The Godless Girl

  • 1929
  • Movie
  • NR
  • Religious

The evangelistic plot of THE GODLESS GIRL has to do with an invidious secret high-school organization, the Atheist Society, led by Basquette, which is assaulted by the religious group led by Duryea, flinging fruits and vegetables (director De Mille was reportedly hit in the face by a melon during the shooting). The melee ends up in a fist-fight, during...read more

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The evangelistic plot of THE GODLESS GIRL has to do with an invidious secret high-school organization, the Atheist Society, led by Basquette, which is assaulted by the religious group led by Duryea, flinging fruits and vegetables (director De Mille was reportedly hit in the face by a melon

during the shooting). The melee ends up in a fist-fight, during which a 15-year old girl is accidentally catapulted to her death from a third-story landing. The two opposed leaders and Quillan, convicted of complicity, are sent to a reformatory, where assorted brutalities are visited on them.

There they meet Prevost, a hardened female inmate, with whom Quillan initiates a through-the-wire-fence comic romance. Rebelling against the sadism of brutal head guard Beery and that of matrons Price and Reicher, Duryea escapes in a grocery wagon with Basquette inside. On the outside, in the

pastoral countryside, each discovers virtue in the other. Recaptured, they undergo more indignities, but Basquette finds God (her hands pressed against Duryea's through the mesh of the screen bear cross-shaped singe marks). Suddenly, a fire breaks out in the reformatory (the dictatorial De Mille,

always a stickler for realism, actually had Leisen's wonderful set torched; several young actresses almost lost their lives when the fire raged out of control). Risking death in the inferno, Duryea and Basquette heroically rescue Beery, their tormentor, who has been overcome by smoke. In return,

they are granted their freedom, Basquette returning to society with a new faith. An interesting, though seriously flawed picture which scored a number of firsts in the odyssey of autocratic director De Mille, who here, as in previous pictures, employed a four-piece orchestra to play a personal

overture whenever he appeared on a set ready to direct a scene. Released with its last two scenes having been reshot with dialog, this part-talkie was De Mille's first sound film (while the great director was busy preparing his first all-talkie at MGM, the dialog scenes were actually directed by

German actor Fritz Feld, in his directorial debut). It was the first and last film De Mille directed in the new consortium finances forced him to enter into with Pathe, then owned by Joseph P. Kennedy, father of President John Kennedy (De Mille had objected to the merger, saying: "Pathe... a name

which stands for cheap pictures..."). It was his first film to be shot entirely with one camera, barring a few preliminary shots made by special technical director George Ellis at the State Training School for Girls at Gainesville, Texas. The camera set-up was a marvel to behold, comprising a

monorail overhead tram with a platform holding four men--including the director--which could be raised, lowered, tracked, and dollied over an entire set, floating virtually anywhere and everywhere (a technique rediscovered by French director Max Ophuls at a much later time). It was the first film

in which the director enjoyed the fruits of nepotism; he cast his only natural child, 17-year-old Cecilia, in a small part. It was also the first film in which the director melded such an atrocious amalgam of themes: religious fundamentalism mixed with sex (his forte for years), prison reform,

slapstick comedy, adventure, and high school. Scripted by De Mille's long-time collaborator (both on the screen and off) MacPherson, the picture was De Mille's answer to a growing number of people who had begun to question his religiosity and his personal morals. His recently released KING OF

KINGS had been thought by some fundamentalists to dwell a little too long on the relationship between Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene. In the wake of his studio's financial upheavals, his business ethics were being questioned; his romances with women other than his long-suffering wife Constance

were well known in Hollywood circles. As was the case with many other monarchs throughout history, De Mille diverted attention from his personal shortcomings by starting a war. His enemy: the atheists. When he announced his plans for the picture, he received an immediate reward in the form of an

angry telegram from the American Association for the Advancement of Atheism, which his publicists quickly forwarded to all the wire services. De Mille and his experienced crew took great pains with the picture, interviewing reformatory inmates and officials, having young female staff members go

behind bars disguised as convicted criminals to observe conditions, collecting hundreds of pamphlets and books dealing with atheism, and going over floor plans and diagrams of dozens of reformatories. Casting was no less slapdash; the studio had announced that the entire cast would comprise

"persons of high school age." Instead, the stars were seasoned troupers. Basquette was a one-time Follies girl, a recent widow, who had worked in several silents. Duryea had played opposite her on Broadway in the hit "Abie's Irish Rose." Prevost had been a Mack Sennett bathing beauty in 1917, and

was addicted to drugs. Quillan had worked in Sennett comedies. The first title selected for the new feature was, simply, ATHEIST. The second, continuing the director's string of biblical allegories, was THE FIERY FURNACE. The course of the filming was marked by romance and jealousy. De Mille had

found a part for his new mistress, Faye, whose presence--according to one De Mille biographer--was always galling to his long-time associate, writer MacPherson. Cinematographer Marley was smitten with star Basquette, and the two married shortly after the picture was canned. De Mille had objected

strongly to sound being added to the film, despite the recent success of THE JAZZ SINGER. After its release, he recanted, stating, "Oh God, what I will be able to do with sound!"

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