THE DEVIL'S NEEDLE AND OTHER TALES OF VICE AND REDEMPTION is comprised of three feature films that dared to address incendiary subject matter: drug abuse, prostitution, and the exploitation of labor. By folding these explosive issues within layers of melodramatic storytelling, the filmmakers were able to dodge public criticism while making their political views even more compelling. These films were among the first to demonstrate the cinema's potential as a persuasive cultural force.
THE DEVIL'S NEEDLE (1916, dir: Chester Withey) stars silent superstar Norma Talmadge as Renee, a French artist's model who uses morphine as an escape from the dull reality of her life. She recommends it to a neurotic artist played by Tully Marshall (Queen Kelly), because ''it kindles the fires of genius.'' The artist quickly becomes addicted to the drug and the quality of his work begins to disintegrate. He takes on a new model, marries her, and starts her on the same path of moral degradation, until a guilt-ridden Renee decides to intervene in order to save them both. According to silent film historian Kevin Brownlow, THE DEVIL'S NEEDLE was banned by the state of Ohio, but the censor board reversed its decision after recognizing the positive message beneath the film's scandalous surface. This special edition was mastered from a 35mm preservation print of the 1923 re-release version. The only known surviving copy, the element suffers significant nitrate decomposition during some scenes. (66 min)
THE INSIDE OF THE WHITE SLAVE TRAFFIC (1913, dir: Frank Beal) is one of the most notorious films of the silent era, as it not only centered on the theme of forced prostitution, ''It goes in for the utmost fidelity in picturing the evil which has been its inspiration'' (Variety). Demonstrating the methods of the network of American pimps known as ''white slavers'' in meticulous detail (including a helpful guide to underworld slang), the film plays more like docudrama than melodrama. It is easy to see why it was such a public sensation upon its release. The complete four-reel version of the film no longer exists. This edition was mastered from the sole surviving copy, a two-reel version that has experienced significant damage. Explanatory titles have been added to bridge missing footage. (28 min)
CHILDREN OF EVE (1915; dir: John Collins) is most famous today for its detailed reenactment of the tragic fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in 1911, which had become a symbol of unsafe working conditions and capital's apparent disregard for labor. Viola Dana stars as an illegitimate child of the slums who labors in an oppressive canning company, not realizing she has a significant connection to the cold-hearted factory owner. This special edition includes outtake footage of the sensational fire scene, for which the Edison Studios set an actual four-story factory ablaze. (73 min)
BONUS FEATURES: THE INSIDE OF THE WHITE SLAVE TRAFFIC: unrestored version (19 minutes), CHILDREN OF EVE: 8 minutes of outtake footage