The Salvation Hunters

Last updated

The Salvation Hunters
The Salvation Hunters, 1925 film. L to R, Georgia Hale, George K. Arthur.jpg
Still with Georgia Hale and George K. Arthur
Directed by Josef von Sternberg
Written byJosef von Sternberg
Produced byJosef von Sternberg
Starring Georgia Hale
George K. Arthur
CinematographyEdward Gheller
Distributed by United Artists
Release date
  • February 15, 1925 (1925-02-15)
Running time
65 minutes
CountryUnited States
Language Silent (English intertitles)

The Salvation Hunters is a 1925 American silent drama film which marked the directorial debut of the 31-year old Josef von Sternberg. The feature stars Georgia Hale and George K. Arthur, and would bring Sternberg, "a new talent", to the attention of the major movie studios, including Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Paramount Pictures. Film Mercury included The Salvation Hunters in its ten-best list for the films of 1925. [1] [2] [3]

Contents

Plot

L-R, The Boy (George K. Arthur), The Child (Bruce Guerin), The Man (Otto Matiesen), The Girl (Georgia Hale) The Salvation Hunters (film) 1925 Josef von Sternberg, director L-R, Geroge K. Arthur, Bruce Guerin, Otto Matiesen, Georgia Hale.jpg
L-R, The Boy (George K. Arthur), The Child (Bruce Guerin), The Man (Otto Matiesen), The Girl (Georgia Hale)
L-R "The Girl" (Georgia Hale) and "The Boy" (George K. Arthur): "... down-and-out drifters" The Salvation Hunters (film) 1925, Josef von Sternberg, L-R Georgia Hale, George K. Arthur.jpg
L-R "The Girl" (Georgia Hale) and "The Boy" (George K. Arthur): "... down-and-out drifters"
Director von Sternberg: Hale's "sullen charm" - Georgia Hale as "The Girl" The Salvation Hunters (film) 1925 Georgia Hale as "The Girl".jpg
Director von Sternberg: Hale's "sullen charm" - Georgia Hale as "The Girl"
The Girl (Georgia Hale) and The Brute (Olaf Hytten) The Salvation Hunters (film) 1925 Josef von Sternberg, director L to R Georgia Hale, Olaf Hytten.jpg
The Girl (Georgia Hale) and The Brute (Olaf Hytten)
The Woman (Nellie Bly Baker) and The Man (Otto Matiesen) The Salvation Hunters (film) 1925. Josef von Sternberg, director. L to R, Nellie Bly Baker, Otto Matiesen.jpg
The Woman (Nellie Bly Baker) and The Man (Otto Matiesen)

The film opens with a foreword:

There are important fragments of life that have been avoided by the motion picture because Thought is concerned and not the Body. A thought can create and destroy nationsand it is all the more powerful because it is born of suffering, lives in silence, and dies when it has done its work. Our aim has been to photograph a thoughtA thought that guides humans who crawl close to the earthwhose lives are simplewho begin nowhere and end nowhere.

The story begins along a bleak waterfront in an unidentified harbor. Industrial refuse litters the shore. A giant Sisyphean dredge scoops mud from a channel and into a massive barge. Four characters, “humans who crawl close to the earth” occupy the brooding landscape:

The Boy, a fainthearted and feckless youth, wanders aimlessly amid the wreckage. He fancies The Girl.
The Girl, older and hardened by her impoverishment, has “sunk as low as her socks.” Maintaining a sullen dignity in her solitude, she spurns The Boys diffident advances.
The Child is an orphaned youngster. He silently haunts the mud barge where his parents lost their lives.
The Brute is a man of indeterminate age and short-tempered. He acts as watchman aboard the barge.

The Brute makes a pass at The Girl. She cuts him cold with a glare and he retreats. Frustrated, The Brute assaults The Child who has trespassed on the barge. The Boy witnesses the assault, but is frozen by his cowardice. The Girl, with a single word, shames him into action. He gingerly collects The Child, and they flee together with The Brute in pursuit. The Girl, with a look, signals the dredge operator, who unleashes a torrent of mud on the head of The Brute.

