The Devil’s Needle (1916)

This is the only film of the three in the Devil’s Needle set to have a happy (well, broadly happy) ending, and is probably the best of the three too, although that’s a fairly relative description, really… As with Inside of WST, it’s hard to give a proper appraisal of the thing, albeit for different reasons; the print is substantially intact (if quite badly decayed), only one scene apparently missing, but it’s not the film 1916 audiences saw. Instead, it’s the film 1923 audiences saw, an altered version reissued to cash in on the later stardom of Norma Talmadge and, more grotesquely, the recent death of Wallace Reid, Hollywood’s first great drug casualty. As such, it’s arguably the most genuinely “exploitation” thing here, but to what extent is that the fault of the film itself, i.e. the film as it was originally made as opposed to how it was re-released? (Also, what did 1923 audiences make of it? Did they know it wasn’t exactly fresh even then? “Hmm, this looks and moves suspiciously like a film from the last decade…”) I don’t know exactly what was done to the film to boost Talmadge’s originally smaller role, and the original 1916 version appears to be gone for good, so we’ll have to take the film as it stands. Anyway, Tully Marshall plays an artist, Talmadge his model; the latter is hooked on something thanks to the stresses of “wartime service” (an obvious attempt at updating the film, which was of course made a year *before* America’s belated entry into the adventures in Europe) and she manages to hook him on it as well. Melodrama ensues, of course, a bit more OTT than in the other two films; The Devil’s Needle struck me as being more “of its time” than them, too. Something about it felt like, well, a 1910s view of drug addiction, particularly one held by someone who didn’t know an awful lot about it (does anyone, let alone junkies, stick needles in themselves quite like that?)… It came from D.W. Griffith’s Triangle stable, and though he only produced, it still bears a certain influence from him (the last-minute rescue business especially). It’s not bad on the whole, even if I’m baffled by Marshall’s romantic appeal, but, like the set as a whole, more of a historical curiosity than anything…

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