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Woman Disputed (1928)

cover Click on the cover to view the souvenir program (with lots of pictures)

The Woman Disputed (1928) United Artists. Produced by Joseph M. Schenck. Directed by Henry King and Sam Taylor. Scenario and titles by C. Gardner Sullivan. Photography by Oliver Marsh. Set Design by William Cameron Menzies. Edited by Hal Kern. Musical score by Hugo Riesenfeld. Song "Woman Disputed I Love You" by Bernie Grossman and Eddie Ward. Based on the story Boule de Suif by Guy de Maupassant. Cast: Norma Talmadge, Gilbert Roland, Arnold Kent, Boris De Fas, Michael Vavitch, Gustav von Seiffertitz, Gladys Brockwell, Nicholas Soussanin. 9 reels, Movietone score. A copy of this film (35 mm., silent only) is located at the Library of Congress.

These pictures come courtesy of Cleo in Luxembourg. Click on thumbnails for larger views
This heavy makeup is worn only during the first part of Woman Disputed and is a look she has in no other film. Portrait of Norma Talmadge in costume for Woman Disputed

Portrait of Norma Talmadge and Gilbert Roland in Woman disputed With Gilbert Roland. They seem to have spent a lot of time in the studio shooting romantic poses.

Sheet music for the infamous theme song "Woman Disputed, I love you". Click here to listen to an excerpt of a damaged disc by The Gennett Concert Orchestra with a male soloist, recorded in 1928. Thanks to Jeff Cohen at the Vitaphone Varieties blog for permission to mount a copy of this recording. The existing print of the film lacks the music track. Note that neither the recording nor the sheet music contain the phrase: "though you're refuted, woman disputed I love you." This story came from Alexander Walker's The Shattered Silents, p.82, though he did not cite his source. Another movie urban legend bites the dust!

Woman Disputed, I Love You sheet music 1 Woman Disputed, I Love You sheet music 2 Woman Disputed, I Love You sheet music 3 Woman Disputed, I Love You sheet music 4

Still photos from Silent Ladies

Picture 1                      Picture 2                     Picture 3                     Picture 4                     Picture 5

Review from Variety
Review from Photoplay
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Review from Variety, November 14, 1928


United Artists production and release. Directed by Henry King and Sam Taylor. Based on the play by Danison Clift, adaptation and scenario by C. Gardner Sullivan. Starring Norma Talmadge. Gilbert Roland featured. Photographed by Oliver Marsh. At the Rivoli New York, Nov. 9, for a run on grind, $1 top. Running time, 87 min.

Mary Ann Wagner

Norma Talmadge
Paul Hartman Gilbert Roland
Nika Turgenov Arnold Kent
The Passer-by Boris de Fas
Father Roche Michael Vavitch
Otto Kreuger Gustav von Seiffertiz
The Countess Gladys Rockwell (i.e. Brockwell)

In its translation to the screen, Denison Clift's stage play has obviously lost some of its sophistication and a great deal of its charm. The directors, Henry King and Sam Taylor, with the aid of the continuity, have not done as well a clever motif of the nature provides for. But there is little doubt as to its possibilities in the de luxe picture houses for a week's run and in the bookings following.

There are just enough of those qualities retained which are indisputably recognized in the trade as of sufficient interest to draw considerable attention to any box office. Especially so where the picture is allowed to run as shown in New York without further cuts.

The story opens and continues with a fallen woman as its major subject. The treatment is such as will practically insure matinee business.

Following the opening sequences which include a suicide in the girl's room, action slows until the introduction of the war theme, running concurrently with the story of the sacrifice a woman of loose morals was prevailed to make on behalf of her nation.

The picture tells of this girl being adopted by two young officers of the Austrian and Russian armies, lifted out of the slime of street life and given some covering of respectability through their friendship. Each falls in love with the girl and wishes to marry her. She chooses Hartman (Roland) and as a result the latter incurs the hatred of Nika (Arnold Kent).

The supreme sacrifice comes when the Russian army is shown invading Lemberg under the leadership of Nika. Austrians are forbidden to leave the city. A priest, Father Roche, and three prominent citizens of the town are caught trying to get away. They are sentenced to be shot for disobeying military orders. Unconcerned about her own welfare, Mary Wagner refuses to accede to Nika's proposal that she come to him willingly and he would release all of those concerned. The priest, an Austrian Spy, reveals his identity to the girl, impresses her with her duty to her nation, shows her how his freedom and a chance to escape would give the Austrian army victory, and she goes to Nika.

