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Going Straight

A review by Greta de Groat

Going Straight is the second of Norma Talmadge's surviving feature films, and one of her few films available on video. Made in 1916 during her year under contract to Triangle, it is an engaging and suspenseful crime drama.

The films opens on the happy family of Norma and Ralph Lewis, with their two children. As they read a newspaper clipping, it brings back memories of their former life. Several years before, they were part of a criminal gang, with Lewis as one of the ringleaders. Norma was a confederate employed at the houses that they planned to rob, enabling them to pull daring inside jobs. After one of their capers, the police raid the hideout and capture the whole gang, except for Norma, who escapes to the roof and watches as her husband is taken away. None of the gang informs on Norma, so she is never captured. She writes to her husband in jail to tell him that she is going to have a baby, and he vows to go straight.

Back to the present, Lewis runs into one of his old criminal associates, Eugene Pallette, and tells him how happy he is to have turned around his life. Pallette isn't impressed, however, and begins blackmailing him with the threat of sending Norma to jail for her former crimes. The thought of her in the dock is enough to convince Lewis to join Pallette for one more robbery. What they don't know is that Norma and the children are spending the night in the very house they are robbing!

Within a very few years Talmadge would develop into one of the finest actresses on the screen. Here, she is still rather immature and not quite up to the more dramatic moments, being particularly given to excessive eye-widening. She is, however, very pretty and charming and is a most pleasing leading lady. Ralph Lewis is adequate, if unmemorable as the husband. A young and relatively slim Eugene Pallette is convincingly slimy as the villain. A standout performance is that of George Stone as the homeless boy who is befriended by Norma's children but is forced by Pallette to be his associate in blackmail and robbery. There is a particularly grim scene of the boy, with his newspapers and a dog, settling into a flophouse for the night. In fact, one of the most interesting aspects of the film, as in other crime films of the teens, are the location shots of the seedier sections of 1916 Los Angeles. There is a fascinating documentary quality to these sections of the film, and they make a great contribution to the overall atmosphere.

If you are interested in seeing what it was that made Norma Talmadge a great star, this film is not the best place to start. If however, you would like an exciting little crime film, this is an excellent and enjoyable choice. Though the print is quite worn in spots, it is the best print of any Talmadge film currently available on video, with subtle tinting and an appropriate piano score.

Going Straight (Triangle, 1916). Starring: Norma Talmadge, Ralph Lewis, Eugene Pallette, Nino Fovieri, Francis Carpenter, Fern Collier, Ruth Handforth, George Stone, Kate Toncray, Carmen De Rue, Violet Radcliff. Directed by Chester and Sidney Franklin. Scenario by Bernard McConville, Camera by F.B. Good. B & W, tinted. The tape runs approximately 60 minutes and has an appropriate musical score. Going Straight is available on DVD from Grapevine Video

Note, this film is also available from Ebony Showcase Theatre and Nostalgia Family Video. I haven't seen these and cannot comment as to the print quality.

Summary of this release:

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Last revised, November 28, 2008