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Manslaughter / The Cheat
In the silent era, Cecil B. DeMille stood at the forefront of Hollywood directors, a visual stylist who created fashionable fables of women caught in tempests of temptation. Accompanied by a lively score by the Alloy Orchestra, Manslaughter stars Leatrice Joy as a pampered debutante who is forced to confront her irresponsible lifestyle when she causes the death of a traffic cop. To emphasize the debauchery of the Jazz Age elite, DeMille interwove scenes of champagne-soaked parties and Roman orgies, a device that served as a stern warning (while providing a titillating spectacle) to the wayward youth of America.
Mixed messages also abound in The Cheat, in which a society woman (Fannie Ward) allows a wealthy Burmese trader (Sessue Haykawa) to settle a debt for her, not realizing that in exchange he intends to brand her flesh as his own. Highly influential for its dramatic low-key lighting and its frank depiction of extra-marital intrigue, The Cheat tapped into a vein of post-Victorian female masochism, eroticism and Orientalism of the day, exploring the taboo desire to be forcefully seduced and possessed by a man of another (as in Rudolph Valentino's Sheik films several years later).
From the novel by Alice Duer Miller Photographed by Alvin Wyckoff and Guy Wildy with Whomas Meighan, Leatice Joy, Lois Wilson. Music by The Alloy Orchestra.
Screenplay by Gector Turnball and Jeanie Macpherson. Director of Photography: Alvin Wyckoff. Art Director: Wilfred Buckland with Fannie War, Sessue Hayakawa. Music compiled and directed by Robert Israel. Produced for Video by David Shepard.