Sweeping and romantic is this most lovely silent rendering of the often filmed, Lorna Doone. While the style and prose of Richard Blackmore's only famous novel has not fared well with the passage of time, the heart of the story has, its evocation of Devon and a great love continuing to inspire cinematically. Thomas Ince produced what is perhaps the finest of the silent era versions thanks in large part to the delicate touch of Frenchman Maurice Tourneur. His artful approach to material would be carried on by his son Jacques during the sound era, his elegant horror and suspense films given an artistic touch for which his father was known.
The White Horse Inn on the coast of Devonshire is the setting for a story which has outlived the passage of time. Charles Hatton portrays the very young John Ridd, a farmer's son soon to lay eyes for the first time on the girl who will rule his heart forever. Cecil B. DeMille's discovery, May Giracci, portrays the young aristocratic Lorna, stepping from her coach and capturing a young boy's fancy. Knowing the feared Doones are about, he gives her his pocket knife for protection. But he proves unable to safeguard her, watching helplessly from the cliffs as she and her mother are robbed by the exiled Sir Ensor Doone (Frank Keenan) and his brutal clan of thieves. Discarding her mother to sink into the tide with their coach, Lorna's future drifts out to sea with them and she is taken by the highwaymen.
Madge Bellamy is perhaps best remembered today for her early sound work, lending a certain grace to many "B" films of the 1930's. She makes a truly lovely romantic heroine as the adult Lorna here, however. John Bowers is also excellent as the grown-up John, his heart devoted to the girl of his youth and vowing to one day take revenge on the Doones. His cousin Ruth (Norris Johnson) lives in Lorna's shadow, knowing her own feelings of love for John can never be returned. Lorna grows up gentle and lonely, unable to fit in with the savage clan. Only Ensor's affection for her keeps her from the grasp of the brutish Carver. One day by a waterfall, the couple will be briefly reunited when he is swept by the current downriver. Their joy is a short-lived one; he escapes with his life from Doone country with her help.
Tourneur captures the romantic sweep of Blackmore's story while retaining its simplicity. It is this simlicity retained by Tourneur which makes the romance poignant and fresh for viewers even today. With Ensor on the verge of death and no longer able to keep Carver at bay, a signal the two lovers have arranged reaches John, and he races to save her from a life too harsh to endure. Ensor has come to love Lorna as a daughter, and seeking forgiveness sends a message to London regarding her birthright. This gesture of love will tear the couple apart once more, as John realizes when a countess (Gertrude Astor) arrives at his humble farm to take Lorna to London as her charge, he must not stand in her way. A visit to see her will make John a momentary hero, until he is reminded he does not belong in Lorna's new world. Knowing she belongs in his, she will return to her love, setting in motion a torrent of jealousy and tragedy, and one of the most romantic endings of any film ever made.
Tourneur uses the photography of Henry Sharp and gorgeous costumes and settings by Milton Menasco to create a sumptuous and romantic film pleasing on all levels. This Kino edition has a beautiful score from Japanese pop star Mari Iijima that adds to the romantic sweep of this film from 1922. Fans of romantic themed literary adaptations can find everything they are looking for in this lovely work from a forgotten art form.