Watching a Cecil B. DeMille silent film is a little bit like meandering through a flea market cluttered with obsolete odds and ends that may not qualify as quality antiques, but that exert a fascinating and magnetic allure nonetheless.
Kino on Video's "Cecil B. DeMille: The Visionary Years 1915-1927" is a six-cassette collection of cinematic miscellany. It includes Carmen (1915), Joan the Woman (1916), The Whispering Chorus (1918), Male and Female (1919), The Volga Boatmen (1926) and The King of Kings (1927). Each cassette costs $29.95.
DeMille, the son of an East Coast minister, came to Hollywood early in the century. He made his first feature-length movie in 1914, and continued directing films until 1956. He established himself as one of film's earliest directors of renown through these early silent features, indulging in the blunt, but vivid, techniques that would serve him into the era of the "talkies" and such commercial hits as "The Greatest Show on Earth" and "The Ten Command-ments." Still, to anyone other than a devoted student of the genre, these movies are bound to seem more remarkable for the fact that they've been beautifully restored through digital mastering than for DeMille's ham-fisted moralizing and simple plots. "The Whispering Chorus" is a perfect example. It's the story of a hard-luck bookkeeper named John Tremble who steals from his employer and then fakes his own death to cover up the graft. He is arrested and convicted of his own murder. If that isn't awful enough, he is forced to agonize over whether to fry in the electric chair or save himself and embarrass his family. Tremble's the sort of fellow who might be diagnosed today as suffering from an obsessive-compulsive disorder manifested by misplaced aggression and a gambling problem and definitely aggravated by the poor ergonomic layout of his work station. …