22/07/2017

Blind Husbands - Trust & Attention

Quick Thoughts: Blind Husbands (1919)

A holidaying couple are befriended by a conniving lieutenant.


Blind Husbands is a silent mountain movie, a genre that was quite popular in silent European cinema, by Erich von Stroheim, who brings a European sensibility to the American silent film - much like numerous emigrating directors did (which arguably made Hollywood so great).

Well-shot and well-written, what really stands out from Blind Husbands is its narrative subtext. However, if you've not seen this film, I would advise seeing it without spoilers. So, with that said, this is a simple yet poignant poignant film with one clear message: be good to your wife and trust her. We see this message constructed through a couple who are on holiday; the husband about to climb a mountain in the Dolomites. However, this husband, a doctor, whilst he is not particularly bad to his wife, neglects her outright. Recognising this, an insidious Austrian lieutenant befriends the couple and attempts to, rather forcefully and with tools of manipulation, seduce the doctor's wife. This crescendos to the day in which the doctor and the lieutenant are to climb the mountain.

A particularly boastful man, it is revealed that the lieutenant is all facade when he cannot climb the mountain - but, with his untold suspicions, the doctor helps him to the summit of mountain where, paraphrasing, 'men, so close to God, leave their base instincts behind for the souls beneath their minds'. It is then atop the mountain that the exhausted lieutenant drops his jacket, a note that the doctor's wife wrote to him the night previously falling out of his pocket. The doctor picks this up, recognises his wife's handwriting, but, before he can question the lieutenant, he knocks the letter out of his hand and down the mountain side. This leads to a confrontation where the lieutenant says that his wife was going to run away with him, at which point, the doctor abandons him to die.

However, climbing down the mountain, the doctor finds the letter and reads it, finding out the truth: his wife told the lieutenant to leave her alone and that she loves her husband only. But, it's at this point, and in fatalistic/melodramatic fashion, that the husband slips and falls down the mountain. Luckily, help is on the way as the wife suspected something was wrong. After some time, the husband is then saved and brought to his wife alive, but the lieutenant atop the mountain falls to his death.

The implicit commentary on neglectful and dishonourable men is quite striking with such an ending, but a detail that I really appreciated about this narrative was the manner in which the genre elements, the mountain, was woven into the subtext. The mountain has strong parallels to women in the way that dialogue is juxtaposed with imagery of it. In such, whilst some men have respect for the mountains, others claim that it is just a hunk of conquerable rock - and treat women just as such. But, by the end of this narrative, all of those men die by the indifferent motions of the mountain. The only survivor is the doctor who, though he respects the mountain, makes fundamental mistakes in the manner in which he approaches it. This idea is encapsulated to his timely fall and of course parallels the manner in which he respects, but neglects his wife. What the mountain then teaches the doctor is linked to the expressed ideas of God and a higher power. A marriage is not so much about individuals, but, idealistically, a higher purpose. Without faith or trust in this higher purpose and without recognising the enormity of the journey ahead, disaster will naturally befell the relationship; and such is the precise allegory devised by this narrative.

For the strong subtext, Blind Husbands proved a truly worthwhile watch. But, I'll end by turning to you. Have you seen this movie? What are your thoughts?





Previous post:

Every Year In Film #16 - Workers Leaving The Lumière Factory

Next post:

The Band Wagon - Discordant Fun

More from me:

amazon.com/author/danielslack

No comments: