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Bella Donna (1915)

Bella Donna (1915) Famous Players Film Co. in association with the Charles Frohman Co. Distributor: Paramount Pictures Corp. Director: Edwin S. Porter and Hugh Ford. Filmed at least partly in St. Augustine, Florida. Cast: Pauline Frederick, Thomas Holding, Julian L'Estrange, Eugene Ormonde, George Majeroni, Edmund Shalet, Helen Sinnott. 5 reels. This film appears to be LOST

This story was remade in 1923 with Pola Negri; this version is said to survive in the Gosfilmofond Archive in Moscow.


Still Photo on The Silent Film Still Archive
Program on The Silent Film Still Archive (scroll down)

Review from Variety
Reviews from Moving Picture World
Review from the New York Dramatic Mirror
Review from the New York Times
Review from Photoplay

Review from Variety, November 19, 1915

Bella Donna Pauline Frederick
Nigel Armine Thomas Holding
Baroudi Julian L'Estrange
Dr. Issacson Geo. Majeroni
Hamza Edmund Shalet
Maid Helen Sinnott

Famous Players (Paramount) production of "Bella Donna," as adaptation of Robert Hichens' and J.B. Fagan's novel and play. The story is too familiar to be summarized here. It lends itself to picturization very readily, most of the screen being laid in Egypt. This Oriental atmosphere is thoroughly created not only by the scenes but by the remarkably fine make-ups of the actors. The women will be especially interested in this photoplay, not only for its intrinsic merit, but by reason of the vast quantity of dresses which Miss Frederick is called upon to wear. She looked most enticing in Egyptian garb. Curiously , in some of the gowns she looked plump and not her usual sinuous self. As the years passed in the play's progression Miss Frederick seemed to grow coarser in visage and physique. If this was designedly so, it is a triumph in the art of make-up and dressing. She was an ideal selection for the role of the adventuress. Thomas Holding was an excellent Armine, looking the type of man who idealizes women and refuses to believe his wife false. Eugene Ormonde a manly Dr. Isaacson, a flesh and blood human being, who did not essay any Sherlock Holmes mannerisms, carefully avoiding any "eye acting." A fine "touch" was created at the finish. After showing Bella Donna's body in the sands there was a momentary "cut in" of a jackal, suggesting the ultimate disposition of her carcass. From every angle, "Bella Donna" is a Class A feature.


Reviews from Moving Picture World

November 20, 1915

"Bella Donna"
Pauline Frederick in Big Famous Players Subject Equals Her Work in "Zaza."
Reviewed by George Blaisdell

Strongly dramatic is "Bella Donna," the five-part Famous Players production released November 15. The name role is carried by Pauline Frederick, and carried in a manner worthy of the best traditions. She is given skilled support, as witness: Thomas Holding, Julian L'Estrange, Eugene Ormonde, George Majeroni, Edmund Shalet.

[Omitted, photo of Frederick, little else in the picture is visible]

There was pronounced applause from a great house at the Strand Monday afternoon at the conclusion of "Bella Donna"--by no means an every-day occurrence. Three thousand persons by their deep silence had attested the dramatic quality of the Hichens-Fagan story. There is in "Bella Donna" little pathos: there is no comedy. It is a straight tale of a woman who sees only herself, who has eyes for no one who stands in the way of her ambition, who hesitates not to sacrifice her best friend, her husband, when she thinks her fortunes will be furthered by attaching herself to the Egyptian Baroudi.

It is a stern role that falls to Miss Frederick in this subject and a difficult one. To portray a woman lacking apparently a redeeming trait, a cold-blooded courtesan, and yet retain in a measurable degree the sympathy of her house, is a real achievement.

