Manslaughter (1922 film)


Manslaughter is a 1922 American silent drama film directed by Cecil B. DeMille and starring Thomas Meighan, Leatrice Joy, and Lois Wilson. It was scripted by Jeanie MacPherson adapted from the novel of the same name by Alice Duer Miller. The film portrays its main character, Lydia Thorne, as a thrill-seeking, self-entitled, and wild woman who does not have a reputation of thinking before acting. She acts selfishly by dancing with other men in the presence of her husband and not providing help to her maid who is in dire straits due to her son's health. She is eventually taken to court after she crashes into a motorcycle cop during a high-speed chase. She is then prosecuted by her husband, Daniel O'Bannon, a lawyer, and is imprisoned for manslaughter. After her sentence, Lydia comes out of jail to find her husband has become an alcoholic.

The famous orgy scene from the film
Directed byCecil B. DeMille
Written byJeanie MacPherson
Based onManslaughter
by Alice Duer Miller
Produced byCecil B. DeMille
Jesse L. Lasky
StarringLeatrice Joy
CinematographyL. Guy Wilky
Alvin Wyckoff
Edited byAnne Bauchens
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release date
  • September 24, 1922 (1922-09-24)
Running time
100 minutes
(10 reels; 9,061 feet)
CountryUnited States
English intertitles

As part of Lydia's wild life, the film was one of the first to depict an orgy, as well as other acts considered debaucherous in upper-class society.[2] Manslaughter is generally cited as being the first American feature film to show an erotic kiss between two members of the same sex.[3]

Plot edit

A wild, wealthy woman (Joy) is brought to heel by a sermonizing district attorney after she accidentally hits and kills a motorcycle cop.

Cast edit

Production edit

Manslaughter (full film)
Poster advertisement for the film.
Manslaughter lobby card in 1922 with scene of the party
Manslaughter lobby card in 1922

The production of this film was completed during a time when films were taking on tremendous set processes and crews. Film shooting processing was becoming more complex, involving actors and actresses, producers, set developers, screenwriters, camera-crew and lighting, and numerously more parts. It was a film created using continuity filming which involves continuing a screen from different points of view.[4]

According to Leatrice Joy, the filming of the car chase scene was extremely nerve-wracking because she herself had to drive the car, which had been fitted with a platform to support two cameramen and the director, plus equipment. Their safety depended entirely upon her skills as a motorist.[5] Joy did most of her own driving, though in some shots the car was driven by stunt double Leo Nomis.[6] During the shooting of a prison sequence, Joy burned her hand accidentally with soup in a prop cauldron; assistant director Cullen Tate had neglected to inform her that the soup was scalding hot.[5]

Stuntman Leo Noomis broke his pelvis and six of his ribs during a stunt that required him to crash a motorcycle into a car.[7]

Reaction edit

Manslaughter is thought of by historians as one of De Mille's lesser efforts as a director. Historian Kevin Brownlow notes that Joy and Wilson "both give far better performances than the film deserves."[8] "It is hard to believe that such a crude and unsubtle film could come from a veteran like De Mille," said a 1963 Theodore Huff Society program note for the film, "harder still to believe that this came from the same year that Orphans of the Storm, Down to the Sea in Ships, and Foolish Wives. The amateurish and crudely faked chase scenes that start the film are of less technical slickness than Sennett had been getting ten years earlier. Manslaughter is exactly the kind of picture that the unknowing regard as typical of the silent film - overwrought, pantomimically acted, written in the manner of a Victorian melodrama, the kind of film that invites laughter at it rather than with it."[8]

In this scene, Lydia causes the vehicle accident by stopping and the cop runs into her car with his motorcycle.

When a print was screened by William K. Everson for Joy's daughter's birthday, the star of the film attended and saw it for the first time in forty years. According to Kevin Brownlow, "Miss Joy thought it hilarious."[8]

Preservation status edit

Prints of the film exist in the George Eastman House film archive and the Paul Killiam Collection.

References edit

  1. ^ "Progressive Silent Film List: Manslaughter". Silent Era. Retrieved May 2, 2008.
  2. ^ "Alice Duer Miller | American author". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved September 27, 2019.
  3. ^ Robertson, Patrick (1993). The Guinness Book of Movie Facts & Feats (5th ed.). Abbeville Press. p. 63. ISBN 1558596976.
  4. ^ Magliano, Joseph P.; Zacks, Jeffrey M. (November 2011). "The Impact of Continuity Editing in Narrative Film on Event Segmentation". Cognitive Science. 35 (8): 1489–1517. doi:10.1111/j.1551-6709.2011.01202.x. ISSN 0364-0213. PMC 3208769. PMID 21972849.
  5. ^ a b Brownlow, K.; The parade's gone by...; University of California Press, 1976; p. 185
  6. ^ "Manslaughter (1922) - IMDb" – via
  7. ^ Kozlovic, Anton Karl (January 2, 2014). "DeMille and Danger: Seven Heuristic Taxonomic Categories of His Hollywood (Mis)Adventures". European Journal of American Studies. 9 (9–1). doi:10.4000/ejas.10165 – via
  8. ^ a b c Brownlow, K.; The parade's gone by...; University of California Press, 1976; p. 184

External links edit