Love Never Dies (1921)

Feature Article Film Review


Release Date: 14 November, 1921

Studio: King W. Vidor Productions

Director: King Vidor

Starring: Lloyd Hughes (John Trott), Madge Bellamy (Tilly Whaley), Joseph Bennett (Joel Eperson), Claire McDowell (Liz Trott), Frank Brownlee (Ezekial Whaley), Julia Brown (Dora Boyles), Winifred Greenwood (Jane Holder)

Scenario: William Nathaniel Harben (story), King Vidor (adaptation)

Photography: Max Dupont


After the credits, the film opens on the title, "The small village of Ridgeville is turning a new page" and a page is shown turning. The town is seen in a small canyon next to a river. The mother of John Trotter is introduced by an ironic title, "Jane Holder and Liz Trotter are people the righteous citizens only mention in hushed tones." Jane and Liz, both middle aged, arrive at the gate of their house with two men. Their dress and manner implies that they are prostitutes. John Trotter gets out of bed to see his mother (or so he thinks) arriving late with the men. Liz comes in and kisses him goodnight. In Liz's room, Jane demands half of Liz's money to keep quiet about her true relationship to John. Liz pays.

John, who is an up and coming architect, has traveled to a town for which he has designed a new courthouse. While in town to supervise construction, John has met and fallen in love with Tilly Whaley. Tilly has a long time beau, Joel Eperson. During a party to honor John, Joel proposes, but Tilly refuses. When John proposes at the same party, she accepts him.

John and Tilly are married, but he has not told her about his mother. They move into a small cottage fairly close to his mother's home, but she remains unmentioned. John and Tilly are very happy. Dora, an orphan being raised by Liz and Jane, visits Tilly and reveals the social status of John's mother to a saddened Tilly who, nonetheless, still loves John.

Tilly's father learns about Liz, flies into a rage, and swears to kill John. He goes to the cottage. His threat to kill John forces Tilly to leave with him. She tells the coachman the reason for her departure, and asks him to tell John. A title indicates that the coachman has misunderstood her message. John returns home and finds Tilly gone. A title indicates that he is playing "Loves Old Sweet Song" on the phonograph. The coachman returns and tells John that Tilly has left because of his mother and never wants to see him again. John cries himself to sleep, clutching Tilly's nightgown.

John decides to leave and he takes Dora and her dog with him. Their train derails into a river. John decides that he will pretend to have died in the wreck. He tells the officials on the scene that John Trotter and Dora Boyles have been killed. They accept this statement and relay the news so that Liz and Tilly learn of John's death. Liz receives this news and is heartbroken, but she cannot cry. Tilly visits her, and they find some consolation in each other.

Years have passed, and John has been successful in the city. However, he longs for his wife and the small town where they lived. He decides to visit. At his old cottage, he meets a small boy. John also meets his mother, who has obviously transformed into a respectable matron. She faints upon seeing him. Scenes or parts of the scene is missing here. John is with Tilly who tells him about their son. She is now married to Joel, but warmly embraces John. However, since she is Joel's wife, there can be no future for them. John leaves sadly wishing he had not come.

Joel has seen John and Tilly together. He follows John and tries to shoot him. John easily overpowers Joel. Joel visualizes Tilly's response if she learns that he ordered John to leave. Joel decides to kill himself. He gets into a rowboat and heads for the falls.

John, being ferried across the river, sees Joel heading for the falls. The ferryman declares that Joel is doomed, but John throws him aside, takes command, and rows frantically after Joel. The ferryman jumps overboard and swims away. The two boats are caught in the raging river and swept downstream. John's boat wrecks, but he manages to swim to Joel's rowboat. They grapple rather inelegantly, fail to stop the course of the boat, and cling to each other as they go over the falls. John (rather miraculously) survives another plunge into the river, but Joel is badly injured. John frantically carries him ashore. Joel revives enough to tell John that he told Tilly's father about the improper life of Liz and that he convinced Tilly to marry him. He dies on the muddy riverside. John collapses on him, crying.

This scene ended the version of Love Never Dies that we saw. Presumably material showing the reconciliation of John and Tilly was missing.


Love Never Dies is a better film than its synopsis might indicate. The actors create characters who gain audience sympathy, and these perfomances carry the movie. Madge Bellamy's role suits her well. Her restrained and appropriate acting projects the necessary warmth and innocence inherent in her character. Lloyd Hughes' character undergoes conflict as he marries Tilly and tries to attain higher social status, but he also feels reduced by the behavior and reputation of his mother. Since John readily accepts the explanation that Tilly left him because of his mother, the character obviously accepts that he will retain a lower status due to this relationship. Joel is also a conflicted character, he loves Tilly and lies to obtain her. He tries to kill John, but he feels guilty about his actions. His death scene, after his poorly motivated suicide, is simultaneously affecting and rather ridiculous.

The separate scenes in the film are well managed, and audience interest is maintained throughout. However, from the point where Tilly's father forcibly takes her back, the series of events are unbelievable. John accepts without question the statement of the coachman. He goes away without attempting to ask Tilly why she left. The train wreck is well handled, though passenger survival hardly seems possible, and John and Dora are not even hurt. John decides to tell the officials that he and Dora have died, and his word is accepted instantly and without question. Years pass, but how many is unclear, Dora looks at least eight or nine years older, but John and Tilly's child (when he appears) looks about four years old. The transformation of Liz is apparently explained by her relationship with Tilly, but was not otherwise shown in the film we saw. The reappearance of John means that Tilly is married to two men, but that fact does not seem to bother anybody. Joel conveniently decides to commit suicide, and his death neatly reunites the lovers. So it all somehow proves that love never dies. Even with allowances for the possibility that portions of the film are lost, the events are farfetched.

King Vidor is an important director, and this film is an example of his early work. He is attempting to make a statement with this movie and the plot flaws are apparently secondary to portraying the concept of steadfast love. However, the story is a weak attempt to substantiate the idea. Nonetheless, his actors do good work, the film is handsomely photographed and he controls the sentimentality of the plot fairly well.


Variety: Love Never Dies, by Jolo, 1921

Jolo, the reviewer, found Love Never Dies an absorbing and appealing "heart-interest story." He praises the uniform excellence of the cast, calling Lloyd Hughes an "attractive hero," and noting Joe Bennett's fine characterization. "Madge Bellamy is pretty and her pantomiming suitably expresses the emotional state of the heroine. Claire McDowell's work stands out brilliantly , and the photography and direction are all that could be desired." He concludes that it is an exceptional photoplay.