Classic Movie ReviewsMovie ReviewsClassic Review: The Divine Lady (1929)

leandromatos1981March 7, 2019

Featuring an amazing performance by Corinne Griffith.

Synopsis: The story of the romance between Emma, Lady Hamilton, and British was hero Admiral Horatio Nelson. (IMDB)

Starring: Corinne Griffith, Victor Varconi, and H.B. Warner

Writers: E. Barrington & Forrest Halsey

Director: Frank Lloyd

Rating: n/a

Running Time: 99mins

Scene from the film:

A partly fictionalized account of history begins with the arrival of slatternly Emma Hart (Griffith), a cook’s daughter, at the home of Charles Greville (Ian Keith). Greville takes her as his lover and grooms her until their relationship becomes an inconvenience. Greville then dupes Emma into traveling to Naples to live with his uncle, Lord Hamilton (Warner), ambassador to the court at Naples.

Realizing that Greville has abandoned her, Emma agrees to marry Lord Hamilton. Soon, however, she meets Admiral Horatio Nelson (Varconi) of the British Navy. Emma plays a crucial role in convincing Naples to open its ports to Nelson during his campaign against Napoleon’s French fleet. Soon, Emma and the married Nelson become romantically involved — a relationship that will have consequences for them both.

The Divine Lady is a great silent movie. It is totally watchable, tells a story with great scope and is visually ambitious while the performers all do great. Frank Lloyd, the director, knew exactly what he wanted to do – and he did it. The film is very well directed, with Lloyd being able to deliver big, entertainment and complicated moments, like the fights on the ship, and the quiet most heartbreaking moments. In a period where a lot of movies felt flat closed off and uninspired, The Divine Lady is hugely entertaining and you see all his efforts to deliver a very engaging film on display. It is not a shock at all that he was awarded best director at the second year of the Academy Awards.

Lloyd had a trump card up his sleeve: Corinne Griffith. In the lead role, she was such a natural it is kind of strange to see her placed in the silent period. Performers at the time were known to go as broad as possible. Exaggeration was a word these people were very much familiar with. Think of Gloria Swanson’s brilliant over-the-top performance in Sunset Boulevard: that was exactly how these people used to portray emotion. Not Corinne Griffith. While this wasn’t there in some moments, she was very soft and very fluid in her emotions most of the time. One can almost say she is subtle (at least for the period). You look at her and you can sense everything she is feeling because her eyes are telling us what’s happening. It is a wonderful performance.

Unfortunately, her romantic costar is not that good: Varconi is stiff and not very much engaging here. But at least Corinne had Warner as Sir William Hamilton, always an actor that gave his movies far more than he was asked for. The cast also had future Oscar winner Marie Dressler in a thankless part as Mrs. Hart.

On a personal note, the film may be silent but this is the first time I had the opportunity of watching a silent movie that also had sound – which made it sound super weird. The film is silent, but there are musical numbers that have sound, so you can see the actors poorly mimicking the lyrics. Hey, at least it’s funny!

The Divine Lady is a great silent entertainment.

Score: 7/10

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