Paul arrives the next morning at the head of the victorious Austrian army. He finds Mary in church, praying. Nika is dying, but conscious, and still imbued with a strong hatred which impels him to give Paul an idea of what occurred. Paul leaves the girl, but hears of her objective in connection with Nika from the commanding officer.

In molding the character of the bag swinger the directors have worked skillfully. She is changed firmly and unhurriedly into a brave, wholesome, likable person. Her relations with the two young men, on a basis of friendship only despite their knowledge of her previous life, seems logical. But here during this process, the picture is not very interesting. It is as the frightened, ill-mannered, foul creature of the night and then, later, as the changed woman that the story rouses interest. Too much has been allowed for the changing process.

All the arts of photography fail to protect Miss Talmadge in many of the sequences. Hard lines and faulty posing from different angles detract from her performance.

Kent, as the menace, does well until his final appearance in his death sequence. It is too heavily overdrawn, out of proportion to the smooth, even direction which characterizes the general tone of the picture. Roland serves as the lead.


Review from Photoplay, December 1928.

[Omitted, photo of Talmadge dressed as streetwalker, sitting and looking up at a police officer at the door. Arnold Kent and Gilbert Roland stand in the center of the picture.]


A dynamic drama in which Norma Talmadge exalts a Magdalen to the level of a patriotic saint. She gives a picturesque, yet powerful characterization of a demi-mondaine; it is undoubtedly Miss Talmadge's greatest contribution to the screen. She plays with subtlety, delicacy, and restraint in a part which could so easily be morbid and maudlin.

One Mary Ann Wagner, an Austrian girl, is unjustly accused of murder. Two fashionable young army officers, a Russian and an Austrian, befriend her. She drops the life she has been forced into, and eagerly accepts the work they find for her. Both officers fall in love with the girl, and their life-long friendship turns to bitter hate. Russian declares war on Austria, and the three part.

The man go to their respective regiments, and Mary Ann to the fields with her countrywomen. She is regenerated through her love for the Austrian officer and her country. When the Russians seize Lemberg, her home, the unsuccessful lover, commanding the invading army, demands her embraces for the lives of many Austrians sentenced to death. The ensuing climax and denouement is drama of the greatest poignancy, powerfully handled by Miss Talmadge.

Arnold Kent gives a magnificent characterization of Nicolai Tourgenov, the Russian, and Gilbert Roland, as Paul von Hartmann, the Austrian, registers another personal conquest. A gorgeous production, smoothly directed--and a distinct triumph for every member of the cast.

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With the sound revolution swiftly approaching, Talmadge made her list silent, Woman Disputed, in 1928. Based on Guy de Maupassant's Boule de Suif, it is a remarkable film which, unseen for many years, has received an unjustly negative reputation. Director Henry King reportedly disliked the picture and some scenes were completed by Sam Taylor. It was also caught in the theme song craze which plagued many silents with synchronized scores. This film was afflicted with a notoriously ridiculous example, among whose lyrics was "though you're refuted, woman disputed I love you." The Library of Congress print lacks the music track and without that distraction a fascinating and highly unconventional film emerges, with an unusually non-judgmental view of prostitution. The ending which, while surprising and highly unlikely, is quite vicariously satisfying, especially for a female audience. Much derision has been directed at it, though, and it's quite likely that the intrusion of the absurd theme song at this point would have induced laughter. However, the scene was appreciated by Marjorie Rosen, who in her Popcorn Venus wrote "this tribute is at once comical, moving, and provincial … This army represented every man who had put her in business and reviled her for it. Now they grovel in gratitude…" It is interesting, given Talmadge's reputation, to find that her last silent film ends with the leading man in tears. In hindsight, the onscreen honoring of Talmadge may also be seen as a tribute to a great actress and star in her farewell to the art form which she had so graced. The film has an excellent supporting cast and an outstanding performance by the star. Definitely not a film for everyone, but worthwhile for those who appreciate unusual women's films.
Print viewed: 35mm at the Library of Congress, no music track

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Last revised, February 8, 2009