Cast & Crew
Robert G. Vignola
Lydia Yeamans Titus
Prudence Cole, a Quaker brought up by two conservative aunts, Elizabeth and Cynthia Whitney, is happy in her demure unsophistication until Henry Garrison and his mother, formerly neighbors and friends of her family, visit the Whitneys. Henry, snobbish and flirtatious, trifles with her affections and secretly despises her manner of dress. Mrs. Garrison invites Prudence for a visit to a fashionable seaside resort, and Henry, ashamed of her appearance, neglects her for Amy Tillson. To amuse themselves, the girls and boys appoint Prudence to persuade Cheyne Rovein, an artist, to stage a charade at the hotel. She succeeds in doing so, and to their amazement she is chosen for the leading role. Her stunning appearance causes Henry to renew his interest in Prudence, but she chooses Rovein instead.
Robert G. Vignola
Lydia Yeamans Titus
Released in 1922, Beauty's Worth stars Davies as Prudence Cole, a young Quaker woman who lives with her well-to-do but saintly maiden aunts, played by Martha Mattox and Aileen Manning. The strict aunts, who repeatedly remind their niece to contain her high spirits, are so pious that they refer to the 20th century as "a work of Satan." Poor Prudence has other problems too, she has been in love with rich, snobby Henry Garrison (Hallam Cooley) since they played together as children. When Mrs. Garrison invites her to spend the summer at the posh resort Haven by the Sea, the lovestruck girl is eager to go.
At the resort, Prudence's drab, frumpy clothing and naïve manner clash with the stylish fashion and sophisticated ways of the women and men who make up the local social scene. The only person to see her true worth is sensitive artist Cheyne Rovein, played by Forrest Stanley, who costarred opposite Davies in four films. To relieve their boredom, the snobby socialites ask Prudence to persuade Rovein to create an elaborate game of charades for them. The artist designs the charades as a theatrical production in which Prudence models Rovein's specially created costumes. Her appearance in the charades gives her a newfound confidence, which convinces the socialites, including Henry, that she is worthy of their attention. Prudence now faces a crisis of identity as she struggles to remain true to herself.
Beauty's Worth was treated as a vehicle for Davies. Her character dominates most sequences, whether she is the subject of her aunts' conversation, the object of ridicule at Haven by the Sea or the focus of attention of a worldly artist. Even in her drab Quaker costume, Davies stands out because of her placement in the frame or the halo of backlighting around her hair. Her transformation from caterpillar to butterfly literally takes place on stage during the charades as Prudence poses, dances and pantomimes in the vibrant costumes designed for her by Rovein. More a series of tableaux than a charades game, the sequence intentionally echoed Davies' performance of the "Dancing Dolls" from the 1916 Ziegfeld Follies. The sets for this sequence were created by Joseph Urban, who had worked as the stage designer for the Follies before becoming the art director for Davies' films at Cosmopolitan Pictures.
The narrative was adapted from a short story by author Sophie Kerr, a popular writer and editor of women's fiction during the 1920s. Kerr penned short stories and novels that dealt with social class, particularly as it affected women. Her stories focused on concerns and sentiments relevant to young girls, including romantic adventure, beautiful clothing, jealousy and heartache. Her heroines, who were ambitious, smart, kind, and spunky, often mirrored her own path from small-town girl to respected career woman. Her stories were published in many popular magazines of the day, including The Saturday Evening Post, Collier's Saturday Review of Literature and McCalls.
Robert G. Vignola directed Beauty's Worth. He eventually directed Davies in six of her silent films, including the lavish costume drama When Knighthood Was in Flower, also released in 1922. An actor during the pioneering era of American cinema, Vignola had starred as Judas in Sidney Olcott's From the Manger to the Cross (1912). Olcott became a lifelong friend and likely encouraged Vignola to make a career change and move behind the camera. He shadowed Olcott during productions to learn the techniques of filmmaking. He began directing in New York but relocated to Hollywood along with most of the film industry. As indicated by the attention in trade magazines and fanzines in that era, Vignola was highly respected for his direction of dramas. He was singled out in a 1921 article in Motion Picture News for his expressive use of shadows in The Woman God Changed (1921). And, he managed to survive into the talkie era, directing a handful of sync-sound films in the early 1930s.
Whatever his reputation in the silent era, his visual style as exhibited in Beauty's Worth reflects the old-fashioned conventions of the pioneering days of cinema. While Vignola followed the techniques of continuity editing as popularized by D. W. Griffith, Beauty's Worth relies heavily on medium-long shots to depict the lengthy conversations rather than shot/reverse shot. Characters face each other in profile in two-shots, which denies the audience full view of faces and expressions. The use of close-up shots in the film is minimal and generally reserved for Davies, who does acquit herself well with a subtlety of expression.
Despite any weaknesses in direction, Beauty's Worth finds Marion Davies at an interesting juncture in her film career. It references Davies' past as a Ziegfeld Girl and reflects the desire to find vehicles to showcase her beauty and star charisma. However, it also points to the future and Cosmopolitan's efforts for more prestigious material and finer production values.
Production Company: Cosmopolitan Pictures for Famous Players-Lasky Distributer: Paramount Pictures as Famous Players-Lasky Corporation
Director: Robert G. Vignola
Senario: Luther Reed, adapted from a short story by Sofie Kerr
Cinematography: Ira H. Morgan
Art Titles: Rob Wagner
Art Direction: Joseph Urban
Cast: Prudence Cole (Marion Davies), Cheyne Rovein (Forrest Stanley), Henry Garrison (Hallam Cooley), Aunt Elizabeth Whitney (Martha Mattox), Aunt Cynthia Whitney (Aileen Manning), Amy Tillson (June Elvidge), Jane (Lydia Yeamans Titus), Mrs. Garrison (Truly Shattock), Peter (Thomas Jefferson), Tommy (Antrim Short)
1922 Black & White 112 mins
By Susan Doll