'The Italian': Early 'American Nightmare' Drama

George Beban in The ItalianThe Italian: George Beban plays an Italian immigrant whose American dream quickly derails into a nightmare of poverty and despair


George Beban (right) was a renowned stage and vaudeville star. Even though he never became a major film name, Beban appeared in nearly 20 films from the mid-1910s to the mid-1920s, almost invariably in the role of an Italian. His first feature film, in fact, was quite succinctly called The Italian.

Directed by the respected Reginald Barker (among whose credits is the 1916 William S. Hart vehicle The Aryan), The Italian depicts the plight of an Italian immigrant who arrives in the Land of Plenty only to find poverty, heartbreak, and death (no, not his own).

A not uncommon theme for the socially-conscious 1910s, The Italian is a cinematic American Nightmare that is universes away from the idealized American Dream stories of the Golden Age of the studio system. The reason for that is, perhaps, that U.S. film audiences in the 1910s included millions of immigrants, many of whom could relate to the plight of Beban's social outcasts.

Also surprising is The Italian's modern feel, from Reginald Barker's subtle direction and Clara Williams' amazingly naturalistic performance (as The Italian's wife) to George Beban's restrained and fully believable portrayal of a man crushed by his dreams.

The Italian (1915). Dir.: Reginald Barker. Scr.: Thomas H. Ince and C. Gardner Sullivan. Cast: George Beban, Clara Williams, J. Frank Burke

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