Kino continues to release rare silent movies on Blu-ray. A couple weeks ago I posted a review of their offering of Tod Browning's 1921 OUTSIDE THE LAW. The company has also brought out a Browning silent double feature, containing DRIFTING and WHITE TIGER. For today's purposes I'll be writing about DRIFTING.
DRIFTING, produced by Universal in 1923, is another crime melodrama starring Priscilla Dean, with Oriental elements. Dean plays Cassie Cook, an American opium dealer based in Shanghai. Cassie (who is referred to in an intertitle as "the Poppy Princess") is getting tired of her shady lifestyle, and wants to go back to the states. She bets all of her remaining money on a horse race, and loses. This forces her and her dubious partner (Wallace Beery) to travel to a small village in the Chinese countryside, where their opium shipments come from. Cassie is supposed to waylay the government agent (Matt Moore) investigating the poppy fields. But she starts to have feelings for the him....as does the beautiful young daughter (Anna May Wong) of the man who is in charge of the opium operation. The opium growers, angry at interference with their trade, attack the village, causing all the main characters to fight for their lives.
DRIFTING is entirely set in China, but it was filmed on the Universal backlot. It still has an almost epic feel to it, with an impressively designed Chinese village built for the film, and plenty of outdoor scenes. The Shanghai scenes in the beginning of the film almost border on the silly, but the story improves greatly once the characters get to the small village. The climax features a large battle between the poppy growers and the villagers, and it's very well handled, helped by dramatic tinting during the sequence.
Priscilla Dean plays another bad girl who isn't really all that bad, and she does quite well in the role. She even gets to show off her prowess with a rifle during the battle in the village. Dean, however, has the movie stolen from her by the exquisite Anna May Wong, who was just a teenager when she made this film. Wong is so natural and moving in her role that one wishes she had far more screen time. The government agent hero is played by Matt Moore, who will be known by film buffs for playing the wimpy Hector in the silent version of THE UNHOLY THREE (which of course was directed by Tod Browning). I may be prejudiced due to his playing Hector, but I thought that Moore wasn't suited to be an action hero.
There are other actors here with links to Tod Browning, such as Wallace Beery, and Edna Tichenor, who is famous for appearing in plenty of stills with Lon Chaney from the now-lost film LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT. Tichenor plays Priscilla Dean's opium addicted friend, and she literally spends all her scant screen time strung out while laying in bed.
On this Blu-ray Kino has used a 4K restoration of DRIFTING. The visual quality is very good (the tinting brings a great deal to the presentation). The music score, which is bombastic at times, is by Phillip Carli. The disc cover states that this Blu-ray is coded for A,B, and C regions.
A new audio commentary is provided for DRIFTING, by silent movie historian Anthony Slide. Slide gives out a lot of technical and production info, and he discusses the controversy over casting white actors in Asian roles.
DRIFTING has a lot more visual flair than one expects from a Tod Browning film, and it is less macabre than the director's more famous works. Despite the fact that it is essentially about drug dealing, the movie has a sentimental aspect to it at times. I'll be covering WHITE TIGER, and the rest of the extras on this disc, in an upcoming blog post.