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Yes or No (1920)

Yes or No (1920) Norma Talmadge Film Corporation/First National. Produced by Joseph M. Schenck. Directed by R. William Neill. Scenario by Mary Murillo. Titles by Burns Mantle. Camera, Ernest Haller. Cast: Norma Talmadge, Frederick Burton, Lowell Sherman, Lionel Adams, Rockcliffe Fellowes, Natalie Talmadge, Edward S. Brophy, Dudley Clements, Gladden James, Dinky. 6 reels. A copy of this film is located at the Library of Congress (35 mm.)

Norma, in a blond wig, playing the bad half of her double role in Yes or No. Wearing a rare fashion disaster, she consults with rake Lowell Sherman. Yes or No
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Review from Variety
Review from the New York Times
Review from The New York Dramatic Mirror
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Review from Variety, July 9, 1920

"YES OR NO?"

Margaret Vane Norma Talmadge
Minnie Berry Norma Talmadge
Donald Vane Frederick Burton
Paul Derreck Lowell Sherman
Doctor Malley Lionel Adams
Jack Berry Radcliffe [i.e. Rockcliffe] Fellowes
Emma Martin Natalie Talmadge
Tom Martin Edward S. Broony [i.e. Brophy]
Horace Hooker Dudley Clements

Instead of the divided stage, as in the spoken version, "Yes or No?" as a feature picture has been produced through the medium of flashbacks, alternating between scenes depicting the life of the rich and the poor. It is admirably done with Norma Talmadge playing both the rich and the poor wife. As the rich wife she is palpably wearing a wig of light color, which is not nearly as becoming to her as her own hair.

This same story, less classily handled, would make the cheapest kind of a picture. It serves to show that a really high-class production can make of almost any tale a feature fit to be employed in these advanced days as a first run attraction in a Broadway cinema. Stripped of its aforesaid "class" it would be commonplace, old-fashioned melodrama. It show a rich and a poor wife, both of them feeling themselves neglected and put to the same temptation--the offer of another man to take up with her. The rich wife accepts and is jilted a year later while the poor wife drudges on, her husband invents a washing machine so she won't have to work so hard, throws the boarder down the stairs and becomes wealthy, and at the finish they are seated at the fireside, with children, lamps "and everything," showing the reward of virtue.

All the more credit is due Miss Talmadge for lifting so mediocre a plot out of the low plane of conventionalism and making it appear to be something it really isn't. Next to the star the best performance is contributed by Gladden James as the would-seducer of the poor man's wife, but for some unknown reason his name does not appear on the program at the Strand, where this picture is the current week's feature. The successful betrayer of the rich man's wife is Lowell Sherman, who ranks today as probably the best actor playing this class of parts on New York's legitimate stage. It is regretfully recorded here that Mr. Sherman does not seem destined to occupy the same high position in the silent drama. He overacts and resorts to a number of his old stock bits of "business"--that of talking over a lady's shoulder, for instance; also an abundance of irreconcilable "eye acting." Perhaps it is camera inexperience. The third of the Talmadge sisters, Natalie, has a comparatively small role in this production--hardly enough of a part for one to form any definite opinion of her chances for success as a screen actress.

Jolo.


Review from the New York Times, July 5, 1920

A husband absorbed in his work exposes his wife to the allurements of a male vampire, to whom the wife will probably say, "Yes," if the husband is rich, and "no," if the husband is poor; also, the wealthy wife who seeks love from the villain will surely come to a bad end, such as suicide while the poor woman who faithfully drudges at home, and will not even go to the movies with her tempter, will live to enjoy health, wealth and happiness, though her husband's suddenly achieving success, as by the invention of a washing machine; and so will virtue be rewarded and frailty punished in this world of unerring justice--according to the moral teaching of "Yes or No," an adaptation of Arthur Goodrich's play, at the Strand this week, with Norma Talmadge doubling in the leading roles.

The story goes vigorously at first, detailing the parallel lives of the two women, and about midway in its course, reaches a high point of dramatic interest, motion pictures being used adroitly to bring out the essentials of the contrast and similarity between the situations faced by the separate wives. With its momentum developed, however, the plot is satisfied to slow down and settle into a rut of theatrical unreality and false moralizing, along which it drags its way to an unduly postponed ending. It is a pity that whoever was responsible for the picture did not realize its possibilities. It could have been genuine and convincing throughout.

The fault is in the story. The acting is generally good. In each of her roles Miss Talmadge is as pleasing to look upon and as definite in pantomime as she usually is, and she receives competent assistance from her sister Natalie as the maid of the rich wife and the sister of the poor one. Others in the cast are Lowell Sherman and Gladden James as the villains, Frederick Burton and Radcliffe Fellows [i.e. Rockcliffe Fellowes] as the husbands, and Edward S. Broony [i.e. Brophy] as one of the "undeserving poor" who says that success comes to "The guy who puts over something" rather than to him who works hard, and who, of course, is refuted by the facts--of this particular piece of fiction. The direction of the production by R. William Neill is good, on the whole, though some of the scenes could have been more effectively lighted.

