Cast & Crew
Arthur Stuart Hull
Unjustly convicted of theft, shopgirl Mary Turner is determined to have revenge on Edward Gilder, her employer and prosecutor. When her term is completed and she finds no job open to her, Mary joins Aggie Lynch in blackmailing wealthy men with threats of breach-of-promise suits. Eventually Dick Gilder, her enemy's son, falls victim to Mary's designs, and though she falls in love with him she is determined to carry out her plans. Dick is nearly framed for a murder committed by Joe Garson; Helen Morris confesses to the theft for which Mary was imprisoned; and Mary finally admits her love for Dick.
Arthur Stuart Hull
De Witt Jennings
Kiki/Within the Law - KIKI & WITHIN THE LAW - A Silent Double Feature Spotlighting Norma Talmadge
Certainly she's the energy center of Kiki, which must have seemed a bit creaky, even in 1926. In it, she plays a Parisian gamine, jumping up and down with the sheer excitement of selling newspapers on a street corner. Drawn by the sound of a rehearsal piano to a theater preparing the new edition of its Folies, she sneaks inside, and connives her way into the chorus, falling in love with its suave, worldly impresario, Colman. Although an onstage fiasco soon ensues, she follows this coup by invading his elegant digs, upsetting his butler and mistress, respectively, but not him. Colman, fresh from Ernst Lubitsch's Lady Windermere's Fan (1926), simply remains in sophisticated mode, smile a good-natured what-have-I-got-myself-into? smile and lets Talmadge do most of the work.
She does so not only resourcefully, but with a silent actress' fully developed awareness of how to use her face, especially in close-ups. Talmadge expertly punctuates her character's spunky extroversion by using her big dark eyes as vehicles for emotion -- and also to slyly check the effect of Kiki's string of various ruses. She's convincingly tough in a cat fight with the mistress (expertly calibrated by Gertrude Astor), the choreographed scrimmages with the discombobulated butler (George K. Arthur) and the inevitable roué (Marc McDermott), lurking around backstage to threaten the purity beneath Kiki's coarse but eventually irresistible vitality. Talmadge has her hands full (at the age of 33) convincing us she's a kid. That she somehow pulls it off, makes it seem fun, and doesn't get upstaged by William Cameron Menzies' stunning art deco sets, attests to an undeniable fizz flying off the screen. (It's perhaps worth mentioning that when Pickford, aged 39, tried a musical version of the same vehicle in 1931, it flopped.)
Within the Law (1923), like Kiki, a restoration from the invaluable Library of Congress, lies right in Talmadge's wheelhouse. Here she's a working girl railroaded to prison for a theft she didn't commit. Released three years later, she wants payback. Wised up by her prison stretch, she forms a blackmail ring with a fellow ex-inmate (Eileen Percy), extracting money from amorous, well-heeled older men via a string of breach of promise suits, kept barely legal by her precaution of hiring a top-line lawyer. Her conquests include the boss's son (Joseph Kilgour, in Frank Merriwell mode). But while she feels herself falling in love with him (of course, he loves her), she's determined to make the old man feel pain, not only from having her as a daughter-in-law, but by enabling the sympathetic crook (a simpatico turn by Lew Cody) who plucked her out of the river after a suicide attempt rob the rich man's mansion.
Originating as a 1912 stage play by Bayard Vieller, it's a dusty, but study melodrama (filmed twice before as a silent -- in 1916 with Muriel Starr in Australia and in 1917 with Alice Joyce and twice as a sound film in 1930 with a sizzling Joan Crawford and a title change to "Paid" and in 1939 with Ruth Hussey). Talmadge carries its dated mechanics - including a credibility-shattering amount of police staffing -- by underplaying, beginning with the dignified suffering of the wronged shopgirl, sustained by her refined bearing as the shady but legal manipulator. There's a cumulative authority in her choice to play what could have been a tear-jerker and handkerchief-wringer with restraint. It was an astute decision, bolstered by the decision to have Percy, as her partner in crime, Aggie Lynch, wear equally fashionable clothes, but project a coarseness against which Talmadge's poise and dignity glow with a ladylike resoluteness. When Aggie takes a wad of chewing gum from her mouth and sticks it on the back of a chair in a nightclub, we know that Talmadge's Mary Turner would never chew gum in the first place.
She even saves the film from its ultimate betrayal of its initially courageous message namely, that the law works harder to serve the interests of the rich and powerful. No Edmond Dantes crying, "Revenge is mine!" at the end of The Count of Monte Cristo here. Gone is the merest whiff of class warfare or underclass bitterness as the message takes an if-you-can't-beat-'em-join-'em turn. Still, Talmadge makes us believe she had 'em, provides ample evidence that she had it (with applogies to Elinor Glyn and "It" girl Clara Bow), and whets our appetite for more.
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by Jay Carr