Cinefest 2012 HAIL THE WOMAN (Thomas H. Ince Productions – Associated Producers, 1921)
Directed by John Griffith Wray. With: Florence Vidor (Judith Beresford), Lloyd Hughes (David Beresford), Theodore Roberts (Oliver Beresford), Gertrude Claire (Mrs. Beresford), Madge Bellamy (Nan Higgins), Tully Marshall (“Old Jobs Man”), Vernon Dent (Joe Hurd), Edward Martindel (Wyndham Gray), Charles Meredith (Richard Stuart), Mathilde Brundage (Mrs. Stuart), Eugene Hoffman (The Baby), Muriel Frances Dana (David, Jr.)
HAIL THE WOMAN is typical of Thomas Ince’s new post World War I vision: he would create all-star melodramas, but told from the point of view of a central female character. Defining the continuance of the central family (and like the 19th Amendment to the Constitution which gave women the right to vote in 1920), Ince’s films now seek to improve by example the lot of the American core family while refining its role.
HAIL THE WOMAN was based upon a story by C. Gardner Sullivan, and was the first of Thomas Ince’s films to be released through the Associated Producers at First National Pictures. “A great motion picture… good entertainment always, and you’ll stay for the finish” was Photoplay Magazine’s assessment of this film.
Oliver Beresford is a bigoted New England farmer who believes that “men and their sons come first,” a creed that his dutiful wife accepts. His son David is studying for the ministry at the command of the father rather than of his own vocation. His sister Judith is forced out of school to assist in the care of the family farm despite her wishes, as her father believes that women were only made to bear children. While at home for a holiday, David falls in love and marries Nan, the daughter of lowly neighbor. His father attempts to end the marriage by bribing the girl’s father, with the result that Nan is driven out of town. When Judith, his own daughter, begins to see a poet, her father also drives her out of his home, believing her to be a loose woman. Upon leaving home, Judith assaults her hypocritical father stating that, by forgetting him, she will then be able to live.
In New York City Judith advances from teaching the poor at a settlement house, to becoming a successful designer and controller of her own destiny. In the city she finds Nan who has given birth to a son who Judith cares for when Nan dies. Bringing her nephew to her hometown church where her brother is speaking, the small boy instinctively goes to his remorseful father and they are reunited.
The phenomenal success of the film elevated into stars the three principals: Florence Vidor, Madge Bellamy and Lloyd Hughes.
A few words about Mr. Hughes: Lloyd Hughes was born in 1897 in Bisbee, Arizona Territory. His grandfather ran a freight service throughout southeast Arizona and Sonora, Mexico. By the time Lloyd was 14 years old, the family had moved to Los Angeles. The reason for the move was that Lloyd was reaching high school age, and his parents wanted to offer the best possible education to him and his brothers, Earle and Norman. In Los Angeles Lloyd would ride his bicycle from his Figueroa Street home to the Selig and other movie studios to observe the novel medium of movie making. His first professional job was developing motion picture film stock. One day Thomas Ince noticed Lloyd among a group of extras and commented to Freddie Fralick (then a casting director), “I really like the way that boy walks.” With that simple statement, the life of Lloyd Hughes was changed: he immediately became a featured actor for the American Film Company, appearing in IMPOSSIBLE SUSAN (1918). With his almost black hair and pale green eyes, his clean-cut good looks along with a strong sense of professionalism, he soon rose up the ranks of screen actor. To maintain his fitness and to save the cost of a gym membership, he and Norman Kerry would race the trolley up and down the hill at Angels Flight, which linked upper and lower Los Angeles. In 1921 he married another Ince contract actress Gloria Hope and, unlike many Hollywood unions, theirs lasted until his death in 1958.
Remaining with the Ince’s Company, Lloyd’s career rose and he was soon co-starred in films like LOVE NEVER DIES (1921); but with the rise in stature came additional risks to his life while doing his own stunts. In that film he was expected to ride a boat down the rough Truckee River but the boat was broken up in the rapids. Although an excellent swimmer, Hughes was bashed repeatedly against boulders; when he attempted to grab onto rocks at the riverbank, he found them too slimy to grasp. When the pieces of the boat came around the bend and the waiting camera crew saw no star in sight, they beat a hasty path to rescue their exhausted and partially drowned star.
In 1922 Associated First National selected him when they expanded from mere film distribution and started to produce their own photoplays. Throughout the 1920s and into the next decade, he was one of the unfaltering stars at First National Pictures and then Warner Brothers, having made a seamless transition to talkies with AQUITTED (1929). But he soon became a pawn in Jack Warner’s game of removing the higher priced stars, directors, and productions of the First National Pictures era. An assistant to director Mervyn LeRoy was talking to the star about Warner’s proposed plan to cut salaries 50% for all but the top management of the company. Lloyd Hughes, thinking that it was a private conversation said, “I have to take a 50% cut but not Jack Warner.” Mervyn LeRoy took this breach of confidentiality back to studio boss Jack Warner, who made sure that Hughes was to take the cut or leave the studio. Since he was still a big drawing card, he continued to work at other studios making motion pictures until the outbreak of World War II.