The Boy, The Girl and The Child escape from the desolate docks to the slums of an unnamed metropolis.

As the threesome trudge through the back alleys of the city, they are spotted by The Man and his client, The Gentleman. The Man accosts The Boy and confirms what he suspects: they are homeless and penniless. He assures The Boy that jobs are plentiful, and offers to provide a room for the trio while The Boy seeks employment. Unbeknownst to them, the “room” is located in a brothel. The Man's aim is to enlist The Girl as a prostitute. When they are ushered into the seedy flat, The Woman, a sex worker, attempts to provide them with some refreshment. The Man stops her: “Hunger will whisper things in their ears that I might find troublesome to say.”

As the hours pass, The Girl becomes increasingly anxious due to The Child's pleas for food. The Boy returns from his futile search for work demoralized. They are on the verge of despair. The Boy indulges in a vivid fantasy, in which he, The Girl and The Child are transformed into wealthy aristocrats, who arrive at their estate escorted by servants dressed in faux-military livery.

The Gentlemen, with the encouragement of the Man, enters the room expecting to negotiate sex with a prostitute. The Girl coldly considers the proposition. The Boy becomes distraught when he discerns The Girl's ambivalence. The Gentleman, grasping her dilemma, bestows a gift of money on the Girl without comment and quietly takes his leave. The Child snatches the largesse and bolts to the door, returning shortly with provisions for a meal – the crisis past.

The Man, thwarted in his endeavor, devises another plan in collusion with The Woman. They invite the young trio to an outing in the countryside. There, he intends to seduce The Girl and coerce her into the sex trade: “…let romance do a little work.”. The Woman is tasked with distracting The Boy during the seduction.

The party of five arrives in the country in a touring car. They park next to a real estate sign that reads “Here Your Dreams Come True.” Despite The Man's best efforts, The Girl remains unresponsive to his blandishments. Exasperated, he lashes out at The Child. The Boy, shedding his fear, leaps to the defense of the little boy and beats The Man into submission with his fists. The Girl rejoices that The Boy has claimed his manhood.

Triumphantly, the trio – now a family –strides into the sunset, “children of the sun.”

Cast

The Salvation Hunters (1925). Otto Matieson as "The Man". The Salvation Hunters (1925 film). Directed by Josef von Sternberg. Actor Otto Matieson.jpg
The Salvation Hunters (1925). Otto Matieson as "The Man".

Background

English actor and producer George K. Arthur approached Sternberg to film a comedy entitled “Just Plain Buggs". Sternberg had recently served as assistant-director and writer on Roy William Neill’s film By Devine Right (1924) and accepted the offer, with the caveat that they substitute his own screenplay, The Salvation Hunters, to which Arthur agreed.

Though the details remain “confused and controversial” the film was financed by Sternberg and Arthur for just under five-thousand dollars. Sternberg contributed the bulk of his personal savings to meet budgetary shortfalls. [1] In this respect, The Salvation Hunters may be considered an independent film and as such “an almost unique specimen in its time.” [6] [7]

Production

Filming began in the fall of 1924. The movie was shot on location in California, including San Pedro, Chinatown, San Fernando Valley and at Grand-Asher Studios. [8] [9] [10]

Due to budgetary restraints, Sternberg and Arthur employed Hollywood extras, so-called "supers", rather than featured players. Georgia Hale was a cabaret singer and dress extra on Vanity's Price (1924) when Sternberg tapped for the role of The Girl. She and most of the cast agreed to "defer" salaries. Stuart Holmes, who played The Gentleman, was an exception; a well-known screen "villain" - and famous sculptor - he was paid $100 in advance for his brief, but effective, appearance in The Salvation Hunters. [9] [11]

Reception

The Salvation Hunters was a “complete failure” at its New York City premiere, where it ran less than a week. Nationwide, attendance was “unspectacular.” As Sternberg, at the Hollywood premiere remarked, “The members of the cast were in the audience, which greeted my work with laughter and jeers and finally rioted. Many walked out, and so did I.” [1] [12] [13]

