The Golden Chance (1915)

Film Review

THE GOLDEN CHANCE

Release Date: 1915

Director: Cecil B. DeMille

Starring: Cleo Ridgely, Wallace Reid, Horace Carpenter

Special Notes: Great American Films, 1911-1920

This film has been selected to our list of Great American Films, 1911-1920, which focuses on obscure and under-appreciated American film masterpieces.

Synopsis

Mary lives in poverty with her husband Steve Denby, a drunkard who spends most of their money on his vice. Unable to pay the rent, Mary takes a job as a seamstress at the home of the wealthy Mrs. Hilary, who notices Mary's innate refinement. Mrs. Hilary invites Roger Manning, a young millionaire, to a dinner party to persuade Manning to agree to a business deal with her husband. Mrs. Hilary then persuades Mary to be Roger's date at the party. Clothes, jewels, and feathers transform Mary into an elegant young woman, and Manning is attracted to her. Still pursuing Manning's agreement to the deal, Mrs. Hilary persuades Mary to stay for the weekend. By the end of the weekend, Manning proposes; Mary declines but will not explain why.

Mary's husband Denby breaks into the wealthy Hilary's home intending to rob it, where he discovers Mary asleep in a fine bedroom. He accuses her of unfaithfulness. Manning corners Denby as he tries to sneak away, and Denby asserts that he is visiting his wife. Manning allows Denby to escape, and Mary confesses the truth to Manning. Denby decides to blackmail Manning, and sends him a note - supposedly from Mary - asking for his help. Manning comes to the tenement, and Mary pleads with him to leave. He refuses, then gets into a fight with Denby. The situation escalates when the police arrive, and Denby shoots a cop before being shot dead himself. As Manning tells his side of the story to the police, Denby's corpse is carried into the bedroom. Mary, agonized, stands motionless outside the closed bedroom door. The film ends with a distressed Manning bending down weakly beside her.

Discussion

From this rather slight plot, director Cecil B. DeMille delivers a well-paced film focused on intimate human drama and personal relationships. The direction emphasizes natural facial and body movements, and the movements and gestures of the actors are subdued and restrained (an interesting comparison to the generally more exaggerated acting in D.W. Griffith's films of this same time period.)

Wallace Reid, who had a small role in Birth of a Nation that same year, is handsome and personable as the wealthy Roger Manning. Cleo Ridgely, a little known actress, impresses as the unhappy wife, Mary. She effectively communicates Mary's sad resignation, her yearning for nicer things, and her anguish at the sudden, violent death of her husband, Steve Denby. Ridgely had leading roles during the 1910s, but appeared in only a few films after her marriage to director James W. Horne in 1916.

Scenes showing Mary dressing for the dinner party present an interesting showing of the fashions of 1915. They also show the beginnings of DeMille's emphasis on the fashions and costumes of his leading ladies, important elements of his films with Gloria Swanson in the 1920s.