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Ashes of Vengeance (1923)

Ashes of Vengeance (1923) Norma Talmadge Film Co./First National. Produced by Joseph M. Schenck. Directed and adapted by Frank Lloyd. Photography by Tony Gaudio. Costumes: Walter J. Israel and Clare West. Cast: Norma Talmadge, Conway Tearle, Wallace Beery, Josephine Crowell, Betty Francisco, Claire McDowell, Courtenay Foote, Howard Truesdell, Jeanne Carpenter, Forrest Robinson, James Cooley, Boyd Irwin, Winter Hall, William Clifford, Murdock MacQuarrie, Hector V. Sarno, Earl Schenck, Lucy Beaumont, Mary McAllister, Kenneth Gibson, Carmen Phillips, Rush Hughes, Frank Leigh, André de Beranger. 10 reels. A copy of this film is held by the Library of Congress (35 mm.) and by George Eastman House and was on youTube last time i looked.

A Painting of Norma in costume for the picture on Silent Ladies

Norma Talmadge in Ashes of Vengeance A clipping from Theatre Magazine. Thanks to Derek Boothroyd for this scan.

Review from Variety
Photoplay review (with photo)
Review and Report from Moving Picture World
Viewing comments

Review from Variety, August 30, 1923


First National picture, presented by Joseph Schenck and starring Norma Talmadge. Directed by Frank Lloyd, from the script of H. B. Somerville, with Tony Gaudio the photographer. At the Apollo, New York. Projection time, 111 minutes.

Yoeland de Breux Norma Talmadge
Rupert de Vrieac Conway Tearle
Duc de Tours Wallace Beery
Catherine de Medici Josephine Crowell
Margot de Vainoorie Betty Francisco
Margo's aunt Claire McDowell
Comte de la Roche Courtenay Foote
Father Paul Forrest Robinson
Paul James Colley
Charles IX Andre de Beranger
Duc de Guise Boyd Irwin

A pretty picture not emphasized with action but held up by the work of Miss Talmadge and Conway Tearle. Split into two parts the film is at the Apollo as a "special showing."

The film is another costume effort and picturesque if nothing else. On interior of the upper strata of mediaeval France attending a ball at the King's palace was worthy of note, and as it is used to put the story under way it becomes doubly effective.

Many of the outdoor scenes are attractive with the remainder of the interiors appropriate and upon occasions, lavish.

The picture lacks nothing in production with the photography giving it full value except in one instance where the lighting is extremely bad. That is when Tearle is in bed, with Miss Talmadge watching over him.

Lloyd, in directing, seems to have obtained all the results possible from the story. It is always pleasing to the eye and in a drowsy manner that would be perfect to watch were one installed in a loge chair at the Capitol.

The story deals with a lifelong feud between the Vrieac and Roche families. Rupert de Vrieac (Tearle) engages in a duel with the Comte de la Roche, who succumbs to his mercy, but Rupert allows him his life as a result of an outburst of satirical generosity. The same night the attach upon the Huguenots is launched and the Comte returns the favor by saving Rupert, an avowed member, and his betrothed from the mob under condition that the Vrieac representative will become his servant for a period of five years.

The bondage becomes effective immediately with the meeting of Yoeland de Breux (Miss Talmadge), the Comte's sister, and Rupert coming as a matter of course. While in the role of servant Rupert learns of his fiancee's marriage to another. Numerous heroic deeds have endeared him to Yoeland and the finale is reached when the Comte prematurely gives him back his freedom as a reward and the sister and Rupert declare their love for each other.

The cast has turned in a nice piece of work, but it is Miss Talmadge and Mr. Tearle who predominate. Wallace Beery as the cowardly Duc de Tours is the only other member to gain particular attention and this he does emphatically.


Review from Photoplay

Review from Photoplay, October 1923

Norma Talmadge and Conway Tearle in a scene from Ashes of Vengeance

ASHES OF VENGEANCE--First National. This production is one of the first of the promised flood of costume pictures. It is doubtful if any of the others will be more beautifully staged and costumed, or more effectively photographed. It is a story of the time of Catherine de Medici and Charles IX, her son, King of France, when the old queen forced the weak-brained ruler to sign the order for the massacre of the Huguenots. This massacre of St. Bartholomew's Eve, which is strikingly done, is introduced early in the picture to give an excuse for the really charming love story on which the play is based. The grand ballroom in the Louvre is said to be the largest interior set ever built and it certainly looks it.