In the aftermath of the film's brief showing, Arthur took steps to see that a print was smuggled into the home of actor-director-producer Charlie Chaplin, where it received a private viewing by the film star and associates Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., Mary Pickford and Joseph Schenck. [14] Subsequently, The New York Times Sunday entertainment section of February 1, 1925 carried the following announcement:

”The Salvation Hunters directed by Josef von Sternberg, a young Austrian, is to be presented at the Mark Strand this week. This is the film which caught the fancy of Charles Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford. Mr. Chaplin was particularly enthusiastic about the picture.” [1]

At years’ end Film Mercury movie critic Anabel Lane included The Salvation Hunters in the top-10 list for 1925: [1]

1. Cecil B. DeMille’s Isn’t Life Wonderful
2. King Vidor The Big Parade
3. Erich von Stroheim’s Greed
4. Sven Gade’s Siège
5. Augusto Genina’s Cyrano de Bergerac
6. Clarence Badger’s Paths to Paradise
7. F. W. Murnau’s The Last Laugh
8. Josef von Sternberg’s The Salvation Hunters
9. Malcolm St. Clair’s Are Parents People?
10.Herbert Brenon’s Peter Pan

With his star rising among the studio executives, Sternberg signed a long-term contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Despite this promising entry into commercial movie-making his "association [with Metro] was doomed from the start" as evidenced in his first feature The Exquisite Sinner . [1] [6]

Theme

The Girl (Georgia Hale) and The Boy (George K Arthur): The Mud Dredge, "mechanical motion as the representation of cosmic futility" The Salvation Hunters (film) 1925. Josef von Sternberg, director. L to R George K Arthur, Georgia Hale.png
The Girl (Georgia Hale) and The Boy (George K Arthur): The Mud Dredge, "mechanical motion as the representation of cosmic futility"

“The underlying theme of Sternberg’s cinema,” observes critic Andrew Sarris, is the relationships of men and women “or more precisely, man’s confrontation of the myths of womanhood.” His oeuvre demonstrates this “from The Salvation Hunters to Anatahan ”, his last film. [9]

The Gentleman (played by Stewart Holmes) is “curious”: the “first screen character who respects the women he seeks to reduce to prostitution.” The Gentleman is portrayed neither as a depraved denizen of bordellos nor a salacious deviate. “[T]hough eager to sleep with The Girl, he never loses his dignity or bearing [and] respects her reluctance when he discovers she is driven by hunger”, as well as concern for her younger companions. Sternberg's Gentleman is a “far more advanced” depiction of the “predatory Men of the World” than achieved by directors Chaplin or Lubitsch in the 1920s. The character “prefigures G.W. Pabst’s treatment of Louise Brooks and her respectful lovers in Diary of a Lost Girl and Pandora's Box ” in the late twenties.

The Girl, who with merely a look succeeds in deflecting The Brute and commands the operation of heavy equipment (the mud-dredge), exhibits “a mystical authority...[an] authority which marks Sternberg’s attitude toward women long before the debut of Marlene Dietrich. “The real drama of The Salvation Hunters is not concerned with the rise of the downtrodden, but rather with the moving (emotion in motion) spectacle of a Girl waiting for a Boy to grow into a Man.” [17]

See also

Related Research Articles

Andrew Sarris was an American film critic. He was a leading proponent of the auteur theory of film criticism.

<i>The Docks of New York</i> 1928 film

The Docks of New York is a 1928 American silent drama film directed by Josef von Sternberg and starring George Bancroft, Betty Compson, and Olga Baclanova. The movie was adapted by Jules Furthman from the John Monk Saunders story The Dock Walloper.

