick to him as long as he has need of someone to look after him, and he finally manages to throw off the habit he has acquired. He is determined to free his wife of whatever obligation she may feel binds her to him.

Her loyalty to her husband leads Wynne to seek him. Her search takes her into an evil part of the city and she is attacked by a thug. David, who has returned to the city, however, learns that his wife is seeking him and goes to find her. He arrives just in time to rescue her from the den into which she has been carried. When husband and wife are reunited after the horrors through which they have passed the year past, they find that their love has grown stronger and eventually they find happiness.

Description from Moving Picture World, August 19, 1916


THE DEVIL'S NEEDLE (Aug. 18). The cast: David White (Tully Marshall) ; Rene (Norma Talmadge) ; Wynne Mortimer (Marguerite Marsh) ; Wm. Mortimer (F.A. Turner) ; Hugh Gordon (Howard Gaye) ; Fritz (John Brennen) ; Buck (Paul Le Blanc)

William Mortimer, a man of stern unyielding principles, is exceedingly proud of his daughter, Wynne, particularly when she announced her engagement to Hugh Gordon, his junior partner and a man after his own heart. Wynne visits an art exhibition with her father, however, and there meets David White, a famous artist. She is strongly attracted to him and accepts an invitation to visit his studio. Other visits follow the first and Wynne finally consents to pose for an unfinished picture on which White is working.

The growing attachment between White and the society girl rouses the jealosy of Rene, an artist's model who is in love with White, and also the jealousy of Gordon, who follows Wynne to the studio on one of her trips and forcibly takes he home. But the attachment is too deeply rooted to be thus easily broken, and the meetings are soon resumed. During the temporary break, however, White is tempted to try to cure for the blues that Rene uses so persistently with the result that he is soon a habitual user of drugs.

Wynne finally marries the artists and is disowned by her father. Rene, too, gives herself up to a wider debauch with drugs than ever before and on White the habit grows steadily. His downfall is rapid and complete, and Wynne is finally forced to leave him and beg for the protection of her home. When her former lover urges her to divorce her husband, however, she declares her intention of standing by him in his hour of greatest need. White overhears her declaration and determines to rid himself of his habit that she may feel free to leave him and not be held by any feeling of duty.

White disappears, the better to fight his habit. Wynne tries to locate him and Rene, seeing her alone in a dangerous section of the city, follows to warn her away. Wynne is set upon by gangsters and is finally saved by White himself, who has been told of her danger by Rene, who, through his whole career of disgrace has kept close watch over him, feeling that she herself is responsible for his downfall.

Completely restored in health and the master of the dread habit which all but ruined him, White offers Wynne her freedom. He points out that there is no longer need of her standing by him now, but she finds she loves him for his own sake and not through pity and they are reunited. Rene, remorseful for the damage she has already done to the life of the man she really loves, promptly obliterates herself from the scene and from his life.

Viewing comments

The Devils Needle (1916, this was a 1923 reissue). Unfortunately there is quite a bit of decomposition in this print, especially right at the end. Especially unfortunate because it is a really interesting film. I was surprised to see that Norma's part was more prominent than Marguerite Marsh, who was playing the wife. Norma plays a drug-addicted artist's model, and a very impudent character. She persuades artist Tully Marshall to try the needle as well and he goes completely off the deep end, seeing visions of girls clad in chiffon in the fireplace and chasing his wife around with a needle. Norma straightens out and spend the rest of the film trying to help him. He ends up on a farm ploughing and carrying on like Eddie Albert in the Green Acres intro. This apparently being all it takes to kick the habit, he get back to town in time to rescue his wife from some criminals and redeem himself. Norma is good, Marsh is a bit dull, and Tully Marshal is entertainingly over the top. It's sad that this has so much bad footage because it would be have been great on video.
Print viewed: 35 mm print of the 1923 reissue at the Library of Congress.

Further Readings

More information on this film can be found in:

Brownlow, Kevin. Behind the Mask of Innocence. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990.

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Last revised, August 26, 2012