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Benton Dembow’s review of “Passion” at the Capitol Theater

“In the Theaters” by Benton Dembow*

“The advent of the German super drama, ‘Passion’, which opened last night at the Capitol Theatre, marks a new and progressive era in motion picture production. This massive attempt at excelling in the silent diversion is not only tremendously big in its story and settings, but it establishes new standards in the scope and power of visualization, courtesy of director Ernst Lubitsch. Stress is laid on the new technical perfections with which it is claimed to be filled: the depth of panoramic perspective which has never been seen on screen before—big pulsating scenes from the pages of life which seem doubly realistic because of the stereoscopic character of the photography. This novelty alone marks a new style in entertainment.
“Passion” has for its story an intimate vision of life and adventures of the ill-fated little French milliner, Jeanne Marie Vaubernier, who rises from her lowly place among the masses into the command of a king and its nation though her irresistible charms. Later she becomes the storm center in thrillingly tempestuous times when the whole populace revolts because of its hatred for the very product of their kind. Great intensity is added to the dramatic value of the whole narrative through the fact that the object of all this public indignation has lost all her unlimited power when she is obliged to grapple with her opponents. She is more than game in her fearful struggles until a former slave of hers turns traitor to her cause, which results in her being incarcerated, and later beheaded. Running throughout the play is one of the most gripping love affairs conceivable—it being the undying love of Jeanne’s first lowly sweetheart, a love which finally brings disaster to him, but not until he has given some gallant demonstration of how far a true lover will go for the objection of his affections.

Yet “Passion” would not be the groundbreaking and vibrant work that it was without its actors. Most noteworthy is the acting of Pola Negri. She is one of those rare persons with true screen personality and a natural and precise pantomimic skill that makes her Madame Du Barry into a real person. She is emotional and possessed of a skill at conveying all of the foibles of humanity. This makes us as viewers admire her character although it is a character that should not be admired. She is attractive, particularly in the perfect contour of her face and the remarkably large and expressive eyes—eyes which tell everything and nothing as she wills. One moment they radiate what could be described as soulfulness, and the very next moment they are extremely capricious. In all of her natural mannerisms, Mlle. Negri is as, matter of fact, “soulful-capricious” simultaneously intense and forcefully fantastic. Her grace is another of her outstanding qualities. This grace centers in her ability to use her shapely arms and hands for all such extremities could possibly be worth in expression of the current thoughts. It is needed to add that it is a foregone conclusion, more than passing interest will be taken in this newfound ideal of the judges of womanly beauty.
‘Mlle. Negri should find ready favor with American audiences because in ‘Passion’ she displays what America admires, namely genius of a high order. Her magnificent acting here is one of the outstanding histrionic achievements in the annals of the screen and indeed a work of art. It is doubtful whether any other artist could have matched her sterling performance before the motion picture camera in this instance. The audience at the Capitol was as one in enthusing over her and it is certain that if she had been present in person, she would have been vociferously acclaimed.”


*Actually, a fake review from my upcoming novel, “The Ardent Admirer,” Copyright, 2016 by Sergio Delgado.  And yes, Pola Negri is in the story.