Entry updated 18 September 2023. Tagged: Film.
US silent film (1916). Pallas Pictures. Directed by Frank Lloyd. Written by Julia Crawford Ivers. Cast includes Cecil Van Auker, Howard Davies, Herbert Standing, Lenore Ulrich and Florence Vidor. 64 minutes. Black and white.
We are informed that "Guy Longstreet, a young American Scientist, has almost perfected his wireless x-ray apparatus, which is expected to kill, with mathematical precision, at a distance of 25 miles" (see Death Ray). Since the US military is uninterested, Longstreet (Auker) goes to "battle-scarred" Europe to sell his invention "to a certain foreign power" (we might infer Germany from an officer's Pickelhaube). The device's operator focuses the target's image on a screen, then fires the Ray: Longstreet demonstrates its efficacy on a staked sheep and a box of explosives, killing the first and exploding the latter. The foreign power is impressed, but Longstreet explains the intense heat burns out the device's "contact points", which have to be replaced with a rare element found only in America – the process for extracting it still needs to be perfected. Baron Rogniat (Davies) is to accompany Longstreet back to America, with orders to buy the device or, if that is not possible, to kill Longstreet to ensure no other nation gets the Invention. Indeed another state has been monitoring events, and its Emperor (Standing) orders Countess Sonia Varnli (Ulrich) to spy on the Baron and Longstreet. The Countess has recently returned from working at a wartime frontline hospital (World War One in all but name) and the suffering she witnessed there will influence her later actions.
The Countess tells a servant (Vidor) to impersonate her, as she plans to board the boat to America disguised as a poor emigrant. This is a wise move, as the Baron has learnt of the Emperor's orders and has the faux Countess followed by an agent, who reports on her movements. En route she manoeuvres to make the acquaintance of both Longstreet and the Baron. The former's intentions are honourable, the latter's less so; he employs her as a maid at his house – a position that gives her the opportunity to spy on him. Eventually Longstreet delivers the completed Weapon to the Baron and promises to provide the operating instructions that evening; however, the Baron has decided to have him killed so he cannot produce copies of the weapon for other powers.
Longstreet has been a regular visitor to the Baron's house and sparks have flown between him and the Countess-as-maid; when she learns of the plan to murder him she sends a warning – though the letter is signed "a friend" Longstreet knows who the author must be. That evening the Baron embraces the maid, telling her she will be forced to go back with him to his home country; but Longstreet appears brandishing a gun and ties him up. The maid now begs Longstreet to destroy the machine, as it "means death and suffering to thousands who have never harmed you"; after some heart-searching, he does so. Before the couple depart, the maid takes the opportunity to twist the knife into the Baron by revealing she is Countess Sonia.
The Intrigue is a moderately enjoyable film that has a nice performance from Ulrich, portraying an intelligent, competent and compassionate lead (see Women in SF). The writer, Julia Crawford Ivers, was a silent movie pioneer: a writer, director and producer, this appears to be her only genre work, though it makes her one of the earliest woman sf screenwriters – if not the earliest. [SP]
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