Feature Drama | 1920 | Sound | B/W
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Opening Sequence of Road to Yesterday by Cecil B. De Mille
Night-time. Shot of train moving stage left to stage right. Voice-over tells us this is a train moving into the present from the past, carrying four human destinies. The first, Joseph Schildkraut, sits nervously in a compartment clutching his chest. Janet Goudal the second, is frantically packing a suitcase. William Boyd, dressed as a priest, knocks on a compartment door. The fourth is Vera Reynolds frantically unpacking unpacking a travelling case. Narrator tells us in dramatic fashion that this is Cecil B. De Mille's spectacular production "The Road To Yesterday". This sequence uses a set of images namely a group of cavalry soldiers moving rapidly towards the camera with a couple of four musketeer swordsmen as background.
Cut to intertitle:
"The History Of The Motion Picture". Cut to shot of Red Indian braves doing a war dance in a studio, one sits on th eflorr while three others circle him, this is an 1890s film, very early.. Cut to dark cinema with brief footage of Lumiere "Train arriving at a station" being shown. Cut to brief shot of action western film with hand projector briefly in view. Various male stars of the silent era including Buster Keaton, Maurice Chevalier, Lillian Gish, Douglas Fairbanks Junior giving a bow ( possibly an extract from "The Black Pirate" ).
We return to our original narrative and Joseph Schildkraut's character. We get a dissolve into a memory of Joseph's wedding day when he had almost forgotten his mysteriously paralysed arm. We see a sumpter's horse with servants bringing in luggage. Cut to his bride, played by Jetta Goudal. Joseph kisses his wife on the hand melodramatically. Fade to black.
Intertitle: - "One other has entered the Bridal Chamber with them and the other's name is FEAR". Voice-over states that audiences expected sex in a Cecil B. De Mille movie. But even today a film which tackles the theme of frigidity is both unusual and daring. Kenneth mistakenly believes that it is his broken arm that has repulsed his wife. His wife backs away from him in a melodramatic way. Voice-over: "His honeymoon a mockery, Kenneth wanders alone along the rim of the Grand Canyon." Cut to shot of Kenneth ( clearly in a studio ) sitting down casually but contemplating his bible which we see in close-up sticking out of his jacket pocket. William Boyd arrives. Kenneth asks him if the bible is his. William shows him the inside page which reads, 'Reverend John Moreland'.
Intertitle: "Well I don't think much of the fellow you work for!" Intertitle: "When this God of yours cuts a wound in a planet - or a human heart - He cuts it deep!" The two walk back to Boyd's tent, where Boyd attempts to get Kenneth to pray: a prompt he rejects with a wave of his hand. Boyd places a small wooden cross inside the fold of Kenneth's sling ( a homo-erotic image ? ). As he has been unable to obtain any help from the medical profession Kenneth decides to try religion. As Kenneth sits down his wife circles him finally exclaiming - Intertitle - "You've been so patient with me Ken! If only I dared love you." Cut to Kenneth being examined by his doctor, who uses a variety of medical tools or implements ( diagnostic tools ) on him. Normal lighting is removed and a more threatening lighting is inserted from below which gives the doctor and his patient a ghostly glow. Cut to intertitle - "What in Heaven's name have you been doing to this arm the last three weeks? It's COMPLETELY DEAD!" According to the narrator faith for a selfish purpose will have no reward. The ghostly or vampire-like Kenneth looks dejected. He places the cross William Boyd has given him on a mannequin, picks up a cigarette and lights it. Kenneth knocks on the door of his wife and despite the fact she responds he gets increasingly angry and breaks the door down with a large sword or scimitar. Intertitle: "You are my wife .... " Cut to his wife cowering on her bed as her husband puts out the light and advances towards her bed. Rape is implied. Cut to the fast moving wheels of a steam-train. He is approached by a black steward, but remembering she is running away from a broken marriage, she turns away clearly experiencing emotional turmoil. While running away from a broken marriage Elizabeth, another passenger on the train, is running towards her. She remembers a party the evening before when she was telling her society friends of her romantic adventures. Cut to a young boy with a bow and arrow shooting his arrow and impaling Elizabeth's hat on a tree. At this point William Boyd meets Elizabeth. We see Boyd arriving at the party that evening. She discovers Boyd is a minister. Elizabeth's friends lampoon him and one dresses up as a minister. To spite him she tells him she will marry Rudy. Boyd leaves clearly unhappy and we get a watery dissolve as Elizabeth turns away from Rudy. Cut to the fast moving train wheels signalling our return to the narrative on board the train. Cut to Elizabeth unpacking as Rudy enters her room. Boyd knocks on the door and discovers Elizabeth and Rudy canoodling. Close-up of Elizabeth smiling. Boyd hangs up his coat, appointing himself Elizabeth's chaperone. The San Francisco Midnight Special makes fast progress towards its destination. Cut to an interior shot of the train.
Cut to what appears to be a completely different film. This one is a costume drama with a distinct Four Musketeers vibe to it. Various cuts establishing the "Ye Olde England" setting with village idiots and well-proportioned barmaids. Clearly this is the same film with the same characters who have been placed in a different narrative setting within the same film. The greatest change of character (according to the narrator) is in altering her frigid 20th century role to a gypsy madly in love with Kenneth Boyd. They have been married by secret gypsy rights and she considers herself his wife. Sumptors' costumes have transformed the characters into courtesans. Out of jealousy Malena wants Elizabeth to escape and she gives her clothes to help her make an effective disguise for her escape. Cut to fast-moving horses legs. "The Road To Yesterday" was De Mille's first film after "The Ten Commandments" which also combined a modern and historical story as did many films of the 1920s. The film jumps from "The Road To Yesterday" to an unfamiliar narrative; this time a suave swashbuckler. Set in medieval times, there is a grand procession and the Lord of the Manor presents his bride to the peasants. Cut to the peasants celebrating. She is tried as a witch and people cry for her to be burnt at the stake. A consistent theme of his work, De Mille seemed to like the idea of women being burned. He started with the film "Joan the Woman" and among his victims in the silent era were Gary Cooper . Close--up of the torch which is used to set alight the wood brush under her feet. Intertitle - "Your wedding gift my dear". Cut to a man suspended by chains over a large fireplace, being whipped. Excellent shot of the shadow of , who is now starting to struggle, being thrown against a wall. Cut to woman cutting down the ropes that attach the man to the wall. In this film the flashback technique employed enabled De Mille to kill off his leading characters while still inventing a happy ending. A man is rather dramatically stabbed and falls to the ground in a rather melodramatic fashion. In another melodramatic moment, a knife covered in blood is dragged across a copy of The New Testament. As starts to falter, her husband by gypsy right dies. Cut to the local residents, villagers or peasants celebrating with an orgy of fire. Sophisticated overlapping of shots and dissolves prolongs the death of the two main protagonists. Cut to a continuation of the early narrative. Intertitle - "God in Heaven forgive a fool that cursed You - give me just the strength to save her - You can smash me afterwards! " Our hero Joseph pulls off his sling and miraculously? he seems to have regained his potency. Cut to excellent shot of burning train compartments. Our hero and his partner manage to escape the burning wreckage.
Narrator's voice: "Cecil B. De Mille was accused of mixing sex, sadism and religion in overabundant proportions. Some critics called it vulgarity; others showmanship." Cut to scene involving heavy religious iconography. The Boatmen" and King of Kings" he proved his ability to make films without major company backing. Some stars accompanied him from Paramount - notably the stars of "The Ten Commandments" Leatrice Joy and Rod la Rocque both featured in close-up. Close-up of Jetta Goudal and Vera Reynolds.
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