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The Sacred Flame (1929)

The Sacred Flame (1929) Warner Brothers Pictures. Director: Archie Mayo. Scenario-Dialog: Harvey Thew. Titles: De Leon Anthony. Photography: James Van Trees. Editor: James Gribbon. Song, The Sacred Flame: Grant Clarke, Harry Akst. Cast: Pauline Frederick, Conrad Nagel, William Courtenay, Lila Lee, Walter Byron, Alec B. Francis, Dale Fuller. 7 reels, Vitaphone. LOSTthough Vitaphone discs for all reels exist at the UCLA film and Television archives

clipping with picture A clipping from Picture Show Annual. Look at her expression!
Another clipping, presumably from the same issueClipping with pictures
clipping with picture Lila Lee and William Courtenay

Review from Variety

Review from Variety, November 27, 1929

All Dialog

Warner Bros. production and release. Starring Conrad Nagel and Lila Lee. Pauline Frederick and William Courtenay featured. Directed by Archie L. Mayo. Adapted from W. Somerset Maugham's play of same name. Theme song "The Sacred Flame." At Strand, New York, week Nov. 22. Running time, 65 minutes.

Col. Maurice Taylor Conrad Nagel
Stella Lila Lee
Mrs. Taylor Pauline Frederick
Major Laconda William Courtenay
Colin Taylor Walter Byron
Dr. Harvester Alec B. Francis
Nurse Wayland Dale Fuller

Too much talk about a depressing situation withholds this from lively film classification. It's a real talker and some good dramatic performances--good enough, with one exception, to be taken seriously by most audiences, but not the sort that's box office.

W. Somerset Maugham's stage play, imported from England for a short Broadway stay last season, has been boiled to 65 minutes for the screen without much change. But for the wedding scene at he opening and the accident sequence on an air field, no increase in the number of people over the stage company, either. Even the butler in the large household in not seen. When he says "Dinner is served, he says it at long distance, unseen.

A bad item of the picture at the Strand seems to be a bit of ungainly cutting, perhaps enforced by censorship. It arrived a line before the mother completely confesses to the murder of her crippled son. Her fatal words were not spoken, the screen went blank for a second, and when the picture resumed, the dialog (on disc) was in its right place. If a slip in projection of the film, the disc may have run ahead and out of kilter. As it happened, punched a big hole in the finish.

Maughan's story of the young aviator who is crippled in a crack-up on his wedding day, just after the ceremony, keeps Conrad Nagel in a wheel chair until he finally passes out at the hands of his merciful mother toward the end. Unknown to Nagel, his younger brother has replaced him in his pitying young wife's affections. His mother knows it, however, and presumably ends his life so that he may never know.

With some action in place of the solid hour of talk here and there, the flaps would have something to look at. But this way they won't relish the sadness at all.

Nagel does the crippled husband in good style. In his pleasant voice, from the wheel chair, he sings the theme song ("The Sacred Flame"). Number vocalized just that once, but reprised by offscreen orchestra throughout.

Lila Lee is a stunning wife in looks and a good one in acting. All excellent performances by other veterans, with Pauline Frederick's a finished one. The one bad trouping note was that contributed by the sex-starved nurse, as played by Dale Fuller, appeared due to poor direction of this particular player. Miss Fuller over-mugged and over-acted until the audience snickered. A surprise to find her in such a sullen role, for Dale Fuller has a natural comedy pan, having proven it in the past.


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Last revised, August 7, 2009