Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Blow, but no hookers

TCM is spending today with Lillian Gish, who is one of the better-knonw stars of the silent era. One of her last silents is also one that's probably not as well-known as I think it should be. That movie, The Wind, is airing tonight at 11:30 PM.

Gish plays Letty, a young woman from the East who moves to one of those dusty places out west on the encouragement of her cousin Roddy (Montagu Love). She gets there, and finds a harsh environment in more ways than one. One is that Roddy's wife Cora (Dorothy Cumming) doesn't like Letty. Frankly, you can't blame her for having an in-law foisted upon her, but The Wind isn't about Cora. The other big problem, and this is a problem for everybody, is the wind. Sandstorms abound, at times making it impossible for people to get to each other and physically isolating them.

Letty feels not only that physical isolation, but also emotional isolation. To get away from Cora, she marries Lige (Lars Hanson), but it's really a marriage of convenience for the both of them. Letty needs a way to live honestly without her cousin's support, while Lige needs female companionship and wants a family. Trapped in a loveless marriage, Letty is often left alone with only her thoughts to accompany her.... Oh, and with the wind, too. It's enough to drive a woman mad. If that's not enough, Letty gets left alone in a windstorm one more time. Except that this time, it's not just her and the wind; there's another man who's not her husband there! And he tries to take advantage of her!

I have to admit that I might not have done justice to the plot of The Wind. Then again, The Wind is a bit muddled, and the reason to watch it isn't so much for its plot, but for its character study of Letty as she seems to be going slowly mad alone and in this harsh environment. In that manner, the film succeeds quite well, as it's easy to understand by watching just how forbidding Letty's new environs are: she's definitely not of the tough pioneer stock.

The last time TCM showed this, it was a print that had an introduction from Lillian Gish herself, filmed when she presented the movie for British television back in the late 1980s. It's the sort of stuff that would in most other cases on TCM be a Word of Mouth piece shown between movies, but Gish's comments serve as a great introduction. Apparently they shot on location out in the Mojave Desert, and the shoot was difficult, to say the least. The wind machines they used were dangerous, and got the sand into everything. To top that all off, they faced temperatures up to 120 degrees. No wonder Letty goes mad.

The Wind, unfortunately, does not seem to be available on DVD.

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