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The Safety Curtain

A review by Greta de Groat

The Safety Curtain is one of six features released by Norma Talmadge in 1918, all made by her own film company and released though Select Pictures. This is one of her best melodramas of the teens, containing her finest dramatic performance currently available on video.

Talmadge plays a battered but courageous young music hall performer, alternately fending off the advances of backstage Lotharios and cringing under the blows of Vulcan the Strong Man, her vicious husband. One day after she is forced, exhausted, back onto the stage for an encore, a fire breaks out in the theater. She stays onstage, trying to calm the audience, and calls for the safety curtain. It comes down, but she is on the audience side and is unable to get backstage. As she is overcome by the smoke, an alert British officer sees her and carries her off to his room to recover. There he reads her the list of casualties from the newspaper, and she finds that she and her husband are listed among the dead. The officer, lonely and isolated in his post in India, impulsively asks her to marry him. She seizes this opportunity to escape, and tells him nothing about her past. But even in India her past follows her when she encounters one of her stage door admirers from England, who informs her that her husband is still alive. In the meantime, a plague has broken out in the countryside. All of these melodramatic events are well handled by director Sidney Franklin in this tense and dramatic film.

The cast is excellent, particularly Talmadge in a role well suited to display her wide emotional range. The film is filled with closeups of her expressive face as it flashes from cynicism to frivolity to terror. Eugene O'Brien is stalwart as the somewhat bewildered army officer, while Anders Randolf is appropriately repellent as the strong man. The reptilian Gladden James has a small but important part as her unwelcome admirer. Collectors of Talmadge memorabilia will spot a guest appearance by her pet pomeranian, who appears in many of many of her publicity photos.

The film quality is better than average for public domain videos, though it is a little jumpy in places and appears to have been transferred a bit fast. The pipe organ score is occasionally overwrought. But these drawbacks are minor, and the film is recommended as a worthy introduction to the work of Norma Talmadge.

The Safety Curtain (Norma Talmadge Film Corporation/Select Pictures, 1918). Starring: Norma Talmadge, Eugene O'Brien, Anders Randolf, Gladden James, Lillian Hall. Directed by Sidney A Franklin. Scenario by Sidney A. Franklin and Paul West. Camera by Albert Moses and Ed Weynard. Art direction by William Reinecke. B & W. The tape runs approximately 52 minutes and has a mostly acceptable musical score. The Safety Curtain was available on video from Videobrary, but is now out of print.

Summary of this release:

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© 1999, by Greta de Groat . All Rights Reserved

Last revised, November 28, 2008