FLESH AND SPIRIT (1922)
Article 4280 by Dave Sindelar
Directed by Joseph Levering
Featuring Belle Bennett, Walter Ringham, Denton Vane
What it is: The reformation of an atheist
An atheistic scientist adopts a young orphan girl, but neglects his fiancee and refuses to allow her to teach the young girl about God.
One of the rules of writing that I occasionally encounter in books that try to teach you how to do such a thing is that you should give your characters names that have specific meanings to reflect the themes you want to express. Personally, I’ve always looked askance at this rule, as it seems to me that you run the risk of throwing subtlety to the wind if you do so. This movie provides one of those examples; its theme is pretty obvious to begin with, but to give the name of “Truth” to the devout and neglected fiancee is laying it on fairly thick, especially when the plot turns on the atheist seeing the ghost of his deceased fiancee for the first time. That being said, the movie is at least efficient and fairly well-made; it’s something of a cross between A CHRISTMAS CAROL and THE CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE, and the relationship between the atheist and the little girl is remarkably similar to the relationship between the little girl and her father in the latter movie. The ghost provides the fantastic content, and once you figure out the main conflict, the movie becomes quite predictable; perhaps the biggest surprise is that it allows the atheist to have some positive qualities at all, considering how it stacks the deck in other regards.