#430) The Wishing Ring: An Idyll of Old England (1914)

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#430) The Wishing Ring: An Idyll of Old England (1914)

OR “Punting on the River Hudson”

Directed & Written by Maurice Tourneur. Based on the play by Owen Davis.

Class of 2012

The Plot: Pastor’s daughter Sally (Vivian Martin) falls for the neighbor’s gardener Giles (Chester Barnett) when she is caught stealing flowers for her father’s altar. Sally eventually learns that Giles is the son of The Earl of Bateson (Alec B. Francis), and recently disowned by his father following his expulsion from school. While on one of their dates, Sally is gifted a magic ring from a band of gypsies, guaranteed to make her every wish come true. Can Sally use the ring to reunite Giles and his father? Filmed on location in the merry old English town of…Fort Lee, New Jersey?

Why It Matters: The NFR write-up gives a history of the film’s rediscovery and restoration, and admits that the film has been “lionized” in recent years. An essay by NFR stalwart Kyle Westphal is a love letter to the movie and Maurice Tourneur.

But Does It Really?: Okay, let’s cut to the chase here: “Wishing Ring” is on this list because it’s a silent movie that was presumed lost and then rediscovered. That’s. It. As for entertainment value, it’s fine, but I doubt a modern audience would enjoy it. “Wishing Ring” gets a brief pass for NFR inclusion, but it’s on here simply for the preservation of another lost silent film.

Everybody Gets One: Leading lady Vivian Martin made her film debut in “Wishing Ring”. Her success in subsequent films is said to have rivaled Mary Pickford. Like Pickford, Martin started her own production company, but a series of lawsuits led to her downfall. Like many of the silent era, Martin did not transition to talkies.

Wow, That’s Dated: As always, the depiction of the Romani people as fortune telling criminals is quite outdated. Side note: Did you know that Tracey Ullman and the late Bob Hoskins are of Romani descent? Think about it, won’t you?

Other notes

  • All we know about the original stage version of “The Wishing Ring” is that it opened in 1910, was directed by Cecil B. DeMille, and starred silent film actor Marguerite Clark. The theater it premiered in – Daly’s Theatre – was demolished in 1920, and is currently…under construction?
  • This was another silent movie that was presented to me without a synchronized soundtrack. My attempt at a score came courtesy of a Spotify playlist comprised of turn-of-the-century music hall songs. Thanks Tom Powell! They sure enjoyed covers of “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary” back then.
  • Perhaps in tribute to the film’s stage origins, “Wishing Ring” opens with a group of chorus girls on a stage opening the curtains.
  • “Wishing Ring” was filmed at the short-lived World Film Company’s studio in Fort Lee, New Jersey. Is it any wonder Jersey isn’t considered New England?
  • If the name of director Maurice Tourneur sounds familiar, you’re either thinking of his other NFR entries “The Blue Bird” and “Last of the Mohicans”, or those of his son, fellow film director Jacques: “Cat People” and “Out of the Past”.
  • Oh, and according to the opening title card, Maurice didn’t direct this film and adapt it for the screen, oh no: he “picturized” it.
  • Ebenezer Squeers is the most British name of any person in any point in history. I’m glad I’ve been doing this blog long enough to discover it.
  • This is one of the few silent movies that I feel needs more intertitles. There are only a handful, but the visuals don’t fill in the rest of the exposition. A good chunk of this movie is Sally and Giles talking and holding flowers.
  • They wander by a gypsy camp on the first date? Interesting choice.
  • Whoa, Sally definitely needs a new pair of shoes. Perhaps she’s in need of a cautionary tale from Lois Weber.
  • Did we establish how many wishes Sally gets with this ring? Is it the standard three? And what’s the ring’s policy on wishing for more wishes? Check the inside for the fine print!
  • Well things definitely took an unexpected turn near the end. It was my impression that an “idyll” was a happy and peaceful episode. Luckily it all works out for our two leads, and their wedding is attended by…pirates?

Legacy

  • As previously mentioned, “Wishing Ring” was deemed lost for years, until a 16mm print was discovered by film historian Kevin Brownlow in a defunct film library. This 16mm print is believed to be the only print of “Wishing Ring” in existence, and 35mm copies were created from this print.
  • It was discoveries like “Wishing Ring” that led to Brownlow receiving an honorary Oscar in 2010, alongside Jean-Luc Godard, Eli Wallach, and Francis Ford Coppola. Brownlow is the first, and so far only, film preservationist to receive an Oscar.

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