BLOT, THE (director: Phillips Smalley/Lois Weber; screenwriters: Marion Orth/Lois Weber; cinematographers: Gordon Jennings/Philip R. Du Bois; music: Jim Parker; cast: Philip Hubbard (Professor Griggs), Margaret McWade (Mrs. Griggs), Claire Windsor (Amelia Griggs), Louis Calhern (Phil West), Marie Walcamp (Juanita Claredon); Runtime: 90; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Lois Weber; Grapevine Video; 1921-silent)
“Connected with the mostly middle-class audience who identified with the heroine.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The film’s title refers to society’s disregard for teachers and the clergy. The Blot is an unabashed soft-hearted melodrama about class struggle, taking sides with the poor working-class over the idle rich. It’s directed by one of the few Hollywood woman directors, Lois Weber (“Where Are My Children?”), who was at the time the highest paid woman filmmaker in the business. She was married to filmmaker Phillips Smalley, who was involved with this film project as assistant director; most of the 80 films she directed were lost, which is why she’s all but been forgotten except by the film historians. Lois’s concerns were usually in social conscious issues and those of a women’s place in modern society. The Blot connected with the mostly middle-class audience who identified with the heroine and it proved to be a big box-office hit.
The film opens showing longtime professor Griggs (Philip Hubbard) teaching at a small college but not making enough income to live with dignity. Three of his wealthiest students are all slackers: Phil West (Louis Calhern, at 26, known for his later roles as an older character actor), whose wealthy businessman dad is the college trustee, Bert Garrets, who’s the funloving party boy son of a congressman, and Walt Lucas, who only inherits a fortune if he finishes college and he reluctantly attends classes even though he’s bored silly in class. The Prof has a pretty young daughter Amelia Griggs (Claire Windsor), who helps out the impoverished family by working as a librarian. Mrs. Griggs (Margaret McWade) is the loyal wife but has to struggle with the meager income she receives to put food on the table. What gets Mrs. Griggs goat even further is that her next door neighbors, the uncouth Olsens, are Swedish immigrants and they are very comfortable making a good living by manufacturing poor quality but expensive shoes. Mrs. Olsen likes to show off and mocks the established white American Protestant Griggs family for being so well-educated but unable to live so well in their own country.
Amelia, because of her good looks and classy way of handling herself, attracts three suitors. Phil who has a girlfriend from his own class (Marie Walcamp) but is more interested in Amelia. He’s the most aggressive suitor and despite not being a reader, goes to the library every day to take out books so he can flirt with her. The other two are more timid, the learned book lover but equally impoverished Reverend Gates and the sensitive Peter, the oldest Olsen child, who the Griggs family thinks should spend his time reading books on how to make better shoes.
The melodramatics revolve around the proud family trying to make a go of it without complaining, but become disorientated when the near starving Amelia takes ill. This prompts Momma Griggs to act out of character and steal, for her daughter’s sake, Mrs. Olsen’s cooked chicken she leaves out by the open kitchen window. Amelia goes back to work earlier than she should have so mom can have enough money to pay back Mrs. Olsen and avoid a scandal.
Weber resolves this family crisis in a gentle way, as the three suitors treat the family in a kind manner and tread lightly over their impoverished situation, though noticing the frayed carpet and unfashionable clothes worn. Phil knows the family won’t except charity, so he anonymously has a food basket delivered. He goes through a personal transformation and realizes while he’s dining on specialty dishes like brook trout and bird’s nest desert, there are others less fortunate who are starving. This change not only makes him kinder but with his new awareness he petitions his father to raise Grigg’s salary and treats both his rivals with respect. When Phil changes his slacker ways Amelia begins to take him seriously as a suitor and they eventually tie the knot.
Throughout Weber uses contrasting shots of how each class lives. In her most noted shot, Mrs. Olsen is shown crying while peeling an onion, while Mrs. Griggs is crying real tears from humiliation and hunger. Not too subtle, but that’s how it was done back then.
REVIEWED ON 8/24/2005 GRADE: B
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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