Director Frank Lloyd has told a most interesting story and has placed it in fascinating surroundings. But he has been too careful in his attention to detail, as a result of which the picture drags at times and is frequently inclined to tediousness. Miss Talmadge gives a delightful portrayal of the proud Yoeland de Breux, although, peculiarly enough, it seems at times as if she were more the leading lady than the star, so brightly does Conway Tearle shine in the role of her lover.

There are many bits of real action--thrilling sword play and exciting fights to keep suspense pretty much in the foreground.

Running close to Miss Talmadge and Mr. Tearle in the excellence of acting is Wallace Beery, who can always be relied upon to create a repellant villain.

The picture is over long which is, in a way, fortunate, because judicious cutting will improve it. Scenically, improvement is hardly possible.

Review and Report from Moving Picture World, Aug. 18, 1923

"Ashes of Vengeance"

First National Production Starring Norma Talmadge is stupendous Drama of Medieval France

Reviewed by C.S. Sewell

"Stupendous" is the one word that fittingly describes "Ashes of Vengeance." Norma Talmadge's newest First National production, which has just opened at prices ranging up to $2 at the Apollo Theatre, New York, a house usually devoted to the spoken drama. It is a costume play with a historical background, the action occurring in the sixteenth century during the stirring period of intense religious-political rivalry, when the weak French king was but a tool in the hands of the faction headed by his unscrupulous mother, Catherine De Medici, whose schemes culminated in the massacre of the Huguenots on St. Bartholomew's Eve.

Never has the screen presented a more magnificent or gigantic presentation. Those were the days when the nobles lived in huge castles, surrounded by scores of their own soldiers; when the beauty and gorgeousness of men's apparel vied with those of the women. All of this is depicted on a scale that indicates unlimited research and practical disregard for expense in having everything historically accurate and on the same tremendous scale as the original.

Whole blocks of medieval French streets were built, and there are interior scenes of rooms in the palaces that make the spectator marvel at this feat of construction, but not only do they impress from the point of size and magnificence, but because of the accuracy and care, even to the smallest detail.

This is also true of the costuming, but there are literally hundreds of characters garbed in gorgeous silk, lace and velvet and scores of retainers on horseback clothed in the livery and armor of their masters. A striking scene indicative of the scope of the production is the marriage celebration in the ballroom of the Louvre, said to be the largest interior set ever built, with hundreds of gorgeously costumed men and women dancing the stately minuet in perfect rhythm, stretching back almost as far as the eye can see. This alone is a wonderful directorial feat that reflects great credit on Director Frank Lloyd, and the handling of the entire production is in keeping with this scene.

Don't get the impression that the human interest story has been dwarfed by the scale of the production, for the theme is one of a great love that, despite all difficulties and in face of hereditary pride, overcomes a tremendous hate that has endured for generations between two families. True it is that because of the multiplicity of characters and events leading up to this romance, the heart of the story is some time in getting under way, and considerable footage has elapsed before the star appears on the scene; but from then on the story, though it at no time assumed a very rapid movement, holds the interest, and the perfection of the "atmosphere" makes it all seem very real and living. This is especially true after the introduction of the despicable Duc de Tours, whose actions precipitate situations which arouse intense disgust for him and sympathy and admiration for the others.

Naturally, with a story of this kind, there is much sword-play, with duel scenes and hand-to-hand fighting. All of this is exceedingly well done. No attempt has been made to inject comedy relief, though there are some amusing situations. The entire action is in keeping with the period portrayed, even to the introduction of scenes which may seem unnecessarily cruel to many patrons, as, for instance, the brutal massacre of innocents on St. Bartholomew's Eve, the straining of a wolf to free itself from its chains, and its fight with the hero after it has done so, as well as the scenes where the duke, to win the princess, has the torturer prepare to blind the hero with red hot irons.

Though the cast is a large and admirable one, and the work of all is in keeping with the production, the bulk of the action falls on the shoulders of a few players, all of whom give excellent performances, and seem thoroughly imbued with the spirit of the story. Norma Talmadge has never been seen to better advantage, and her performance is truly excellent. As the duke's sister, clad in gorgeous gowns, she is beautiful to look at--imperious and gracious as the occasion requires--and is just as effective when the real woman stands revealed in the beauty of a great love. Conway Tearle measures up to the requirements of the role opposite the heroine. Wallace Beery plays a close second to the star for acting honors as the villainous, blustering but cowardly duke. Courtenay Foote gives as fine performance as the proud brother of the heroine. Andre De Beranger, Murdock McQuarrie and Josephine Crowell are effective in smaller roles, and little Jeanne Carpenter is lovable as a little bed-ridden girl.

