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Reviews of silent film releases on home video.
Copyright © 1999-2017 by Carl Bennett
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The
Devil’s Needle

(1916)

 

This social drama from the Fine Arts Film Company features Tully Marshall and Norma Talmadge in a tale of drug addiction.

Talmadge plays a rather flippant drug addict, bordering on an ADD condition, who is working as a model for and an assistant to modern artist Marshall. Having acquired her addiction during wartime service as a nurse, she has been unable to discontinue her habit. It is not explained whether the drug being used is morphine or heroin.

Frustrated with a parade of crass working-class models, the artist selects the daughter (Marguerite Marsh) of a wealthy patron as his next model. It is not long before her foppish and jealous fiancé (Howard Gaye) stridently objects to her posing. While her father (F.A. Turner) implores her fiancé to marry, the daughter finds herself smitten with the artist.

Meanwhile, the artist discovers his assistant’s drug use and she extols its creative power. Against his better judgment, he tries the drug and finds his energy and creativity renewed.

The daughter visits the studio to find that the artist has finished his painting, and their true feelings are revealed to each other and, shortly, are secretly married. When the fact is announced to her father and jilted finacé, she is cast out. The news is no less a disappointment to the assistant, who is also in love with the artist. She retreats to her drug supply to find that the artist has taken up the habit on her carelessly strewn words.

After a year’s time, the daughter is disillusioned with a life of want caused by the artist’s diminished creative output and growing preoccupation with his addictive muse.

It is here that the film’s most disturbing moment occurs. Watching hallucinations cavorting in the fireplace, the artist absent-mindedly sucks on the needle of a syringe.

When she tries to console him, the artist attempts to inject his wife with the drug. Narrowly escaping the threat, she nonetheless follows the artist into rough area as he wanders to a cheap hotel where his former assistant, now clean, lives. Horrified at the sight of the junkie artist, she realizes that she is responsible for the damage done.

Now lost in a frightening neighborhood and being followed by a known drug dealer, the artist’s wife retreats to a drugstore and calls her former fiancé for rescue. Soon, the assistant arrives with a phoney prescription to obtain the drug for the artist. She is followed back to the hotel by the wife and her friend, and the crazed artist wrestles like a mad man to get at the drug and casts them out.

Becoming aware of his wife’s resolve to help the artist break his habit, the artist accepts the recommendation of his building’s janitor to clean up on a farm. Through hard work, he becomes clean and is ready to return to his work. Meanwhile, desperate for news of her husband, the wife goes to the cheap hotel but is kidnapped by the drug dealer. Led by his former assistant, the artist arrives to rescue her.

The film is successful at it intent to realistically address drug addiction. Never is it maudlin or falsely played. Modern audiences still respond to the message and to the portrayals. Of particular note is Tully Marshall’s performance that masterfully ranges from intensely-focused artist to terrifying, beastlike drug fiend. — Carl Bennett

Kino Classics
2012 Blu-ray Disc edition

The Devil’s Needle and Other Tales of Vice and Redemption (1913-1916), black & white, 194 minutes total, not rated,
including The Devil’s Needle (1916), black & white, 66 minutes, not rated.

Kino Lorber, K994, UPC 7-38329-09942-8.
One single-sided, dual-layered, Region 0 Blu-ray Disc, 1.33:1 aspect ratio image in pillarboxed 16:9 (1920 x 1080 pixels) progressive scan AVCHD MPEG-4 format, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, chapter stops; standard BD keepcase in cardboard slipcase, $39.95.
Release date: 3 July 2012.
Country of origin: USA

Ratings (1-10): video: 6 / audio: 8 / additional content: 7 / overall: 7.

This Blu-ray Disc edition of The Devil’s Needle has been mastered in high-definition from a good 35mm positive of the 1923 rerelease version held by the Library of Congress. The incomplete print has a reasonable range of greytones and good image detail. In contrast, it is worn with a moderate amount of vertical film scratches, has a moderate amount of processing flaws, dust and speckling, and has extensive sections of advancing nitrate decomposition — the end of the film being the most pronounced section of such.

The video transfer itself leaves something to be desired. Whether in the duplication of the source print or in the transfer, there is a slight vertical offset of image details that looks like a minute fluttering of the picture. The effect is clearly seen at 0:41:28 in the double-line highlights of the automobile window frames. This flaw results in good resolution of some picture elements (vertical scratches) and a blurring of other elements (anything with a horizontal highlight). Whether there is pronounced film grain in the source print or the transfer is not capturing enough picture detail, the image is coarse is comparison to other HD transfers (even the two other films on this disc).

Musical accompaniment was partially composed by and is performed on piano by Rodney Sauer of the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra.

We have not viewed this edition on DVD, but this may be one case where a film looks better at the lower picture resolution of DVD than on Blu-ray Disc.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
United Kingdom: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.co.uk. Your purchase supports Silent Era.
Kino Classics
2012 DVD edition

The Devil’s Needle and Other Tales of Vice and Redemption (1913-1916), black & white, 194 minutes total, not rated,
including The Devil’s Needle (1916), black & white, 66 minutes, not rated.

Kino Lorber, K994, UPC 7-38329-09942-8.
Two single-sided, dual-layered, Region 0 NTSC DVD discs, 1.33:1 aspect ratio image in full-frame 4:3 (720 x 480 pixels) progressive? scan MPEG-2 format, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound, English intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, chapter stops; two-disc standard DVD keepcase, $39.95.
Release date: 3 July 2012.
Country of origin: USA
This DVD edition has been mastered in high-definition from 35mm print materials held by the Library of Congress. The prints range in quality from good to very-good.

Musical accompaniment is provided by Rodney Sauer and the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra, and Ben Model.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
United Kingdom: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.co.uk. Your purchase supports Silent Era.
Grapevine Video
2007 DVD edition

Norma Talmadge at Vitagraph (1911-1916), black & white, 114 minutes total, not rated
including The Devil’s Needle (1916) [excerpt], black & white, 9 minutes, not rated.

Grapevine Video, no catalog number, UPC 8-42614-10278-3.
One single-sided, single-layered, Region 0 NTSC DVD-R disc, 1.33:1 aspect ratio image in windowboxed 4:3 (720 x 480 pixels) interlaced scan MPEG-2 format, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 mono sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, 32 chapter stops; standard DVD keepcase, $14.95.
Release date: 2007.
Country of origin: USA

Ratings (1-10): video: 4 / audio: 5 / additional content: 0 / overall: 4.
Included as a supplemental item, this exerpt from The Devil’s Needle has been mastered from an older analog video master that was prepared for release on VHS videotape in the 1990s. The transfer source print was a good quality 16mm reduction positive, which has little in the way of highlight or shadow detail and is soft in its image details.

The film is presented with a compiled music score of preexisting recordings.

Not a recommended presentation of the film since the release of the Kino editions noted above.

 
This Region 0 NTSC DVD-R edition is available directly from GRAPEVINE VIDEO.
Other silent era NORMA TALMADGE films available on home video.

Other SHORT DRAMA FILMS of the silent era available on home video.

 
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