DE LUXE ANNIE. Select Pictures, 1915. Norma Talmadge, Eugene O’Brien, Frank Mills, Edna Hunter, Fred R. Stanton, Joseph Burke, David Burns. Scenario by Paul West, from a play by Edward Clark. Camera: Edward Wynard and Albert Moses. Director: Roland West. Shown at Cinecon 45, Hollywood CA, September 2009.

DE LUXE ANNIE Norma Talmadge

   Roland West’s films (among them The Bat, The Bat Whispers, Alibi and The Monster) were often distinguished by fluid, striking camera work, and with only a handful of early silent films to his credit, I was looking forward to this early example of his work. The fact that it starred the beautiful and talented Norma Talmadge was an added incentive to my anticipation.

   When Julie Kendal, worried that her husband may be in danger, goes to the apartment where he is lying in wait to to capture De Luxe Annie and her partner, professional con artists, she is surprised by Annie and knocked unconscious. When she wakes up, she has lost her memory and staggers out of the building into a fog, which pretty much describes her state until the end of the film.

   The plot is based on what may have been a popular (or just a pulpish) theory of the time: that traumatic events can trigger amnesia. This is not one of Talmadge’s better performances (she seems to have only two expressions, desperation and confusion), but O’Brien, as her partner in her alter ego role as De Luxe Annie 2, proves to be a sympathetic performer, bringing a sense of authentic feeling (he falls for Julie) that is otherwise generally absent from the film.

   When Julie is captured, still unrepentant, she undergoes an operation that restores her memory (the audience greeted this with some hilarity) and there’s a fade-out scene in which Jimmy is brought in to meet her, and it’s clear she doesn’t remember him. A disappointing film but still fun to watch as it meanders towards its inevitable conclusion.