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Rob Edelman: A Great Silent Feature

Nine decades ago, the silent cinema pretty much disappeared and was replaced by the new all-singing, all-dancing, all-talking picture. Well, I always have been intrigued by the art of the silent picture, and I am thrilled whenever a worthy new title of which I am unfamiliar becomes available on home entertainment. For after all, the comedy masterworks of a Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, or Harold Lloyd or such acknowledged classics as King Vidor’s THE CROWD or F.W. Murnau’s SUNRISE are not the lone silent gems. And I always am thrilled to discover one more. It may be eye-catching for the story it is telling. It may be alluring for its visuals, its camera movement, where the filmmaker places the camera and the manner in which the filmmaker moves the camera. Truly, this is the essence of the art of the silent cinema.

One such jewel has recently been released to home entertainment in a spanking new restoration, via Kino Lorber. This version emerged from a print uncovered by the Library of Congress in 2001. Its title is YOU NEVER KNOW WOMEN. It dates from 1926. Its star is Florence Vidor, who just so happened to have married King Vidor way back in 1915.

Here, Florence Vidor stars as Vera, a carefree actress who is beloved by those in her vaudeville troupe. Two men in particular desire her. One is a wealthy, self-absorbed gent who is convinced that anything he wants is his for the taking. The other is her stage partner, a working-class hero who quietly loves her. At the core of YOU NEVER KNOW WOMEN is a subject that is timeless. It involves the essence of true love. How will any individual know his or her true love? Will that love be accepted? Or is there the possibility that it will be rejected, perhaps until it is too late?

So much can be said about YOU NEVER KNOW WOMEN. Scene after scene can be described and analyzed. However, let’s focus on two who worked on the film. First, there is Florence Vidor: an actress who exuded class. During the 1920’s, she starred in an impressive array of titles but decided to abandon the movies at the dawn of the sound era. Her second husband reflects the flair of Florence Vidor. It is a legendary violinist by the name of Jascha Heifetz.

Next, there is William A. Wellman, the director of YOU NEVER KNOW WOMEN. Wellman was as much a freethinker as a filmmaker, and there is so much to be said about him. Suffice to say that his classic sound films only begin with BATTLEGROUND and STORY OF G.I. JOE, two seminal World War II features; THE OX-BOW INCIDENT, from the Walter Van Tilburg Clark novel, a classic tale of the folly of lynching; and the original version of A STAR IS BORN. But starting in 1920, Wellman did direct a series of American silents. One was WINGS, the first-ever Best Picture Academy Award-winner. The other was YOU NEVER KNOW WOMEN: a film that can be screened, screened again, and savored!

Rob Edelman teaches film history courses at the University at Albany. He has contributed to many arts and baseball-related publications; his latest book, which he co-edited, is From Spring Training To Screen Test: Baseball Players Turned Actors. His frequent collaborator is his wife, fellow WAMC film commentator Audrey Kupferberg.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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