Cast & Crew
Theodore Von Eltz
[frederick] Tyrone Power
Gabrielle Darley is lured into prostitution by a village sport, who uses her earnings to support both himself and her. Gabrielle later discovers that her lover is planning to marry another woman, and she shoots him dead as he is buying a wedding ring in a jewelry store. Gabrielle is tried and acquitted. With no visible means of support, Gabrielle is at first taken up by a publicity-hungry socialite, but this woman soon tires of Gabrielle and turns her out into the street. Gabrielle is prepared to return to her old whorehouse in New Orleans when she is redeemed by the love of the chauffeur of her sometime benefactress. The chauffeur is inducted and goes overseas, leaving a penitent Gabrielle to await his return from France.
Theodore Von Eltz
[frederick] Tyrone Power
Mrs. Wallace Reid
The Red Kimona
In flashback Gabrielle recounts how as a young, innocent girl with an unhappy home life she fell in love with a handsome, fast-talking older man. Promising love and marriage, Howard Blaine (Carl Miller) eventually brings Gabrielle to New Orleans, where he sets her up in the red light district as a prostitute.
When Gabrielle discovers that Howard is planning to marry another woman she travels to Los Angeles to see him and ends up shooting him in a fit of despair. Because of Howard's treatment of her, Gabrielle is found not guilty and taken in by a society woman who exploits her misfortune for the entertainment of her rich friends. The woman's kindly chauffeur Frederick (Theodore von Eltz) takes pity on Gabrielle and offers the possibility of love despite all of Gabrielle's misfortunes.
At the film's conclusion Mrs. Reid appears again to warn audiences against judging Gabrielle. Reid's husband, who she married in 1913, was the well known actor Wallace Reid, one of Famous Players-Lasky's biggest stars. But in 1919 after being involved in a train wreck, Reid was given morphine, to which he became addicted. Reid died at 31 from drug addiction in 1923 at the height of his fame.
His wife, once known as Dorothy Davenport and called by The Universal Weekly, "one of the youngest, classiest, most bewitching actresses of our time" found a new sense of purpose after her beloved husband's death. She became a producer, writer and director of films dealing with social issues. Her first film, which she produced and starred in, was an exposé on drug addiction and a virtual biopic of her husband, Human Wreckage (1923). The film was a huge success.
But The Red Kimona, produced by Reid's newly formed production company, was undoubtedly Reid's most sensational film for centering on prostitution in such detail. The film was adapted by future director Dorothy Arzner from a magazine story by the sensational writer Adela Rogers St. Johns. Hallmarks of Arzner's particularly female style can be found in the film, like the close female bond established between Gabrielle and her prostitute neighbor in New Orleans, Clara.
Bonner, who is beautifully effective as Gabrielle, specialized in playing innocent young girls. As Arthur James noted in a Variety review "Priscilla Bonner has a Gish quality with a greater vitality and in a role requiring the utmost delicacy to conserve its sympathy she demonstrates unusual power. Cast in the right roles and well directed, this young woman has no handicap to place her at the top rung of the ladder."
Upon the film's release, Reid was sued by the real Gabrielle Darley, living in St. Louis and happily married, who claimed that her privacy had been invaded. Reid had not bothered to change the name of her heroine for the sake of the picture. The real Mrs. Darley, who was shunned by many of her friends when they discovered her sordid past, won the lawsuit, leaving Reid penniless.
Critics were not kind to The Red Kimona. The New York Times unfairly observed "there have been a number of wretched pictures on Broadway during the last year, but none seem to have quite reached the low level of The Red Kimona."
Modern viewers may be surprised by the vitriol of such reviews of the day since the film itself is a gripping account of not only Gabrielle's plight, beautifully evoked by Bonner, but of the social hypocrisies which kept women like Gabrielle forever tainted a fallen woman.
Like Louis Malle's Pretty Baby (1978), The Red Kimona documented the Storyville district of New Orleans, a den of drugs, gambling and prostitution which Mayor Story relegated to one district of the city. Poorer prostitutes like Gabrielle worked out of one-room shacks called "cribs" while pricier prostitutes were advertised in a "Blue Book."
Reid went on to make The Earth Woman also starring Bonner in 1926 about hardworking homesteaders. Reid continued to produce films and television including the 1934 True Life Photoplays exploitation film The Road to Ruin which Film Daily called "a frank presentation of the pitfalls of youth, and it whitewashes none of the characters. The results of their folly, ignorance, and carelessness are pointed graphically for the moral."
Reid believed in the power of reaching a female audience by including women in some part of the filmmaking process, whether as writers or producers.
"I believe it takes a woman to believe in a woman's motives, and every story intended for the screen, should have a woman working on it at some stage, to convince the audience of women."
In addition to her film work, the tireless and dedicated Reid also established the Wallace Reid Foundation Sanitarium, a drug addiction treatment center.
Director: Walter Lang
Producer: Mrs. Wallace Reid for Vital Exchanges
Screenplay: Dorothy Arzner; based on an original story by Adela Rogers St. Johns
Cinematography: James Diamond
Production Design: Cliff P. Broughton
Cast: Priscilla Bonner (Gabrielle Darley), Mrs. Wallace Reid (Herself), Theodore von Eltz (Frederick), Carl Miller (Howard Blaine).
by Felicia Feaster