The Mating Call
Cast & Crew
After the Armistice, Leslie Hatton, a Florida farmer, returns home to discover that his wife, Rose, has had their marriage annulled in order to marry wealthy Lon Henderson. Leslie returns to farming for solace, and Rose, quickly disillusioned by Henderson's infidelity, again offers herself to Leslie. He wants no part of her, however, and goes instead to Ellis Island, where he persuades Catherine, an aristocratic Russian immigrant, to marry him in return for a home in the United States. Jessie Peebles, a young girl disillusioned by an affair with Henderson, drowns herself in a pond on Leslie's farm, and Henderson, head of the local Ku Klux Klan, orders Leslie tried before a Klan tribunal. Leslie is found not guilty when letters are produced that link Henderson with the dead girl. Leslie's ordeal has had a good side, however, for he and Catherine have realized that what was to have been a marriage of convenience has become a marriage of love.
Will R. Walling
The Mating Call
Hughes could easily have been dismissed as a dabbler or a prankster if it weren't for the quality of his films. Having the cash to recruit some of the industry's finest talents, young Hughes's films were as finely crafted as the experimental aircraft that were his other lifelong obsession. Determined to make the kind of movies he wanted to see, he financed and produced tales of rugged individualists (usually soldiers, gangsters and pilots) embroiled in sexually frank situations. If a film didn't live up to his expectations, he would either shelve it (as he did with Swell Hogan , which remains unseen to this day) or spend years reshooting it (Hell's Angels [1927-30], The Outlaw [1940-43]).
Directed by James Cruze, The Mating Call (1928) was the kind of film at which Hughes excelled. Thomas Meighan (Male and Female ) stars as Leslie Hatton, a decorated hero returning from World War I to find that the parents of his bride (whom he married immediately before shipping out), have had their marriage annulled. The upper-crust parents instead influence Rose (Evelyn Brent) to marry someone more suitable to her social station, gadabout louse Lon Henderson (Alan Roscoe). Since Lon spends his time and energy with mistresses, Rose is left to seek fulfillment elsewhere, and comes scratching at Leslie's door, quickly discovering that the sexual magnetism between them is still strong.
In a series of scenes that ripple with sexual tension -- amazing by the standards of any generation -- the aching couple gradually prepare to violate Rose's wedding vows. Just as they are ready to do so, the would-be lovers are interrupted by "The Order," a vigilante gang of hooded moral crusaders. To save Rose from shame, Leslie confesses that he was secretly married while at War in France. Sick of sultry seductresses, and determined to live up to his lie, he heads to the one place where he is sure to find a hard-working woman of good breeding stock who'll appreciate a two-fisted, hard-working man such as himself: Ellis Island. There, he quickly obtains a Russian immigrant, Catherine (Renée Adorée) and her parents, and take them home to tend his Florida farm.
When Lon's spurned teenage mistress (Helen Foster) turns up dead, Leslie falls under suspicion and is strapped to a cross and put under the lash by "The Order." One of The Mating Call's most bizarre narrative detours, the torchlit ceremony provides the backdrop for the torrid finale, in which all the conniving factions of this sinful small town are allowed to settle their differences once and for all.
This is only a partial synopsis of a film that is bulging at the seams with sexual intrigue and surprise plot twists. As The New York Times observed, "It looks very much as though a great deal of superfluous matter had been packed into The Mating Call." An outspoken critic of cinematic decadence, the trade publication Harrison's Reports dismissed the film as "controversial in nature." Curiously, it was more concerned that the depiction of "The Order" might offend regional chapters of the Ku Klux Klan, and bring about negative repercussions. It warned exhibitors, "If you are in a Ku Klux Klan territory you should first find out whether you should show it or not. If you cannot show it, resort to arbitration proceedings to be released from the obligation of playing it."
Although The Mating Call was strictly a Hughes-funded project, it was produced in cooperation with Paramount, which provided facilities, distribution, and much of the key talent. Director James Cruze spent years under contract to Paramount, where he had helmed such films as The Covered Wagon (1923) and Old Ironsides (1926). In a February 1928 news article, Cruze announced that he was no longer content at the studio and was forming an independent production company through Pathe. After The Mating Call, he severed ties with Paramount and began the difficult struggle of heading an independent company. James Cruze Productions never produced a film to rival the director's previous successes, and is perhaps best known for the eccentric early musical The Great Gabbo (1929), in which Erich von Stroheim stars as a maniacal ventriloquist.
Thomas Meighan was a Paramount contract player, as was Evelyn Brent, who stars in The Mating Call as the sex-hungry but neglected wife. Finding fame as a tough criminal moll in films such as Josef von Sternberg's Underworld (1927), Brent was groomed to be an American Garbo. According to John Kobal, who interviewed Brent in 1972, "there was the mystery of Garbo, the irony of Dietrich, the obsession of Crawford and the humanity of Stanwyck." When asked why she never achieved great fame, Brent explained, "I just didn't do what I should have done... to think of 'me'... as a career... to further that. You have to do that."
While Brent was simmering on the screen in The Mating Call, Adorée was busy stealing the show. She had been made a superstar after her role in King Vidor's The Big Parade (1925), and had been starring in high-profile MGM films ever since. Born Jeanne de la Fonte in Lille, France in 1898, Adorée made a career of playing the playful French maiden. Ironically, when the sound era arrived, her authentic French accent was considered a liability and her career declined steeply until her death in 1933 of tuberculosis.
Adorée received positive reviews for her performance in The Mating Call, even though it differed little from the wide-eyed Euro damsels that were her trademark. However, Adorée stunned viewers with a much-publicized scene in which Catherine takes a moonlight swim and Leslie, for the first time, begins to see her as a woman, not merely a female helpmate. Ever defiant of Hollywood's standards of decency, Hughes costumed Adorée in a transparent nightgown in some shots and removed it altogether in others, permitting the camera to capture flashes of nudity that no studio would have ever allowed.
Producer: Howard Hughes
Director: James Cruze
Screenplay: Rex Beach, Herman J. Mankiewicz, Walter Woods
Cinematography: Ira H. Morgan
Film Editing: Walter Woods
Cast: Thomas Meighan (Leslie Hatton), Evelyn Brent (Rose Henderson), Renée Adorée (Catherine), Alan Roscoe (Lon Henderson), Gardner James (Marvin Swallow), Helen Foster (Jessie).
by Bret Wood