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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Captain Salvation
Captain Salvation
Warner Bros. // Unrated // January 12, 2010
List Price: $19.99 [Buy now and save at Wbshop]
Review by John Sinnott | posted February 3, 2010 | E-mail the Author
C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Recommended
E - M A I L
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P R I N T
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The Movie:
 
Warner has been releasing a steady stream of silent movies from their vaults through their Warner Archive program, but until now I haven't had a chance to see any of them.  Luckily that has changed with this month's release of Captain Salvation, a well produced and somewhat surprising drama from 1927.  Billed (at least on the WA site) as a high seas adventure, the film is more an indictment on intolerance and religious bigotry, something that would be controversial today, much less in 1927. 
 


Anson Campbell (Lars Hanson) has returned to his New England sea port home after completing his studies to be a minister at a seminary.  He's greeted by his best girl, Mary (Marceline Day), who has been patiently waiting for him and her father, the local religious leader.  Getting off the boat without a coat and tie and with his vest unbuttoned, Mary's father isn't sure if Anson has 'the calling', but Mary doesn't care about that, she's just happy to see him.
 
Finally finding some time alone after sneaking out of his welcome home gathering, Anson proposes to Mary who gleefully accepts.  She starts to wonder if she did the wrong thing soon after however when a ship runs ashore one evening.  One of the survivors is Bess Morgan (Pauline Starke) a prostitute who had been run out of Boston.  When the Captain of the wrecked ship informs the town people of just what she is, they stop helping her even though she's injured and refuse to even give her a blanket for warmth.
 


Anson is appalled at their behavior and not only helps Bess, but he takes her in an nurses her back to health, much to the chagrin of everyone else in town.  He's finally given an ultimatum by Mary:  send the girl out or he'll lose his pulpit.  When he refuses Mary return his engagement ring and leaves him.
 
Now both outcasts, Bess and Anson, who is an able-bodied seaman too, obtain passage on a boat heading toward Rio.  It's only after they've left port that Anson and Bess learn that the unscrupulous captain has lied and that they're really on a prison ship headed towards a penal colony.  From there things get even worse.
 


This was a decent if unremarkable film.  Director John S. Robertson (Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde) manages to include some impressive shots into what could have been a fairly staid production.  There's some of footage of a square-rigger coming into port at the beginning that really captures the size of the ship.  It's quite impressive.
 
Most of the acting is fairly average.  Hanson tends to overact just a bit during the emotional scenes, and Marceline Day seems fairly wooden throughout.  Pauline Starke on the other hand does a wonderful job playing the fallen woman who has had an incredibly hard life.  She gives her character just the right amount of sass and bravado to hide her vulnerability.
 


The first half of the film moves at a pretty slow pace.  It's obvious that the town's people don't like Campbell helping Bess, but they have to show that fact three or four times.  Campbell for his part never defends what he's doing.  As a prospective minister I was waiting for him to start telling his critics to love the sinner but hate the sin, or even point out that Mary Magdalene was once a prostitute (as some believe).  He didn't do any of this, content to take their scorn and not to defend himself at all.
 
The ending was a little weak too.  I won't give it away but I was scratching my head as to how some things came to pass between the penultimate sequence and the final shots of the film.  Even though some time had passed it seemed a bit farfetched.
 
That's not to say the movie is bad.  It's not.  It's well constructed for the most part and though a bit slow at the beginning, it moves at a good pace once the narrative changes to the sea.  It's also interesting to see how they tackled prostitution, rape, incest, and bigotry.  Those are all topics that would be verboten once the Hays Code came into play and it's easy to forget that Hollywood did tackle tough subjects before they allowed their hands to be tied.
 
The DVD:

 
This movie is released on a print-to-order basis by Warner Archives.  It comes on a DVD-R in a standard Keepcase with a full color cover printed on nice paper.
 
Audio:
 
 Philip Carli penned a new scene specific score which it fits the tone and mood of the film very well.  Created in 2005, the fully orchestrated music (recorded with a 26-piece orchestra) really helped the film especially in the beginning which was a bit slow.  Being recently recorded the quality was fine with no distortion or background noise present at all.
 


Video:
 
I was very pleased with the full frame video quality.  The image was extremely clear with excellent contrast and very good detail.  The print does have occasional spots and scratches, but the overall presentation was superb. 
 
Extras:
 
Like all Warner Archive releases this does not come with any bonus material.
 
Final Thoughts:
 
Though this isn't a classic from the silent era, it is a fine film made better by Pauline Starke's excellent performance.  The Warner Archives DVD-R looks remarkably good with a great picture and nice new soundtrack.  This rarely seen film would make a fine addition to anyone's collection.  Recommended.
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