<i>Morocco</i> (film) 1930 film by Josef von Sternberg

Morocco is a 1930 American pre-Code romantic drama film directed by Josef von Sternberg and starring Gary Cooper, Marlene Dietrich, and Adolphe Menjou. Based on the 1927 novel Amy Jolly by Benno Vigny and adapted by Jules Furthman, the film is about a cabaret singer and a Legionnaire who fall in love during the Rif War, and whose relationship is complicated by his womanizing and the appearance of a rich man who is also in love with her. The film is famous for a scene in which Dietrich performs a song dressed in a man's tailcoat and kisses another woman, both of which were considered scandalous for the period.

<i>Thunderbolt</i> (1929 film) 1929 film

Thunderbolt is a 1929 American Pre-Code proto-noir film directed by Josef von Sternberg and starring George Bancroft, Fay Wray, Richard Arlen, Tully Marshall and Eugenie Besserer. It tells the story of a criminal, facing execution, who wants to kill the man in the next cell for being in love with his former girlfriend.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Josef von Sternberg</span> Austrian-American film director (1894–1969)

Josef von Sternberg was an Austrian-American filmmaker whose career successfully spanned the transition from the silent to the sound era, during which he worked with most of the major Hollywood studios. He is best known for his film collaboration with actress Marlene Dietrich in the 1930s, including the highly regarded Paramount/UFA production, The Blue Angel (1930).

<i>The Last Command</i> (1928 film) 1928 film

The Last Command is a 1928 silent film directed by Josef von Sternberg, and written by John F. Goodrich and Herman J. Mankiewicz from a story by Lajos Bíró. Star Emil Jannings won the first Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role at the 1929 ceremony for his performances in this film and The Way of All Flesh, the only year that multiple roles were considered. In 2006, the film was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the United States Library of Congress and selected for the National Film Registry. The supporting cast includes Evelyn Brent and William Powell.

<i>The Blue Angel</i> 1930 German musical comedy-drama film

The Blue Angel is a 1930 German musical comedy-drama film directed by Josef von Sternberg, and starring Marlene Dietrich, Emil Jannings and Kurt Gerron. Written by Carl Zuckmayer, Karl Vollmöller and Robert Liebmann – with uncredited contributions by Sternberg – it is based on Heinrich Mann's 1905 novel Professor Unrat and set in an unspecified northern German port city. The Blue Angel presents the tragic transformation of a respectable professor to a cabaret clown and his descent into madness. The film is the first feature-length German full-talkie and brought Dietrich international fame. In addition, it introduced her signature song, Friedrich Hollaender and Robert Liebmann's "Falling in Love Again ". It is considered to be a classic of German cinema.

Underworld is a 1927 American silent crime film directed by Josef von Sternberg and starring Clive Brook, Evelyn Brent and George Bancroft. The film launched Sternberg's eight-year collaboration with Paramount Pictures, with whom he would produce his seven films with actress Marlene Dietrich. Journalist and screenwriter Ben Hecht won an Academy Award for Best Original Story.

<i>Macao</i> (film) 1952 film by Josef von Sternberg, Nicholas Ray

Macao is a 1952 black-and-white film noir adventure directed by Josef von Sternberg and Nicholas Ray and starring Robert Mitchum, Jane Russell, William Bendix, and Gloria Grahame.

A Woman of the Sea, also known by its working title Sea Gulls, is an unreleased silent film produced in 1926 by the Chaplin Film Company. It is one of only two lost Charlie Chaplin films, having been destroyed by Chaplin himself as a tax writeoff.

<i>The Devil Is a Woman</i> (1935 film) 1935 American film directed by Josef von Sternberg

The Devil Is a Woman is a 1935 American romance film directed and photographed by Josef von Sternberg, adapted from the 1898 novel La Femme et le pantin by Pierre Louÿs. The film was based on a screenplay by John Dos Passos, and stars Marlene Dietrich, Lionel Atwill, Cesar Romero, Edward Everett Horton, and Alison Skipworth. The movie is the last of the six Sternberg-Dietrich collaborations for Paramount Pictures.

