'Sold for Marriage': Lillian Gish in Socially Conscious Silent

Sold for Marriage (1916)

Dir.: Christy Cabanne

Scr.: William E. Wing

Cast: Lillian Gish, Frank Bennett, Walter Long, Allan Sears, Pearl Elmore, Curt Rehfeld


Lillian Gish in Sold for MarriageThough all but completely forgotten today, Christy Cabanne (at times billed as William Christy Cabanne) was a respected name in the 1910s and 1920s. Among his credits are the1916 Douglas Fairbanks vehicle The Mystery of the Leaping Fish, considered by some Fairbanks' best film of the 1910s; the highly successful 1925 actioner The Midshipman, which helped to seal Ramon Novarro's stardom; and several key scenes in the mammoth 1925 version of Ben-Hur, also starring Novarro.

An apprentice to D.W. Griffith, Cabanne seems to have not only learned a good deal from the (now all but insufferable) Master, but during the 1910s he also seems to have used his cinematic know-how to create films that, in terms of narrative, character development, and acting are superior to any of the Griffith productions I have seen from the same period.

The 1916 drama Sold for Marriage is a good example of Cabanne's naturalistic and quite modern approach to filmmaking. The tale (written by William E. Wing) of a young Russian immigrant who almost becomes the victim of an arranged marriage in early 20th-century Los Angeles, Sold for Marriage is filled with true-to-life details and fully believable performances – besides Lillian Gish's beautifully nuanced heroine, there's also handsome Frank Bennett doing excellent work as her romantic interest.

Additionally, Sold for Marriage demonstrates that feature films produced at the dawn of the “multi-reel” era could flow as smoothly and be as technically proficient as if they had been made yesterday.

Cabanne's career went downhill at about the time films learned to talk, but he continued working in B films, usually adventure flicks and Westerns, until the late 1940s. He died of a heart attack in 1950.

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