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The Sign on the Door (1921)

The Sign on the Door (1921) Norma Talmadge Productions/ First National. Produced by Joseph M. Schenck. Directed by Herbert Brenon. Adapted by Mary Murillo and Herbert Brenon. Photographed by J. Roy Hunt. Technical director, Willard M. Reinecke. Cast: Norma Talmadge, Charles Richman, Lew Cody, David Proctor, Augustus Balfour, Mac Barnes, Helen Weir, Robert Agnew, Martinie Burnlay, Paul McAllister, Louis Hendricks, Walter Bussel. 7 reels. A copy of this film is located at the Library of Congress (35 mm.)

See also a still photo from the J. Willis Sayre photograph collection at the University of Washington.

cover During the course of this film, Norma pulls the combs out of her hair and rips this lovely dress. (click thumbnail for larger image)
Review from Variety
Review from Photoplay (with photo)
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Review from Variety, January 10, 1921


Mrs. "Lafe" Regan Norma Talmadge
"Lafe" Regan Charles Richman
Frank Devereaux Lew Cody
Colonel Gaunt David Proctor
Ferguson Augustus Balfour
"Kick" Callahan Mack Barnes
Helen Regan Helen Weir
Alan Churchill Robert Agnew
Marjorie Blake Martinie Burnlay
Whiting, Dist. Atty. Paul McAllister
Inspector Treffy Lew Hendricks
Bates, Regan butler Walter Bussel

The play of this name by Channing Pollock was a Broadway hit. This First National feature presented by Joseph M. Schenck at the Strand with Norma Talmadge starred follows closely the lines of the play and the result is a melodrama suited to the market. But it fails to loose your enthusiasm, to start the riot it should. Why? The direction. On the continuity Mary Murillo collaborated with Herbert Brenon and between them they managed at times to carry the action forward almost entirely by use of titles, a bad and irritating fault.

Mr. Brenon's direction is the sort of direction criticized in English film offerings, stilted, set, inelastic. He seems to feel himself constantly confined within the four walls of the speaking stage. His touch is apparent in the acting, too. Miss Talmadge's reputation rests on her naturalness, the simple, straight-forward wistful appeal she gets onto the screen. But, thanks probably to the directing, she is here at times so much the actress it is apparent to a skilled observer. The careless abandon that is life itself has given way to a trained, well thought out attempt to make a graceful picture. The attempt succeeds, but for popular purposes is regrettable.

What has happened in a far lesser degree to Miss Talmadge almost ruins Charles Richman's performance. One of our ablest leading men, in this picture he stalks, struts, is forever a reminder of the artificiality so necessary to avoid in artistic copies of the action of life. Lew Cody escapes the general feeling so noticeable elsewhere in this production. So does Paul McAllister, and little Helen Weir was a huggable subdeb all the way. As an example of what happened, take the comedy relief in the scene among the youngsters where the boy and girl quarrel. Miss Weir came through it safely, but Robert Agnew acted as if he had rehearsed it 100 times before he appeared sufficiently ridiculous to suit the production judge.

As a background to all these objections is the opinion of the backgrounds themselves. For a time, inserts were made so "artistic," so much over-decorated it was hard to read the titles. Now producers are encouraging a new fault, "artistic" scene sets and photography. Many of the scenes in "The Sign on the Door" are so shaded, blended, faded, as to obscure the action. In those half lighted interiors it is difficult to guess, let alone know, exactly what is going on, but at the end when Mr. Brenon began concentrating on that final cross examination he showed marked skill, emphasizing each point up to the punch--the "I believe you" of the District Attorney. This scored.

The story is well known. Devereaux, son of a rich man, tries to take advantage of his father's stenographer. The result is something embarrassing to her when she attempts years later to rescue her stepdaughter from the same man. The big situation is when her husband kills Devereaux in self defense, little knowing his wife is on the premises, and the final action is a swift, tense clearing of the whole situation.


Review from Photoplay, October 1921

Norma Talmadge and Lew Cody

THE SIGN ON THE DOOR--First National

Norma Talmadge is most effective when she is standing at bay, her hair partly down, the left shoulder-strap of her modish evening gown torn from its moorings, and a high powered gun in her hand. "The Sign on the Door" is a drawing-room melodrama which combines all of these features; and so Miss Talmadge appears to advantage. The cast includes Lew Cody and Charles Richman. Herbert Benon [sic] directed.

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The Sign on the Door is an exciting thriller in which Lew Cody is in possession of a compromising photo of Talmadge. Trying to prevent her suspicious and highly moral husband's teenaged daughter from running off with Cody, Talmadge arrives at his hotel to plead her case and hides when her husband arrives. Cody pulls out a gun, and in the ensuing scuffle is killed. The husband tries to make it look like suicide as he wipes the fingerprints and puts the gun in Cody's hand, hangs a "do not disturb me" sign on the door, and locks the door as he leaves, not realizing that he has locked his wife in the room. In a bravura scene for Talmadge lasting half a reel, she tries the door, attempts to pick the lock, panics, and finally thinks of a plan. She pulls down her hair, rips her dress, knocks over furniture, picks up the telephone, shouts and shoots the gun. When the detectives arrive, she repeats it all again, but, unfortunately, they are unimpressed with her performance. All is eventually resolved in a highly unlikely manner, but it is still an effective and unpretentious film that gives Talmadge a nice chance to show off, though the character's efforts seem to be wasted on such a sanctimonious and hypocritical husband.
Print viewed: 35 mm. at the Library of Congress

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Last revised, March 31, 2006