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The Probation Wife (1919)

The Probation Wife (1919) Norma Talmadge Film Corporation/Select Pictures Corporation. Produced by Joseph M. Schenck. Directed by Sidney A. Franklin. Scenario by Kathryn Stuart. Story by Angie Ousley Rooser. Camera by David Abel. Cast: Norma Talmadge, Thomas Meighan, Florence Billings, Alec B. Francis, Walter McEwen, Amelia Summerville, A. Brooke, S. Liston, Dinky. 5 reels. Reels 1, 3-5 are available at the Library of Congress (35 mm.). Eastman House also has one unidentified reel of this film in unpreserved nitrate.

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Still photo from this film on The Internet Silent Film Still Archive

Review from Variety
Review and advertising suggestions from Moving Picture World
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Review from Variety, March 14, 1919


Josephine Mowbray Norma Talmadge
Harrison Wade Thomas Meighan
Nina Stockley, late Nina Marr Florence Billings
Huntley McMerton Alec B. Francis
Peter Marr Walter McEwen

Norma Talmadge's newest Select release, "The Probation Wife," is a story within a story. The main action is related by a happy wife to a less fortunate woman who comes to her for sympathy when she discovers that her husband is a philanderer. It was written by Angie Ousley Rooser and directed by S. A. Franklin.

By all the rules of consistency the story doesn't hang together, but when you find, nevertheless, that an audience is absorbingly interested in the dramatic episodes and is audibly pleased with the comedy, you are compelled to take a rear seat with theories of consistency and admit that a film feature entertaining so well a paying attendance of picture patrons, needs nothing more than the entertainment it affords.

The picture opens with Miss Talmadge cuddling a young child, apparently a happily married woman. A lady friend is announced. She comes in weeping and seeks advice as to what course to take with regard to an "affair" her husband is having with another woman. Miss Talmadge says: "I'm going to tell you the story of a girl. Five years ago" (flashback to visualize the tale). She relates how a poor little orphan was brought up by a cold, calculating woman and compelled to spend her evenings in a dive. Into the place comes a slumming party. One of the men picks up a violin and plays a snatch of Massenet's Elegie." Beth Mobray, the girl, is entranced and says to him: "It's the most beautiful music I ever heard." She gives him an inkling of the reason for being in such a place and he puts in her hand a roll of bills, telling her it will help her to get a decent start in the world. The woman who brought her up takes it away from her and Beth is once more helpless. Hal, the man, is engaged to a girl who was in the slumming party, but she jilts him for a man worth twenty millions, though writing him a note he is the only one she loves. He spends a year abroad. Meantime the dive is raided by the police and Beth is sent to the reformatory.

Beth steals the matron's clothes and escapes from the reformatory. On the train coming to New York she meets Hal--"Why, you're the man who tried to help me." Hal takes her to pleasant lodgings from which she phones him the police are on her trail. He comes at once and says: "I see only one way to save you. Are you willing to marry me? Marriage means nothing to me, but if I can save you from misery, I'm willing to lend you my name. There's something you can do in return--brighten my home."

Beth consents, telling him he can get a divorce in a few months. "And so they were married." Meantime Nina, the woman who jilted Hal, is anxious to win him for a lover and when he ignores her letters and phone calls, she comes to the house. He is absent and she discovers the wife. "I am going to make Hal bring you out into the world." They have a box party at the opera and Beth hears Nina uttering love speeches to her husband.

Beth is gorgeously gowned and very sweet, but Hal doesn't enter into the marital relations with her. Hal goes out night after night, leaving Beth alone. She asks if he would object to her going to the movies alone. After his departure that particular evening, Beth picks up a letter he dropped. It is from Nina, which reads: "We can safely dine at the Claridge to-night." She is weeping over it as Hal's publisher calls. He is a kindly middle-aged man and she confides in him. He suggests they go to the Claridge and give Hal a dose of jealousy. "If there is anything vagrant husband dislikes it is to find his wife is having a good time just as he is." Hal finds them there and is very jealous. After another such treatment, Hal breaks out and denounces the publisher for a scoundrel, saying to his wife: "If you knew how much I loved you, you wouldn't torture me." Explanations are then in order. Flashback to the two women seated talking, showing Miss Talmadge with her baby, indicating it is the story of her own life, which has worked out happily through her winning her husband by making him jealous. The weeping wife departs, determined to have a try at it.

A most distinctive production with high grade players supporting this popular star in a modern version of the familiar "What's sauce for the Goose" kind of comedy-drama.

The inconsistency above referred to is that the very fact that the girl Hal married had been reared in sordid and immoral surroundings, would have debarred her from adopting such methods to win his love. When Hal found her carrying on a flirtation with another man, and with no evidence other than her own statements, that she was still pure, he would, under such exceptional circumstances, have said it served him right for having married a girl with such a pedigree--what else could he have expected but to have learned she was "a trollop," and thrown her out. Instead he merely moped and took her to his manly bosom, accepting her explanation without hesitation or distrust.

