Sunday, December 15, 2013

Silent Sundays: Shifting Sands (1918)


“I wonder if people like him ever know we are alive.”

            Gloria Swanson starred in Sadie Thompson the first silent film I ever sat through and is now one of my all time favorite films (and one of the reasons this blog exists). Ever since then I have seen plenty of silent films including Beyond the Rocks and Why Change Your Wife? also starring Swanson. Neither of those two films of hers were very good. The latest film I have seen of hers is Shifting Sands. Even though it gets a bit overdramatic and silly it was better than the other ones.
            Marcia Grey (Swanson) is a young painter who mostly paints out of unrest than talent. In a store one day she meets John King who is in the store with his mother. Marcia tries to sell one of her paintings. The owner tells her the work is alright but not the best he will see what he can do. John is standing outside when Marcia walks out. He goes back into the store to look at her painting.
            John comes from a wealthy family. He devotes his time trying to help the poor. His latest project is improving a tenement building. The building happens to be the one that Marcia lives in with her sister. Marcia’s sister Cora is very sick and they have been unable to pay their rent. The landlord comes up to speak to Marcia. She pleads with him to wait a few more days until she can come up with the money. The landlord sees Marcia’s paintings and tells her she is foolish she will never make a living painting. The landlord attacks Marcia trying to kiss her until she picks something up and threatens to hit him with it. The greasy man gets the police to come. Before the police arrive Marcia finds the man’s wallet on the floor and she has it in her hand when the police come in. The landlord further accuses her of stealing from him. In court the following day no one believes Marcia’s story and she is sentenced to a prison island for ninety days. A woman comes to speak to Marcia in a holding room. The woman wants to do something for Marcia. Marcia tells the woman about Cora and asks if she can check on her sister. Unfortunately Cora dies.
            When Marcia is released she sees a woman place a baby outside a doorstep. Marcia takes the baby to the Salvation Army. She tells one of the ladies that she has no place to go. The lady tells her she can stay as one of the workers. One day John shows up at the Salvation Army and sees Marcia. He remembers her from the store. He tells her that all the children are invited up to his country home for a picnic. At the house John tells Marcia that he has loved her ever since he first saw her.
            Five years later John and Marcia are married with a son. John’s mother does not like Marcia because John married got married against her advice and says that one day he will regret it. A man comes to the house claiming to be a friend of a friend of John’s. The man claims to call his valet when in reality he calls some other men and says that he is in the house and that they are to come immediately. There is something about the man that Marcia does not like. Later that evening she realizes the man is her former landlord in disguise.
            Marcia sees the landlord steal some papers. He threatens to blackmail her and tell John what she has gone through if she tells. The mother sees Marcia speaking to the landlord and she tells John. He walks into the room but does not see anything suspicious. That night Marcia leaves with the landlord she does not want the papers out of her sight. The mother looks out her window to see Marcia running away with the landlord. She runs to her son with what she has seen and that he should go after Marcia to avoid scandal.
             The landlord has taken Marcia to a basement somewhere in the city. When the men open the papers they see that they are blank. She tells them that she would not betray her husband. One of the men wants to have her killed because she has seen and heard too much. John goes to the police to have them help find Marcia. His friend is head of the justice department and tells John to come along with him and a few men. The men Marcia is with want her to write a letter to John about the papers or she will never be able to go home. John and the police storm into the basement. The friend tells John that he had some engravings planted in their house to get the counterfeiters and that Marcia wanted to help.

            Shifting Sands was not too terrible and it was perfectly short at forty-five minutes. The story starts off well and just ends in a really did that seriously just happen? Gloria Swanson was only nineteen when she made this and it just before she began working with Cecil B. DeMille so it is not one of her strongest films. She did a great job I definitely liked this silent better than Beyond the Rocks and Why Change Your Wife. The melodramatic-ness of the story kind of took away from Swanson’s acting ability. I just have to say that she looked gorgeous. Shifting Sands is worth watching only if you really like Gloria Swanson.