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In the silent era, Cecil B. Demille stood at the forefront of Hollywood directors, a visual stylist who created fashionable fables of women caught in tempests of temptation.
Accompanied by a lively score by the Alloy Orchestra, MANSLAUGHTER stars Leatrice Joy as a pampered debutante who is forced to confront her irresponsible lifestyle when she causes the death of a traffic cop. To emphasize the debauchery of the Jazz Age elite, DeMille interwove scenes of champagne-soaked parties and Roman orgies, a device that served as a stern warning (while providing a titillating spectacle) to the wayward youth of America.
Mixed messages also abound in THE CHEAT, in which a society woman (Fannie Ward) allows a wealthy Burmese trader (Sessue Hayakawa) to settle her debt for her, not realizing that in exchange he intends to brand her flesh as his own. Highly influential for its dramatic low-key lighting and its frank depiction of extra-marital intrigue, THE CHEAT tapped into a vein of post-Victorian female masochism, eroticism and Orientalism of the day, exploring the taboo desire to be forcefully seduced and possessed by a man of another (as in Rudolph Valentino's SHEIK films several years later).
"A masterpiece! A serious, bizarre and disturbing fable [that] suggests the favorite DeMille mixture of sex, sadism and sacrifice, washed down with lurid melodrama...as powerful as ever today." - Kevin Brownlow, The Parade's Gone By
"One of the great accomplishments of the American cinema." - René Clair