#290) The Wind (1928)

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#290) The Wind (1928)

OR “Wuthering Plains”

Directed by Victor Sjöström

Written by Frances Marion. Based on the novel by Dorothy Scarborough.

Class of 1993

Not the original trailer, but a nice little snippet.

The Plot: Letty Mason (Lillian Gish) travels from Virginia to the Sweetwater, Texas of the 1880s to live with her cousin Beverly (Edward Earle). Beverly’s wife Cora (Dorothy Cumming) does not warm up to Letty and wants her out. At the same time, cattle buyer Wirt Roddy (Montagu Love), as well as neighbors Lige (Lars Hanson) and Sourdough (William Orlamond) vie for Letty’s affection, despite her protests. But Letty’s main problem isn’t with any of Sweetwater’s citizens, but rather its weather. Upon their first meeting, Wirt warns Letty that the wind has been known to drive women insane. Will Letty survive her new surroundings?

Why It Matters: No superlatives in the NFR write-up, just a rehash of the film’s plot and historical significance. An essay by silent film expert Fritzi Kramer is much more loving.

But Does It Really?: “The Wind” is one of the last silent films produced by MGM, and features Lillian Gish’s final (and perhaps most iconic) silent performance. So historically this movie was going to make the NFR sooner or later. As a film, it’s fine. Gish is a solid lead, and like many of the latter silent films, “The Wind” has an overall higher quality than most silents. The gender politics don’t hold up, but there are still a lot of pros to outweigh the cons. A pass from me for “The Wind”.

Wow, That’s Dated: The aforementioned gender politics. Also, for the love of God, everyone please stop saying “injun”! There aren’t even any Native Americans in this film! You’re making it worse!

Seriously, Oscars?: The 2nd Academy Awards have no official listing for nominees, and there is no record that “The Wind” was under consideration by the Academy. Despite this, MGM still won Best Picture with one of their talkies, the all-singing “The Broadway Melody”. Lillian Gish would not be nominated for an Oscar until 1946, for her supporting turn in the Selznick Oscar-bait “Duel in the Sun”. The Academy finally gave Gish an Oscar in 1970, an honorary award for lifetime achievement.

Other notes

  • This was a passion project for Lillian Gish. She knew that playing Letty would allow her show more range as an actor, and convinced MGM to produce it. She hand-selected Victor Sjöström as her director and Lars Hanson as her co-star, having worked with both of them on the 1926 film version of “The Scarlet Letter”.
  • Research has confirmed my suspicion that with this much wind and sand blowing, it could not have been a fun shoot. Shooting on location in the Mojave desert was unbearable, with the cast and crew not only dealing with the constant wind, but also with the heat, with the temperature (according to various sources) ranging from 90 to 110 degrees.
  • Nice of them to translate the intertitles into actual old-timey prospector talk. Now if only I had any idea what they were saying…
  • Dorothy Cumming looks a lot like Anjelica Huston. Fun Fact: Cumming was also the evil queen in the 1916 silent version of “Snow White”.
  • A woman driven insane while living with relatives? What is this, “A Stagecoach Named Desire”?
  • I’m enjoying the special effects and model work throughout, especially during the cyclone scene. And this predates “Wizard of Oz” by a decade. Well done, uncredited effects team!
  • Must Lige and Sourdough settle every dispute with guns? What if the dispute is over which gun to use?
  • Oh crap, Lillian Gish is kind of hot. I’m attracted to a woman 94 years my senior. I’ve been watching too many silent movies.
  • Nice staging of the scene between Letty and Lige that focuses solely on their feet. Very Tarantino-esque.
  • This is one of the rare movies with singing intertitles. Sourdough croons “Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie” (aka “The Cowboy’s Lament”), and the lyrics are italicized on the cards. This adds to some confusion later when select words in dialogue are italicized for emphasis. Are they singing those words?
  • At this point, I’m just going to assume the book is better.
  • Gish claimed that the studio forced her to reshoot the original ending after poor test screenings, but all available resources show the “happy” ending was always a part of the script.

Legacy

  • Sjöström only directed a handful of films after “The Wind”, but continued work as an actor on the stage in his native Sweden. He eventually acted on film, and is perhaps best remembered for his performance in Ingmar Bergman’s “Wild Strawberries”.
  • Sweetwater, Texas is very real and still going strong. Interestingly enough, Sweetwater is one of the leaders in wind energy and wind generators.
  • Say what you will about this movie, it’s definitely better than “The Happening”.

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