Blind Husbands (1919)

Director: Erich von Stroheim

This was kind of amusing viewing after Don’t Change Your Husband, though there’s nothing particularly funny about it apart from the relative timing… Here we are at the beginning of Erich von Stroheim’s brief and problematic directorial career, which at least got off to a comparatively happy start. Then a struggling actor, Stroheim had managed to convince uncle Carl Laemmle at Universal not only to buy his book The Pinnacle for filming, but to let him be the one to make it (and act in it. Oddly, he’s only credited as “Erich Stroheim” for writing and directing, but as “von Stroheim” in the actors’ list). Part of his argument was that apparently he told Laemmle he could make it for about $10,000; however, he wound up starting as he meant to continue by actually spending about ten times that amount. But, unlike some of his later efforts, Blind Husbands rewarded the studio’s faith (and soothed what were probably its shattered nerves) by being something of a megahit and returning ten times its cost again.

Whether all that expense shows on the screen is something I’m not sure of, but we’ll let that slide. The setting is a nice little Austrian mountain village, with the story revolving around some nice American tourists passing through. As with last night’s DeMille film, there’s a not entirely happy marriage at work, too; a middle-aged doctor and his wife pass through the village, but while she still loves him, he’s not paying her as much attention as he could. This leaves room for Stroheim’s character, a lecherous Austrian lieutenant—because, you know, what other sort of role would he give himself—to make advances on the lady as they travel together… By this time I presume Stroheim had been on enough film sets to know how things were done, and so Blind Husbands evinces a reasonable amount of assuredness; Stroheim himself obviously enjoys the villainous part he plays on screen, and though the film takes a while to warm up and there’s something perhaps a little aloof and remote about it, it’s still a fairly impressive debut; alas that things would shortly go more than a little pear-shaped for him…

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