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The Red Kimona (1925)

4.2 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

THE RED KIMONA is a melodrama about a young girl who is tricked into a life of prostitution, murders her pimp/lover and finds redemption in true love. It was the result of an extraordinary collaboration between three important women: Adela Rogers St. John, Dorothy Arzner (who wrote the story) and Dorothy Davenport Reid, who co-directed and produced. While St. John and Arzner became better known over the years, it is the unjustly neglected Reid who brought THE RED KIMONA to the screen. Dorothy Davenport was a member of one of America s premiere theatrical families and a promising young actress when she married screen idol Wallace Reid in 1913. After her husband s tragic death from an accidental drug overdose in 1923, she accepted an offer from the Ince company to produce and star in Human Wreckage (1923), about drug addiction and dedicated to her husband. After doing one more film for Ince, Dorothy Reid started her own production company, whose first project was THE RED KIMONA. THE RED KIMONA was based on the life of Gabrielle Darley and opens with Mrs. Reid reading from a newspaper account of Darley s murder trial. Priscilla Bonner plays Darley, a small town girl who finds escape from her cruel home life in the arms of a handsome stranger. Soon she finds herself working as a prostitute in New Orleans, desperately clinging to the belief that he really loves her. When she discovers him buying an engagement ring for another woman, she shoots him. Her murder trial becomes a cause celebre and Gabrielle finds herself befriended by a rich society woman who professes deep concern for the unfortunate girl. After the acquittal, she goes to live with Mrs. Smith, intending to start a new life, but finds that her benefactor has little use for her once the newspaper men have gone. Unable to find an honest job because of her notorious past, Gabrielle becomes homeless and penniless and nearly returns to prostitution before fate and the love of a good man save her. THE RED KIMONA is clearly a heartfelt film made from a woman s point of view. Dorothy Reid directed or produced several films into the early thirties, after which she became a successful writer and production assistant working in Hollywood through the fifties.

Special Features

None.

Product Details

  • Actors: Priscilla Bonner, Tyrone Power Sr.
  • Directors: Mrs. Wallace Reid, Walter Lang
  • Format: Black & White, NTSC, Full Screen
  • Language: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: Kino Lorber films
  • DVD Release Date: April 22, 2008
  • Run Time: 80 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B0013XZ6RK
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #152,013 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: DVD
The 1925 lobby card chosen as the cover art for this Kino release describes THE RED KIMONA as "A Smashing Exciting Thrilling Drama," a breathless burst of praise somewhat at odds with Kino's own more reserved judgment--that it is "clearly a heartfelt film made from a woman's point of view." Both descriptions are accurate, sort of.

A few reviewers have apologized for the melodrama, as if it somehow gets in the way of the message. The events leading up to Gabrielle Darley's 1917 trial and subsequent acquittal for the murder of her pimp were true, they point out, but the ensuing narrative, well over half of the movie's running time, was entirely cooked up to satisfy the audience's need for romance, sensationalism, and pulse-pounding chases.

But if any part of the movie seems unlikely or lurid, it is surely the true part. Gabrielle's degradation, her transformation from wide-eyed innocent to New Orleans prostitute, is never dramatized. Howard Blaine, whom she regards as a swell guy, takes her away from it all (the small town, her abusive family) and, because she is convinced that he loves her, she . . . consents to sell her body to repulsive men like Mr. Mack? How did she get from there to here? To match the improbability of the situation, Priscilla Bonner's acting, in the early scenes, is over the top. Her Gabrielle emotes in the style of early Biographs, with peeled eyeballs and extravagant gestures.

Our patience, however, is rewarded. During the trial, the exaggeration melts away, and Bonner and the film come to life.

The real subject of THE RED KIMONA is not prostitution, it turns out, but the continuous exploitation of the fallen, the vulnerable, and the dispossessed, often by those who are in the best position to help.
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Format: DVD Verified Purchase
"The Red Kimona" is one of five films on three DVDs in Kino Video's "First Ladies - Early Women Filmmakers" series which presents a very interesting range of silent films produced, directed or written by women who made their mark in the early, male-dominated film industry. "The Red Kimona" is rather special because not one but three women collaborated on this project, the story and screenplay being written by women, and produced by Dorothy Davenport Reid, by then the widow of the very popular actor, Wallace Reid. Fittingly, the story is for and about women, but is also an important social statement addressed to everyone, as well as simply being an entertaining film in itself. The message Mrs Reid presents in the beginning of the film is the real-life plight of a young woman whose story is taken from the headlines of 1917, when she was on trial for shooting her former lover and pimp. Looking behind the shocking events into the girl's past which led to the murder, a sad but all too common story is revealed. Perhaps such a story is one that only women could successfully tackle in the mid 1920s, namely with insight, compassion and understanding, while at the same time showing the audience the various injustices many women had to suffer.

Although freed of the charges, thanks to a sympathetic jury, Gabrielle finds life just as difficult as before, when she wore the red kimona in the red light district of New Orleans. No one wanted to hire a woman of such reputation, and want ads all required references, forcing her to give up on her dreams of a new and better life and return to her old life - almost. Since this is Hollywood, the story has to have a happy ending and a new, true love for unlucky Gabrielle, but not before some little dramas, suspense and an exciting car chase scene.
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Dorothy Davenport Reid (1895-1977) was one of the most important women producer/directors during the 1920s. She came from a distinguished theatrical family. Her father Harry Davenport is best remembered as Dr. Meade in GONE WITH THE WIND. She was married to early matinee idol Wallace Reid hence her being known as Mrs Wallace Reid. When he died in 1923 of complications from drug addiction, she became an advocate for social causes. Her hard hitting film about drug addiction HUMAN WRECKAGE (1923) with Bessie Love and her next film BROKEN LAWS no longer survive but THE RED KIMONA, a film about prostitution made in 1925, does.

While the real life story of New Orleans prostitute Gabrielle Darley who murders her pimp/lover is melodramatized for the screen, it remains surprisingly effective thanks to the lead performance of Priscilla Bonner (IT, THE STRONG MAN). There are also small parts for silent film regulars Tyrone Power Sr, Virginia Pearson, and George Siegmann. The direction is credited solely to Walter Lang who would become an in-house workhorse at 20th Century Fox for many years but the film was co-directed by Reid. Why she chose to leave her name off is curious. Perhaps as producer and with her appearance as herself, she felt it would be a case of overkill. Who can say. By the early 1930s with the advent of sound and the studio system firmly in place her career was over although she lived another 40+ years.

Today like so many of the women film pioneers she is forgotten but hopefully the release of this film on DVD along with the two others in the FIRST LADIES: EARLY WOMEN FILMMAKERS series from Kino will help to correct that. While not a great film, THE RED KIMONA is an important one and still plays well today.
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