Newspaper article News Sentinel

Stark Showing; Movie Wowed Critics, Flopped at Box Office

Newspaper article News Sentinel

Stark Showing; Movie Wowed Critics, Flopped at Box Office

Article excerpt

By Matt Lakin * lakinm@knoxnews.com * 865-342-6306

The film opened to rave reviews from The New York Times and featured Knoxville's first hometown girl to grace the big screen.

Just don't let its title fool you.

" 'Stark Love' is not a sex picture," the Knoxville Sentinel assured its readers. "A Knoxville girl has helped make a motion picture that will in turn help make motion picture history."

The silent movie, filmed in the Smoky Mountains near Robbinsville, N.C., saw the only star turn by Helen Monday, a 16- year-old Knoxville High School student plucked from a drugstore counter by a passing talent scout. She never made another film, despite praise for her acting as hillbilly heroine Barbara Allen.

Monday wasn't there to see her debut on the screen of Knoxville's Riviera theater June 21, 1927. She was busy touring in Nashville with Maynard Baird and his Southern Serenaders orchestra, a regular act on Knoxville's WNOX radio.

The movie's plot couldn't have been darker. Rob Warwick, an unlettered mountain boy played by teenager Forrest James, falls in love with Barbara, a neighbor's daughter. At her urging, he teaches himself to read and leaves the hills of home to study in the city.

He comes home to find his mother dead, exhausted by a life of hard work, and Barbara claimed as a replacement bride by his abusive, barbaric father. The climax comes when father and son face off in the one-room cabin home as the father drags the unwilling girl to the marital bed.

Barbara saves the day when she turns on the father with an ax and leads Rob to safety through a flood.

Director Karl Brown, a former cameraman for D.W. Griffith, had pitched the film as a documentary in the style of "Nanook of the North," made with real mountain people he claimed had never even seen a camera. In reality, he recruited Monday and James from restaurants and drugstores in Southern cities like Knoxville and rounded up the rest from locals. …

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