But when a New York theatre audience will receive the picture at exactly the valuation the producer intended, that disposes of all criticism. If it is the province of the reviewer to report to exhibitors the value of a feature for his audience "The Probation Wife," judging by the manner in which it was received last Sunday night, is a Class A release.


Review and advertising aids in Moving Picture World, March 22, 1919

"The Probation Wife"

Norma Talmadge in Select Picture That Has Drama and Comedy of Good Quality

Reviewed by Edward Weitzel

ROMANTIC marriages to not always turn out well. In "The Probation Wife," a Selectpicture presented by Joseph M. Schenck and featuring Norma Talmadge, Harrison Wade meets a young girl, Josephine Mowbray, under peculiar circumstances and offers her the protection of his name. Josephine is an orphan who has been reared by a woman of doubtful character and is saved from being forced into a life of shame by the generosity of Wade. This part of the story, however, is not its main motive. Interest centers around Josephine's experience after she is married and her successful attempt to separate he husband from an old sweetheart of his and make him realize the worth of the grateful little woman he is neglecting. Angie Ousley Rooser, who wrote the original tale, has handled her subject with discretion and maintained a skilful balance of comedy and tragedy. While not one of the [sic] Norma Talmadge's strongest pictures, it has excellent entertainment value, the able acting of the star and her support having a great deal to do with this result. Thomas Meighan, as Harrison Wade, Florence Billings as Nina Stockley, and Alec B. Francis as Huntley McMerton have the prominent supporting roles. S.A. Franklin has kept all the departments of the production at an admirable level.


Josephine Mowbray, known as Jo Norma Talmadge
Harrison Wade Thomas Meighan
Nina Stockley, later Nina Marr Florence Billings
Huntley McMerton Alec B. Francis
Peter Marr Walter McEwen
Eunice Galway Amelia Summerville
Lawyer A. Brooke
Matron S. Liston

Story by Angie Ousley Rooser

Scenario by Kathryn Stuart

Directed by Sydney A. Franklin

The Story.

Left in the care of a woman who betrays her trust and brings up her change in an atmosphere of vice, Josephine Mowbray, the heroine of "The Probation Wife," is about to take the first step on the downward path when the resort kept by her supposed mother is raided, and Josephine is sentenced to a home for wayward girls. She escapes and meets Harrison Wade, who has been attracted by her when Josephine was arrested. Wade takes her home and, as the best means of protecting her, offers to make her his wife. The girl thinks only of getting away from her past and accepts his proposal. Nina Stockley, who has made up her mind to become the mistress of Wade's beautiful home, tries to win him away from his grateful little wife and almost succeeds. He is much in Nina's company, but Josephine, who has learned to love him, does not let her rival have things all her own way. Aided by a wise friend, Huntley McMerton, she arouses Wade's jealousy by appearing in public with her advisor and looking so attractive that her husband realizes that his wife is worth twenty of Nina. The story is told as if narrated by Josephine herself and the last scene shows her, proud and happy, with her baby in her arms.

Program and Advertising Phrases: Norma Talmadge Star of Convincing Photo-drama of Sociological Revelations.

Love and Gratitude Combine to Convince Man of His Folly

Intensely Dramatic Vision of Romantic Love Requited.

Norma Talmadge Presented In Her Greatest Screen Opportunities.

Originality of Plot and Skill In Presentation Assure Ideal Entertainment.

Advertising Angles: Work chiefly upon Miss Talmadge's popularity, but hook the play up to her own attraction. Tell that in this story she give three powerful characterizations of one woman: the cabaret favorite, the reformatory drudge and the loving wife. Contrast these phases with the Indian girl in "The Heart of Wetona" and the Chinese and Eurasian in "The Forbidden City." Make them interested in the play because she plays in it.

Advertising Aids: Two one-sheets, two three-sheets, one six-sheet, one 24-sheet. Window cards, 14x21. Heralds. Lobby display photographs, 6x10,11x14, 22x28. Slides. Cuts, two-one-column, two two-column, one one-half column cut of star and one-one-column and one two-column cuts of star.

Released in March

Viewing comments

This movie is confusing, it can't seem to make up its mind about what it wants to be. It starts out with comic titles, then switches to drama until the last reel. It's one of those where you have the feeling they changed plots halfway through and tried to patch it together. It's missing reel 2, but i'm not sure that would have helped. After bizarre titles informing you that most women know how to treat a man but few know how to mistreat one, "for husbands are like Indians--you've got to treat 'em rough once in a while to keep them on the job." Thus entirely baffled as to what that is supposed to signify, you then see Norma explain to a woman how to get her husband back by relating her life story, which is seemingly unrelated. She is advised by Alec B. Francis to get her husband interested in her by making him jealous. I guess that's the mistreating part. Then her pomeranian Dinky runs around and even gets a dialogue title. This one didn't do much for me, despite the good cast (and cute dog).
Print viewed: 35 mm print at the Library of Congress.

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Last revised, October 13, 2010