Cymbeline (1913)

*. I don’t suppose there are many people today who know the name Florence La Badie but she was a big star in the early days of film, before there really were stars, or a star system anyway. She died in 1917 as the result of a car accident, and her Wikipedia entry remarks that she was “the first major female film star to die while her career was at its peak.” I cite Wikipedia. In the venerable Film Encyclopedia (ed. Ephraim Katz) her birth date is given as 1893 and it’s said she died at the age of 23. Wikipedia says she was born in 1888 and died when she was 29. Alas for the authority of print, I’m inclined to believe Wikipedia.
*. In any event, I don’t think she’s a household name today. She deserved her celebrity in the 1910s though, as she’s quite a presence. I think she gives a great performance here. A lot of it is done with her eyes instead of the grand gesticulations you’d expect. Even watching what looked like an unrestored print in poor condition I was mesmerized by her face. Look at her as she’s watching the battle, or as she changes from moping to cheerful when her brothers escort her from the cave. That’s star power. You’re not paying attention to anything else that’s happening on screen.
*. Aside from her there isn’t much to get excited about. Cymbeline has a complicated plot that is necessarily streamlined quite a bit here by the Thanhouser Company, who specialized in these literary adaptations at a time when film was seen as having a highbrow audience. There is no Jupiter descending in the dream of Posthumus, for example, which might have been fun but probably would have broken the budget. This is a film that looks done on the cheap, with tatty costumes and sets that don’t seem to have had much work put into them. Even the big battle scene is just a handful of actors banging swords on shields.
*. Also downgraded are the villains, with the Queen and Cloten greatly diminished. I’m not sure what happens to them at the end. I think they just got dropped (the actor playing Cloten isn’t even credited). Iachimo, however, is a credibly slimey piece of work, and there are hints of something special happening with the lighting in the scene where he sneaks out of the trunk in Imogen’s bedroom. But only hints. It was 1913 and as I say, the surviving print isn’t in the best shape. SoCal also doesn’t look much like Wales. Yes there are hills, but they aren’t very green.
*. It’s not a play that’s produced very often. I don’t think there was a major film version until 2014, over a hundred years later. It may take us as long to see another.

9 thoughts on “Cymbeline (1913)

    1. Alex Good

      “William Shakespeare (bapt. 26 April 1564 – 23 April 1616) was an English playwright, poet, and actor, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world’s greatest dramatist.”
      You kids. Going to see Anvil on REUNION tours. Oh well. I guess there are few of us left who caught them in the early ’80s in Toronto. Meanwhile, when it comes to English literature your education at this site continues. Keep reading and you’ll be getting tested for your M.A. in no time.

      1. tensecondsfromnow

        Just wondered since there was no actual reference to Shakespeare in your review. Schoolboy error. Basic stuff, really. Happy to help.

        ‘Alex ‘Backfur’ Good (bapt. 26 April 1564 – 23 April 2022) was an Canadian playwright, poet, and actor, widely regarded as the greatest tool in the English language and the world’s worst reviewer. Discuss.’

      2. Alex Good Post author

        Point taken. I feel shamed. Sometimes I don’t feel the need to point out the totally, blindingly obvious. Like when talking about Cymbeline, a play I’d (wrongly) assumed everyone would know was written by you-know-who. From now on I pledge to try harder in addressing my notes to a more remedial level. That is, for readers who . . . well, readers who don’t read.
        Now back to putting together this Friday’s Eddie Harrison Quiz. When you think of Eddie Harrison and movie reviews, what’s the first thing that comes to mind?

  1. Bookstooge

    I didn’t like the play very much at all, so I can’t imagine sitting through a low budget old movie.

    Glad to let you suffer through it for the rest of us. I’d tip my hat to you, but it’s too hot and the sun is too bright to risk taking my hat off for even a second…

    1. Alex Good

      The play has actually grown on me. I should be posting some of my thoughts on it over at my other site sometime. This movie though is highly missable.
      Nothing but rain all day here! Another excuse to keep your hat on.

      1. Bookstooge

        We’re supposed to get some solid rain starting tomorrow night into Thursday. Help break this heat wave, which I’ll be very thankful for.

        Looking forward to your thoughts on the play.

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