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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars

on May 19, 2008
"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. Everything is nicely balanced, making this an entertaining film all round, but its important message - then and now - makes it special and also historically significant. Another special little touch is the hand-tinted scenes in which only Gabrielle's gown, the notorious kimona worn by prostitutes, has been coloured deep red. With very good picture quality and nicely suited piano score by Robert Israel, this is the more stylish of the "First Ladies" series, but only due to being made a decade later than the others.
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on April 24, 2008
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. The social criticism of judgemental attitudes and misplaced philanthropy is still relevant to our time. The print from the Library Of Congress looks great and the hand tinted red sequences for certain scenes have been beautifully restored. Robert Israel's piano score is also a plus. The title comes from the article of clothing worn by Gabrielle as a prostitute.
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on July 30, 2013
Not many are aware of the fact that women played a major role in the production of films during the first two decades of the 20th century, Lois Weber being one of the most prolific directors whose work is all but forgotten today. The Red Kimona is a fine example of films made with the eye on womens lives and the difficulties faced by them during this era. This film projects a womans struggle to overcome degredation and live the life we are all entitled to. Pricilla Bonner was a wonderful actress
who portrayed a woman trapped in prostitution and her struggle to become a decent productive person in a world where women had an uphill battle for equality with men. A beautifully done film by all involved. JHR
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on October 29, 2017
Marvelous film by an underrated woman!
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on July 25, 2008
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. In one of several expertly conceived scenes, Gabrielle, freed from prison, is presented as the "guest of honor" at a ladies' parlor luncheon by Mrs. Fontaine, the wealthy pseudo-philanthropist and publicity seeker who has taken her in. A sympathetic maid watches from above as Gabrielle descends the staircase and stands nervously amid the overdressed matrons, who are agog with lascivious curiosity. As the maid's gaze becomes ours, the scene dissolves to reveal a circle of cats pawing a dead mouse.

The writing in this scene is ingenious. When a dowager torments Gabrielle with prurient questions, the intertitles capture the woman's salacious prattle without the use of a single censorable word. That this wealthy, complacent social milieu is so masterfully skewered suggests that the writers knew it very, very well.

The video restoration by Bret Wood, resulting in stable, clear images with minor speckling, makes the DVD a pleasure to watch. The infrequent splashes of red--emblematic of Gabrielle's shame and notoriety--are vivid and genuinely startling, as they are the only color tints in the film.
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