Once again, a movie that was 'lost forever' turns out merely to have been mislaid. 'Pied Piper Malone' was in the Gosfilmofond archives in Russia, and has now returned to circulation. Having visited Gosfilmofond, I know for a fact that a large number of Hollywood silent films -- and quite a few British silents -- are carefully preserved there. Because the Soviet Union didn't recognise free-world copyrights, the cultural commissars had no qualms about obtaining prints of English-language films and 'forgetting' to return them. After talkies arrived, this practice declined somewhat due to the difficulty of dubbing a soundtrack for Russian audiences.
A couple of other IMDb reviewers have written ecstatic reviews of 'Pied Piper Malone', but they are largely reacting to the premiere of its rediscovery, rather than the film itself.
'Pied Piper Malone' is proficiently made, and features some beautiful scenery, but is simply not a very good film. It moralises too much, and several characters are stereotypes.
The film is set in the coastal town of Oldport, a God-fearing community. Jack Malone (Tom Meighan) is considered the black sheep of his large family: his many brothers and sisters have chosen to get married (no, not to each other), settle down in Oldport and have children, whereas Jack has gone off to sea as Captain Clarke's junior officer. Meanwhile, all of Jack's many brothers and sisters have produced many sons and daughters. Whenever Jack returns to Oldport, he is the centre of attention among his dozens of nieces and nephews, who dote on him and follow him everywhere. (Maybe because he buys them ice cream.) Jack is known as Pied Piper Malone: an odd choice of nickname, since the original Pied Piper STOLE the children.
Oldport is a blue-nosed village, where everyone is aware of the evil of John Barleycorn ... and yet for some reason there's plenty of Prohibition hooch hereabouts. The booze is supplied by bootlegger Charles Crosby (Cyril Ring), who dispenses it via the barber shop. Guess what's in the bottle marked 'Bay Rum'.
Unfortunately, Jack's employer -- kindly sea-dog Captain Clarke -- has a drinking problem. The script's back-story is careful to establish that Clarke first started drinking to dull the pain from an arm injury. When Clarke falls off the wagon, Jack has the bad luck to walk him past the local church just as the Sunday service is letting out. Everyone sees them; Clarke is now stigmatised as a drunkard, and Jack -- through a misunderstanding -- is perceived to be a drunkard too. Everyone shuns him, even his formerly loyal girlfriend Patty. Well, not everyone: the children are still loyal to Pied Piper Malone.
This movie is bilge. It places a tremendous stigma upon alcohol and alcoholism. I see nothing particularly wrong with drinking unless the alcohol encourages the drinker to drive while intoxicated, or to commit violent acts, or do some other harm to other people.
This movie was made during deepest Prohibition, and I recognise the heavy hand of scriptwriter Booth Tarkington, well known for his ultra-conservative outlook. It doesn't help that Meighan is a stolid actor, giving a stiff and mannered performance.
My favourite part of this sanctimonious Temperance lecture was when I spotted future character actor Brian Keith among the children following Meighan about. George Fawcett gives a sympathetic performance as Captain Clarke, and Cyril Ring is hissable as the villain with the bootleg hooch (a smuggling Ring?) ... but there's not very much to enjoy here. I welcome this film back from the lost, and rate it 4 out of 10.
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