"Pyrenees and Wooden Legs," a Chester scenic, and the Topical Review are also on the Strand program.

Jl 5, 1920, 12:4



Review from the New York Dramatic Mirror, July 10, 1920

"YES OR NO"

First National Films Norma Talmadge in Sex Problem Drama

Adapted from the play by Arthur Goodrich. A First National Attraction

Margaret Vane Norma Talmadge
Minnie Berry Norma Talmadge
Donald Vane Frederick Burton
Paul Derreck Lowell Sherman
Doctor Malley Lionel Adams
Jack Berry Radcliffe [i.e. Rockcliffe] Fellowes
Emma Martin Natalie Talmadge
Tom Martin Edward S. Broony [i.e. Brophy]
Horace Hooker Dudley Clements

While it has always been Norma Talmadge's good fortune to appear in film successes, she has never had a better opportunity to display her many-sided talent than in "Yes or No."

Not only does the fascinating Norma depict both the society woman who said "yes" and settled the moral score with her butterfly life, and the contrasting role of the hard working wife of the poor man, who had the moral courage to say "no" and as a consequence reaped peace and happiness, but she manages to look as beautiful in the ugly clothes as she does in gorgeous plumage

Radcliffe Fellows as Jack Berry, the poor woman's husband, who invents a washing machine that makes the poor woman rich, handles his role with a manliness that makes his portrayal ring true. On the other hand, Mr. Lowell Sherman, as Paul Derreck, a society Don Juan, was a bit too restrained for the part, his love making lacking the fervor one would expect of the lover who sways the heroine from a fulsome world of luxury to the tangled byways of free love.

Natalie Talmadge, too, played a dual role, alternating as the society woman's maid and the poor woman's sister. Considering her inexperience, the youngest member of the Talmadge Trio shows a remarkable appreciation of her dramatic opportunities.

Edward B. Broony, as Tom Martin, contributes some much needed comedy by his clever characterization of the big brother whose sole interest was teasing and eating.

Although his name does not appear on the program Gladden James, a former Vitagraph favorite, plays the active role of the poor woman's tempter, with his usual dashing style.

All in all, the cast is excellent and the picture one of Norma's best

Elita.


[Omitted, three photos. 1. Norma Talmadge as a society woman, holding a flower 2. Inset, Talmadge as society woman, seated with Lowell Sherman. Caption: At the left, Norma Talmadge in the First National production of "Yes or No" finds out what love means in the upper strata of society. 3. Talmadge and Rockcliffe Fellows, observed by Gladden James. Caption: Above, she meets love in another guise in another social "set" and finds that after all there is not much difference in the well known fifty-seven varieties of passion known to sentimentalists]


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Yes or No is a film of unusual construction which interweaves the stories of two woman, one rich and one poor, both played by Talmadge. The stories are linked together by the maid of the rich woman who is the sister of the poor one, played by real life sister Natalie Talmadge. The titles inform us that the rich woman is unhappy because she is bored, but the maid is happy because she " never had time to be unhappy." She hardly seems happy at home, though, where she is a tough-talking woman engaged in constant verbal and even physical altercations with her lout of a brother. They share the tenement flat of their sister and her family. The sister, though good-natured, is harried and overworked. She is frustrated that she is too busy to ever get out of the flat and seldom sees her hard-working husband. She supports his efforts to improve their circumstances, however, and defends him against her brother and their lecherous boarder. The rich woman, whose husband is too busy to see much of her, says "yes" to the advances of suave Lowell Sherman. The tenement wife is hardly presented with an equal level of temptation in saying "no" to the crude assault of Gladden James. The rich woman is punished by having her husband die and her lover abandon her, and she commits suicide. The poor woman's highly unlikely reward comes when her husband, inspired by watching her constantly wringing out clothes in the sink, invents a washing machine that brings them relative wealth. Yet in their new surroundings, the loutish brother is still there, the wife is still doing the housework, and the final fadeout is on the husband with his nose buried in the newspaper. If there is supposed to be a lesson here, it is not altogether clear, unless it is that overwork prevents infidelity. Despite the faults in the story, Norma Talmadge gives an outstanding performance, bitchy and thoughtless as the rich woman, exasperated but sweet and loyal as the tenement wife. Sister Natalie is also quite good in what was probably the best part she ever had.
Print viewed: 35mm at the Library of Congress.


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Last revised, October 13, 2010