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The Isle of Conquest (1919)

This lost film was made by the Norma Talmadge Film Company and distributed by Select Pictures Corporation. It was shot in New York and Florida in 1919, and released in October of that year. It was produced by Talmadge's husband Joseph M. Schenck, directed by Edward José from a scenario by Anita Loos and John Emerson, and was photographed by David Able. It was also the film debut of Talmadge's younger sister Natalie, who had a much more substantial role in her Yes or No? (1920).

The cast was Cast: Norma Talmadge (Ethel Harmon), Wyndham Standing (John Arnold), Charles Gerard (Van Surdam), Hedda Hopper (Mrs. Hopper), Natalie Talmadge (Janice Harmon), Claire Whitney (Claire Wilson), Gareth Hughes (Jack Frazier), Joe Smiley (Dr. Chase).

A couple of stills stamped on the back by Norma's pubicity director Beulah Livingsstone. On the left is a picture of Edward Jose, Norma and her dog Dinky, Hedda Hopper, and Natalie. The snipe indicates that it was taken at Norma's Bayside home but it looks more to me like the women are in costume for Isle of Conquest and probably on location in Florida. The amusing still at right from the film shows Wyndham Standing, Norma, and a couple of nuts.
English advertising for the film. Thanks to Derek Boothroyd for this picture. Click thumbnail to view larger picture.

Review from Variety
Review from the New York Times
Review from Moving Picture World

Review from Variety, October 31, 1919


Norma Talmadge has a way of making you wonder at first where she got her reputation. Then she reaches out that firm white hand of hers and closes it round your heart, and she has done this in "The Isle of Conquest," released by Joseph M. Schenck at the Rivoli Sunday, as she has not done it since she was screened in "Panthea."

This adaptation by John Emerson and Anita Loos of "By Right of Conquest," Arthur's Hornblow's novel, is great stuff. It should slip money into the purse of any exhibitor, for it comes to grips with a great problem. It sets it forth picturesquely. The telling is moving, and touches the heart, but the problem is not solved.

It is dodged instead, as is usually done in life as well as art. Only David Graham Phillips, in "The Hungry Heart," worked through to a conclusion. Balzac washed his hands of one in "La Duchesse de Langeais," and who are Arthur Hornblow and the Emerson-Loos combination to attempt what the great Frenchman ducked?

At any rate, they don't. On the contrary, to make a final close-up they kill off a useless husband and so leave everyone happy. The story is of a young school girl whose mother finds her own charms failing. Mother thereupon fetches daughter from school, pawns her jewels, succeeds in marrying her off to a millionaire, and so solves the pocketbook problem. By her intrigue, however, she has created another for Ethel, who does not love the exhausted libertine to whom she has been united, and thinks all men are like him.

They go on an ocean trip, and in the midst of the Captain's masked ball a submarine sinks the liner. Ethel is rescued by a stoker, and the two find themselves alone on a desert isle. He is a former college man, engaged to a girl who preferred wealth to the luxury of his company. When he found this out he promptly made an ass of himself, smashed all the furniture and drank himself into the depths. And now he informs Ethel that he hates women. She responds in kind--and so they grow to love each other--well, nature marries them.

The following day they are rescued by the husband on his yacht, and that night when she repulses him he attacks her and she is rescued by the lover. Heart failure disposes of the husband. So the affair is worked out, but a bald statement of the facts gives no idea of the charm and humor supplied the picture by the capable hands of Emerson and Loos or of Edward Jose's expert direction.

On the credit side should be placed the elaborate settings, the convincing detail supplied the shipwreck scenes. On the debit side is the way Miss Talmadge was dressed when she was supposed still to be a debutante--a much too low cut gown--and some other minor points. For one thing, well bred men do not kiss a young girl's hand.

Wyndham Standing and Charles Gerard were fair in the star's support. Miss Talmadge, herself, is the Ethel Barrymore of the screen, and by the very range of her ability puts other players in the shade.


Review from the New York Times, October 27, 1919

"The Isle of Conquest," adapted by John Emerson and Anita Loos from Arthur Hornblow's novel, "By Right of Conquest," is the photoplay at the Rivoli. The picture is directed by Edward Jose, with Norma Talmadge in the leading role. The association of all these persons in its production means that it is an excellently done work of its kind, and its kind is the popular novel usually in mind when one refers to a "best seller." The heroine marries a bad husband, the hero is jilted by a foolish girl, each hates the opposite sex, they are shipwrecked on the same island, and--"I didn't believe there were any men like you"--"I didn't believe there were any women like you"--business of eliminating the very bad husband--and all's well that ends well, if you like the story.

Mr. Jose has made a scene of a sinking ship which deserves to be classed with his other pictorial achievements. Miss Talmadge's youngest sister, Natalie, makes her screen debut in the picture, but does not show what, if any, unusual talents she has. Wyndham Standing, Charles Gerard, and Claire Whitney are especially good among those in the cast.

"The Fireman," a revived Chaplin comedy, is also at the Rivoli.

O 27, 1919, 9:3

Review in Moving Picture World, November 8, 1919


Norma Talmadge in [sic] one of those youthful heroines which she looks so charmingly and acts with so much feeling and skill is the star of this picture, adapted by John Emerson and Anita Loos from Arthur Hornblow's novel, "The Right of Conquest," and directed by Edward Jose. Natalie Talmadge, the youngest of the three Talmadge sisters, makes her screen debut in the Hornblow story and comes off with flying colors. There is little novelty in the plot. Ethel Harmon is taken from a convent by her mother and introduced to a wealthy profligate in the hopes that he will marry the girl and relieve the Harmon family from genteel poverty. He does so, but his conduct soon makes him an object of repulsion to his wife. John Arnold, who turns against all women when the girl he was to marry becomes the mistress of the millionaire, takes to drinking and is acting as a stoker when Ethel first crosses his path.

The ship is hit by a torpedo, and Arnold helps Ethel to reach the shore of a desert island. They both distrust the opposite sex, and take no trouble to conceal the fact at first. Three months in each other's company completely changes this feeling and they are just about to perform a wedding ceremony and become man and wife when the millionaire husband and Ethel's sister arrive on the scene and all parties concerned return to civilization. Here the millionaire attempts to assert his rights as a husband, and dies of heart failure. Arnold and Ethel are left free to have their wedding performed in the customary manner.

This romantic story will prove excellent entertainment for the many admirers of Norma Talmadge. IT has great variety of incident and the production is in keeping with all demands. The finish is an inspiration and will please everyone immensely.

Trivia from Photoplay

In the March 1920 issue, "Why-do-they-do-it" column, Fred E. from New York City writes:

Food for Thought: A sub-title in "The Isle of Conquest," a Norma Talmadge picture, stated that Wyndham Standing was going in quest of food. But upon returning he had an armful of wood.

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Last revised, October 12, 2010