<i>Dishonored</i> (film) 1931 film

Dishonored is a 1931 pre-Code romantic spy film about a female spy for Austria-Hungary during World War I. It was co-written, directed, and edited by Josef von Sternberg for Paramount Pictures. The costume design was by Travis Banton. The film stars Marlene Dietrich, Victor McLaglen, Gustav von Seyffertitz, and Warner Oland.

<i>Sergeant Madden</i> 1939 film by Josef von Sternberg

Sergeant Madden is a 1939 film noir forerunner directed by Josef von Sternberg and starring Wallace Beery. The supporting cast in this dark police crime drama, noted for its imaginative and evocative cinematography, includes Tom Brown, Laraine Day, Alan Curtis, and Marc Lawrence.

<i>The Case of Lena Smith</i> 1929 film

The Case of Lena Smith is a 1929 American silent drama film directed by Josef von Sternberg, starring Esther Ralston and James Hall, and released by Paramount Pictures.

<i>Anatahan</i> (film) 1953 film by Josef von Sternberg

Anatahan (アナタハン), also known as The Saga of Anatahan, is a 1953 black-and-white Japanese film war drama directed by Josef von Sternberg. The World War II Japanese holdouts on Anatahan also inspired a 1998 novel, Cage on the Sea.

Crime and Punishment is a 1935 American drama film directed by Josef von Sternberg for Columbia Pictures. The screenplay was adapted by Joseph Anthony and S.K. Lauren from Fyodor Dostoevsky's 1866 novel of the same title. The film stars Peter Lorre in the lead role of Raskolnikov.

<i>The Exquisite Sinner</i> 1926 film

The Exquisite Sinner is a 1926 American silent drama film directed by Josef von Sternberg and adapted by Alice Duer Miller from the novel Escape by Alden Brooks. Starring Conrad Nagel and Renée Adorée, the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) never given a general release. No known print of the film has been recovered to date. Later that same year a second feature film Heaven on Earth, directed by Phil Rosen was released with the same cast and same sets, but a different screenplay. Rosen's version performed poorly at the box office. Sternberg reported, "the result was two ineffective films instead of one.” The American Film Institute Catalog Feature Films: 1921-30 by The American Film Institute.

<i>The Drag Net</i> 1928 film

The Drag Net, also known as The Dragnet, is a 1928 American silent crime drama produced by Famous Players-Lasky and distributed by Paramount Pictures based on the story "Nightstick" by Oliver H.P. Garrett. It was directed by Josef von Sternberg from an original screen story and starring George Bancroft and Evelyn Brent.

<i>An American Tragedy</i> (film) 1931 film

An American Tragedy (1931) is a pre-Code drama film directed by Josef von Sternberg. It was produced and distributed by Paramount Pictures. The film is based on Theodore Dreiser's 1925 novel An American Tragedy and the 1926 play adaptation. These were based on the historic 1906 murder of Grace Brown by Chester Gillette at Big Moose Lake in upstate New York.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Lucien Andriot</span> French-American cinematographer (1892–1979)

Lucien Andriot ASC (1892–1979) was a prolific French-American cinematographer. He shot more than 200 films and television programs over the course of his career.

References

    Citations

    1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Sarris, 1966, p. 10
    2. Baxter, 1971. p. 32
    3. Weinberg, 1967. p. 22: "It made several of the 'Ten Best' lists of 1925."
    4. Baxter, 1993. p. 33
    5. Sarris, 1966, p. 11
    6. 1 2 Silver, 2010
    7. Baxter, 1971. pp. 26-27
    8. Baxter, 1971. p. 26
    9. 1 2 3 Sarris, 1966, p. 11
    10. Weinberg, 1967. p. 22
    11. Baxter, 1971. pp. 27, 30
    12. Messerli, 2013
    13. Baxter, 1971. p. 30
    14. Baxter, 1971. pp. 30-31
    15. Sarris, 1966. p. 34
    16. Baxter, 1971. p. 28: The dredge and the “aimless fatalism of existence”
    17. Sarris, 1966. p. 12

    Sources