Mr. Holding as Nigel Armine, the Englishman, who marries Bella Donna in spite of the warning of his friend Dr. Isaacson, with the doctor divides the sympathies. Mr. Ormonde has the role of the authority on poisons, the friend who brings back to health the husband who is dying by inches of the poison administered by his wife. The friendship of the two men is one of the bright sides of the story. Mr. L'Estrange is Baroudi, the Egyptian, one of whose chief fascinations for women is said to be his direct, brusque, even brutal manner of manifesting his attentions. Baroudi and Bella Donna have the same code of morals, using the expression advisedly and for want of a more apt term.

The interest is steady and cumulative, from the opening where Bella Donna meets Armine at the hotel at Nice to the end in the desert, where the raging, disappointed woman throws herself into the sand to die. The picture is staged in the manner of Messrs. Porter and Ford. The exteriors are of the far south, with a hotel surrounded with tropical luxuriance; with a great houseboat; a river running between banks of sand, the lone palms standing like sentinels; and the desert. One of the most striking scenes of the latter is at night. Armine by his campfire, a number of Egyptians at another a dozen paces away, and the black night in the background.

Of tense situations, especially in the last third of the story, there are many. "Bella Donna" is a subject of unusual power.

August 21, 1915

BELLA DONNA (Famous Players--Five Parts--Nov. 15).--Pauline Frederick, Thomas Holding, Julian L'Estrange, Eugene Ormonde, Geo. Majeroni, Edmund Shalet, Helen Sinnott.

The exploits of Bella Donna, as English adventuress, are matters of common gossip in London. Despite the fact that her reputation is distinctly unsavory, the Hon. Nigel Armine, an impressionable and rather unsophisticated man, refuses to believe what he hears. Struck by the marvelous beauty of the woman, he marries her and takes her to Egypt. But the simple-minded Armine soon palls upon this roving, restless spirit, which fastens upon a handsome native, Baroudi, as the object of its fierce and hungry adoration.

The clandestine love affair increases in its intensity until Baroudi so masters Bella Donna that he persuades her to poison her husband, and she places small doses of sugar of lead in Armine's coffee. Day by day Bella Donna watches the deadly effect of her work as her husband grows steadily weaker. Just as his rapidly weakening conditions holds for the promise of quick release from her irksome ties, Dr. Isaacson, an old friend of Armine, arrives on the scene. In the battle of wits between these two instinctive enemies, the doctor is the victor and he discovers what Bella Donna is doing. He denounces her to her husband and is ordered out of the house for his pains. Armine, innocently wishing to explain his action to Bella Donna, tells her tenderly of the attack which Isaacson has made upon her and assures her that he does not believe it.

It is too much for Bella Donna's frayed nerves. Her hate for this insipid man has increased with every day and now that her plot has been frustrated and her dream of freedom shattered, she loses control of her temper and pours upon the astonished head of her husband a torrent of abuse which culminates in the startling statement that she is sick of him and is going back to Baroudi. But when Bella Donna arrives triumphantly at Baroudi's she is stunned by her lover's statement that she is too dangerous a toy for him. His door closed upon her, she totters falteringly back to the house which she had so dramatically spurned. But she is met by her old enemy, Dr. Isaacson, who shuts the door in her face before she has an opportunity to reach her impressionable and soft-hearted husband. With the only two halves of refuge closed, Bella Donna, her wild dream of wealth, power and luxury shattered forever, gazes wistfully out upon the desert waste in the black night. Then she slowly traces her weary and faltering way out across the desert--and into oblivion.

Review from the New York Dramatic Mirror

November 27, 1915

A Five-Part Adaptation of Robert Hichen's and J.B. Fagan's Novel of the Same Name, Featuring Pauline Frederick; Produced by the Famous Players in Association with the Charles Frohman Company, under the Direction of Edwin S. Porter and Hugh Ford. Released on the Paramount Programme Nov. 14

Bella Donna Pauline Frederick
Nigel Armine Thomas Holding
Baroudi Julian L'Estrange
Dr. Isaacson Eugene Ormonde
Ibraham George Majeroni
Hamza Edmund Shalet
Maid Helen Sinnott

Though it deals with a delicate subject "Bella Donna" has been so capably staged at the efficient hands of Edwin S. Porter and Hugh Ford, and so delightfully acted by Pauline Frederick, that it is not in the least offensive. Mothers may take their unsophisticated young daughters to see it with perfect impunity, for their sophistication will not be added to by the picture. To one familiar with the original story this is somewhat of a remarkable achievement. This picture gives Miss Frederick a most wonderful opportunity, but owing to the rigors of censorship she has not been permitted to give full vent to either her powers or her emotions. Possibly it is better that this is so, for a realistic depiction of this modern Borgia would probably be too morbidly horrible to be even entertaining. It was a horrible character that Hichens conceived, and then glossed over with his wonderful diction and power of paint word pictures. It is a horrible character that Pauline Frederick suggests in her acting, but again it has been glossed over by her inimitable charm, her ravishing beauty, and her sheer ability as an actress. For one of Pauline Frederick's temperament it was an artistic triumph in repression and marks the creation of a new school of picture acting.

Miss Frederick was most ably supported. Thomas Holding made a pleasing Nigel Armine, Julian L'Estrange scored as Baroudi, and Eugene Ormonde gave a good characterization of the efficient Dr. Isaacson. The balance of the cast was excellent. The picture was characterized throughout by the usual standard of photographic excellence seen in Famous Players productions.

Little need be said of the story, for it achieved vast popularity in book form. Dealing as it does with the actions of a thoroughly unprincipled woman, it teaches the old, old lesson relative to the wages of sin. Bella Donna, a beautiful young widow, marries Nigel Armine thinking that he will soon inherit a large fortune and a title, but is soon disabused. She meets a wealthy Egyptian and falls in love with him. While her husband is away she lives with the Egyptian, and later tries to murder her husband by poisoning. He is rescued on the brink of death by his old friend, Dr. Isaacson, who tells him of his wife's action. The husband refuses to believe, but the woman in a fit of hate and loathing, tells him that it is true; that she is tired of him and is going back to Baroudi, her lover. Baroudi, however, has tired of her and drives her away. She returns to her husband's villa but is met at the door by Dr. Isaacson, who also drives her away. Wandering out on the desert she is lost in a sand storm and dies. The sand storm could have been made much more realistic. With this exception the picture was technically perfect and directed and staged in a manner that pleased both the eye and the sense of fitness of things. It is a mighty good picture and one that marks a milestone in the art of moving picture acting.

Review from the New York Times

November 15, 1915

Robert Tichen's [sic] book "Bella Donna," a dramatization of which was acted here several years ago by Alla Nazimova, has been made into a picture by the Famous Players Company for the Paramount program. It was shown in the Strand Theatre yesterday, Pauline Frederick was the villainess of the title who tried to kill her husband with poison put in his coffee because of her infatuation for Baroudi. Her radiant beauty made her an attractive Bella Donna. Then there was Julian l'Estranage, disguised by a fez and wicked mustache as Baroudi.

The Picture was taken in Florida, and with the semi-tropical background afforded the Egyptian atmosphere is well simulated. But the scenes with the pyramids painted out of drawing on a backdrop might well be deleted. "Bella Donna," is primarily a character study of an adventuress. The essence of the movie is action, not character, so while the picture is a fair example of its type, it does not convey an adequate idea of Mr. Hichen's work

Review from Photoplay

February, 1916
Reviewed by Julian Johnson

In Bella Donna, Pauline Frederick scored more heavily than the producers. This tale of violet-scented villainy, of gold-plated murder, was susceptible of more subtlety, of a keener-bladed thrill, than it received. Gazing at Miss Fredericks' performance of the iniquitous woman, I'll believe you'll say hers is the best dramatic assumption this modern Borgia has ever had. Certainly it was better than Nazimova's upon the stage of the Empire Theatre, for Nazimova was more snake than human being. There is no fault to find with setting or material equipment; only, the direction as a whole did not approach Miss Frederick's personal performance.

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Last revised, March 29, 2015