That Girl Montana
A Review
by Diana Savage

 


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Date: 1921
Country: USA
Director: Robert Thornby
Starring: Blanche Sweet, Mahlon Hamilton

Review based on Grapevine Video (1997) version, which is no longer available.

1920's Blanche Sweet Postcard from the collection of Diana SavageThis movie served as a vehicle for Blanche Sweet, a sweet-faced actress, noted for strong but virginal roles. Sweet stars as Montana Rivers (aka Tana Holly), the daughter of a thief, murderer and cardsharp. When her father is chased out of town for killing a man, Montana is saved from the posse by Akkomi, an American Indian played by Charles Edler. After a few years Akkomi turns her over to the care of Dan Overton played by Mahlon Hamilton. Hamilton is another clean-cut sweet-faced actor. Dan and Montana stumble into part ownership of a gold mine and before you know it Montana's father, Lee Holly, played by Edward Piel Sr. is back to make trouble for their budding romance.

If it isn't obvious, the story is a melodrama. It starts surprisingly slow as Blanche Sweet is shown off in various attire: first as a boy, then as a squaw, then as a western girl and finally in a white party dress. It is at this point, at her �Deb-Bute� party, the pace picks up. At her �Deb-Bute� party the inevitable happens; Montana's shady background is revealed. But she is so sweet and innocent that she rapidly wins over a man cheated by her father and before she knows it she is one-third owner of a valuable gold mine.

The copy in possession of Grapevine is degraded and at times black spots flash by. There is no time however that the film can't be seen clearly. The copy used may also be missing pieces, either that or writer George H. Plympton and director Robert Thornby may not have felt any need to provide clear explanations of why things happen--after all this is a melodrama.  Anyway, some scenes appear at convenient times with little rational background, such as when Overton's wife Lottie, played by Claire Du Brey, is shot through a door. She is promptly polished off so she can't make any more trouble for Overton but why someone would be shooting through the door is unclear.

The high point of the movie is watching Blanche Sweet, which is really the only reason to buy this film. Besides Blanche there are nice scenic river shots as the actors canoe from place to place and a wonderful melodramatic scene when Lottie twists the naive Overton around her finger. Lottie is every bit as interesting as Montana and as a loose woman has more room for emotional play.

That Girl Montana is chiefly of interest to see Blanche Sweet in action, otherwise there are many better movies to buy and watch.

The Stars:
Blanche Sweet: Blanche Sweet was born on June 18th 1895. Her family was in show business and she soon followed in her parents� footsteps. She made her first stage appearance at the tender age of 18 months and was dancing on stage by the1916 Blanche Sweet Water Color Co. Premium from the collection of Diana Savage age of four. During her time on stage she appeared with Chauncey Olcott on Broadway and danced with the Gertrude Hoffman troupe. She appeared in her first movie when she was fourteen for Biograph making her two years younger than Pickford was at the time. During her first year at Biograph she starred in two movies, �A Man with Three Wives� and �The Day Afterward.�

During her time at Biograph she appeared in over 79 films and starred in such films as �The Lonedale Operator� (1911); the infamous �The Massacre� (1913); �Judith of Bethulia� (1914), the first US feature length film; and �Home, Sweet Home� (1914). She was known for playing active strong female roles rather than the passive helpless roles then common. Her plump face and mature appearance helped her take more of these stronger roles. As a person, she was also independent and stubborn, which lead to a split between her and Griffith.

She left Biograph in 1914 to star in Ceil B. DeMille�s �The Warrens of Virginia� (1915). She made one more film with DeMille, �The Captive� (1915) before she went on to greener pastures. She worked for many studios and directors including nine films with Frank Reicher, six films for James Kirkwood, five films for Robert Thornby, and numerous others with a variety of directors.  In 1922, she married Marshall Neilan whom she had worked with on nine Biograph films and also worked under as a director. All total Sweet appeared in seven of Neilan�s films starting with �Those Without Sin� (1917) and ending with �Diplomacy� (1926).  Among the films they made was �Tess of the D'Urbervilles� (1924) based on the classic Thomas Hardy novel. Their marriage was not a great success however and his philandering lead to a divorce after only seven years of marriage, in 1929.

Like her marriage, her film career was in trouble by 1927. In 1926 she made four films ending with her last film with Neilan. The following year she made only one film, �Singed� with John Wray, with whom she hand made a prior film, �Anna Christie,� in 1923. She was not in another film until 1929 when she appeared in her last silent, �The 1920's Blanche Sweet Strip Card from the collection of Diana SavageWoman in White.�  With the coming of talking pictures she is credited with only five films. Of these she only had lead roles in the first two: �Always Faithful� (1929) and �The Woman Racket� (1930). The end of her career can be summed up in her words as supporting actress Donna Harris in �Girl in Hollywood� (1930).  Donna Harris relates how her film career was washed up by the age of 32. These words reflected the truth of Sweet�s career, she was 34 at the time and her career had been on the skids since she was 28.

            Like many film actresses of her time she retired and returned to the stage where she appeared on Broadway in secondary roles and with touring companies. She also appeared on radio. It was there she meet Raymond Hackett whom she married in 1936. She remained married to Hackett until his death in 1958. After Hacket's death, Blanche was reduced to working as a sales girl till the late 1960's when film historians discovered her and she was able to enjoy her film pioneer status. She survived Hackett by 26 years and died September 6th, 1986 of a stroke. IMDB credits her with having made 162 films.

� 2005 Diana Savage

Sources:
Pringle, G. & Zamora D. G. (1997) Silent Star of July 1995. Downloaded 03/13/05
Goldensilents.com. (2004). Blance Sweet � Silent Movie Star. Downloaded  03/13/05

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Diana Savage is a silent film buff and collector of early film collectibles. 
That Girl Montana is Diana's second submission in as many issues to this newsletter.

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