"Ashes of Vengeance" ranks high in entertainment value, justifies the use of superlatives, shows to a remarkable extent the almost unlimited possibilities of the screen in reproducing scenes and events of other days.


Yoeland de Breux Norma Talmadge
Rupert DeVrieac Conway Tearle
Duc de Tours Wallace Beery
Catherine De Medici Josephine Crowell
Margot de Vaincoire Betty Francisco
Comte DeLa Roche Courtenay Foote
Father Paul Forrest Robinson
Charles IX Andre DeBeranger
Bishop Winter Hall
Andre William Clifford
Carlotte Murdock McQuarrie
Gallon Hector V. Sarno
Blais Earl Schenck
Anne Jeanne Carpenter
Denise Mary McAllister
Phillips Kenneth Gibson
Marie Carmen Phillips
Luigi Frank Leigh

Based on a novel by H.B. Somerville
Directed by Frank Lloyd
Photographed by Tony Gaudio.
Length--Ten reels.

In a duel involving his fiancee, Rupert De Vrieac conquers his hereditary enemy Comte de La Roche but spares his life, thus placing De Roche under an obligation to him. That night the massacre of the Huguenots occurs and De Roche repays the debt by saving both De Vrieac and his fiancee on condition that De Vrieac will become his servant for five years. At La Poche's castle DeVrieac is subjected to humiliation at the hands of La Roche and his sister, Yoeland, his only friend being their little lame sister, Anne. Yoeland goes to visit her cousin and Vrieac is a member of her escort. There, the despicable Duc De Tours seeks to win her, and De Vriac defends her at the risk of his life. This and other things arouse Yoeland's admiration and finally her love, but pride stands in the way. Finally at Yoeland's request, De Vrieac is released from his oath of servitude and the feud between the two families ends with the avowal of love between De Vrieac and Yoeland.

Norma Starts Run of Her Ten-reeler

New York's filmdom was treated to another formal premiere when Joseph M. Schenck presented the biggest picture he has made, Norma Talmadge in "Ashes of Vengeance," at the Apollo Theatre on the evening of August 6. It is a First National picture, scheduled for September release.

Heretofore Schenck has been content to offer Miss Talmadge in six and seven-reel productions of considerable size but not, however, on the "Robin Hood" scale. In "Ashes of Vengeance" he entered new fields. The picture is lavish and spectacularly produced and well able to occupy the entire program. No comedy or short subject is on the bill, and the prologue was omitted the opening night.

The industry, how grown accustomed to spectacular productions, nevertheless sat upright, blinked in amazement and nodded in appreciation at the scale on which Frank Lloyd directed the picture. There was the ballroom of the Louvre Palace as it was in the sixteenth century and 1,200 knights and ladies dancing the minuet in costumes of the period; there were half a score of sword clashes--and at the same time a wealth of romance and plenty of opportunity for Miss Talmadge to show just why she is considered a great dramatic actress. The star's supporting cast includes Conway Tearle, Wallace Beery, Mary McAllister, Betty Francisco, Josephine Crowell, Jeanne Carpenter and Courtney Foote.

Viewing comments

Ashes of Vengeance was Norma Talmadge's contribution to the elephantine costume genre afflicting Hollywood at this time. A rather lumbering ten reel affair, it is an action adventure rather than her usual woman's film. Talmadge, who doesn't appear until the third reel, is relegated to a leading lady role. She spends most of her screen time being unpleasant to Conway Tearle in an unsuccessful effort to keep from falling in love with him. Wallace Beery easily steals the picture as the cowardly bully who causes most of the plot complications. According to Screen News (Apr. 29, 1927, Walter Israel, Wardrobe Dept. Chief for Scheck, was shopping for fabric for the costumes for this film. However, Photoplay in January 1924 credits Clare West, Norma's "exclusive" designer, with the costumes.
Print viewed: complete 35 mm. print from the Library of Congress.

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Last revised, December 27, 2015