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Twelve Miles Out
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MGM Silent. 85 minutes (8 reels).
US release: 7/9/27.
Cast: John Gilbert, Joan Crawford (as "Jane"), Ernest Torrence, Betty Compson, Bert Roach, Eileen Percy, Paulette Duval, Dorothy Sebastian, Gwen Lee, Edward Earle, Tom O'Brien, Harvey Clark.
Credits: From the play by William Anthony McGuire. Adaptation: Sada Cowan. Titles: Joseph Farnham. Director: Jack Conway. Camera: Ira H. Morgan.
Plot Summary: John Gilbert was one of MGM's top stars when he appeared in this melodrama. Playing against his usual matinee idol type, Gilbert plays a tough and restless wanderer. Jerry Fay (Gilbert) and Red McCue (Ernest Torrence) are fierce but not unfriendly rivals who run into each other in various ports. They meet up once again in New York to discover that they have both become bootleggers. Fay has just loaded up his speedboat with rum when he is pursued by the coast guard. He hides out in a home on the seashore, and Jane, the girl living there (Joan Crawford), threatens to call the cops. To prevent her from turning him in, Fay kidnaps her and takes her to his ship. McCue and his men, disguised as revenuers, hijack Fay's boat, and the two men find themselves face to face once again. A drinking contest between the two of them turns into a vicious battle. Fay recaptures the boat and turns it in to save Jane. Jane, who has fallen in love with the wounded Fay, cradles him in her arms. Crawford, whose star was still very much on the ascendant, would appear with Gilbert again in 1928's Four Walls. ~ Janiss Garza, All Movie Guide
Notes: Shot in 39 days for $462,000. Made a profit of $125,000. (Source: Mayer and Thalberg, by Samuel Marx.)
Mae Tinee in the Chicago Tribune (1927):
Joan Crawford's Jane is a character played with charm, force and restraint.
Robert E. Sherwood in Life (1927):
It is an amusing, exciting picture, well played by Mr. Gilbert, Ernest Torrence and Joan Crawford, and competently directed by Jack Conway.
New York Review (1927):
Joan Crawford is lovely as Jane, and though her part affords her little variety, she makes a lot out of it, and scores a pronounced success.
Motion Picture Magazine (Oct. 1927):
The reviewers drive home two points in their reports on this picture -- the fact that Ernest Torrence just about steals the show and that the film breaks the bounds of what might be called movie tradition by having a sad ending. Aside from this, the critics are, as a whole, of the opinion that TWELVE MILES OUT contains qualities which will command the interest of theater patrons, in spite of the fact that they don't go out of their way to praise it. This is the film, according to report, that Gilbert himself was greatly dissatisfied with, but, all in all, his reported fears are not sustained by the reviewers.
TWELVE MILES OUT, says Edwin Schallert in the Los Angeles Times, "is a picture that has certain fundamental weaknesses because of its plot and the setting of the story, and because several very improbable incidents are introduced. It is, however, an interesting picture. . . The tragic finish is more of a shock than a surprise." Mr. Schallert is reminded of Captain Flagg and Sergeant Quirt of WHAT PRICE GLORY when he sees Gilbert and Torrence, as the promoters of contraband, wrangling over this and that and then over the society girl with whom the bootlegger-hero falls in love.
Although he finds that the film is "fairly satisfying" program fare, Martin Dickstein, writing in the Brooklyn Eagle, asserts that, "the suspicion persists, somehow, that it could have been much better." Mr. Dickstein says the film is less entertaining than the stage play.
Asserting that TWELVE MILES OUT boasts one of the most hectic fights that has ever been filmed, Regina Cannon, the American's reviewer, finds that "Gilbert registers brutality throughout, evincing only a few tender moments at the end. He has been so much better before that his 'not so good' stuff here may be attributed to characterization that permits very little variation in temperament or tempo."
The reviewers regard Miss Crawford as quite easy on the eyes and opine that the direction is good.
If you've seen Twelve Miles Out and would like to share your review here, please e-mail me. Include, if you like, a picture of yourself to accompany your review, as well as a star-rating (with 5 stars the best) and any of your favorite lines from the film.
Shane Estes (September 2010)
Rating: of 5
I finally managed to get my hands on a (ridiculously overpriced) copy of this film on VHS that I’m guessing had an unofficial limited release at some point in the 1990’s through Grapevine Video. It was transferred from a “rare 9.5 mm French print.” This makes for a few interesting twists on the film. First of all, the intertitles are literally translated from the French and not the original American versions, so many of the lines come off sounding rather artificial, and there are many grammatical errors as well, with lines such as, “How many times I have told you not to use violence.” Secondly, this is the French version of the film, and from what I’ve read, the censors of the era were at times surprisingly more conservative in Europe than in America, so the “steamy” scene from the film that we see in the Ultimate documentary where forcibly kisses Joan has unfortunately been edited. There are clearly some plot variations as well, because at the end of the film when Gilbert is lying there dying, he says, “Let me believe you are not too angry with me by kissing me… just once…,” and she does; but in the American version that would not have been their first kiss. Lastly, there is clearly a missing reel or missing footage, because the run time is supposed to be 85 minutes and this version is only about an hour, which causes a little bit of confusion; but the basic story is still all there.
So with all that said, what a great little film! The overall quality of the film is better than I anticipated. It’s not as good as The Unknown, but comparable to Spring Fever in that it has a lot of damage, but it’s still definitely watchable. I’m a silent film buff and a huge Joan fan, so I really ate this one up. It’s really quite an interesting film. It has kind of an action/adventure feel to it, similar in style to Across To Singapore, which also features the villainous .
Here Gilbert plays Jerry, a crafty bootlegger with a sense of style, who takes over a house along the shore in order to evade the coastguard. Joan plays Jane, the fiancé of the man who owns the house being taken over. After threatening to tell the authorities, Gilbert takes the couple hostage onto his boat. We never find out what happens to Joan’s fiancé! He just kind of disappears after they are on the boat. I suppose that part was on the missing reel! Anyway, Joan doesn’t seem to be all that upset by it. Eventually she starts to fall for Gilbert and likes the sense of protection she gets from him, unlike from her fiancé, who was depicted as very weak and sickly and not very noble. Then enters Red, the evil rival of Gilbert, played beautifully by Torrence. I read a couple of reviews from the day that said Torrence upstages Gilbert in this and completely steals the show. I don’t know if I entirely agree with that. Torrence adds an element of danger and suspense to the film, but Gilbert is definitely the star here, and despite his big nose, Gilbert has a certain charm and charisma and sexiness that I quite enjoy.
I like Crawford’s look in this. It’s a bit different from her other silent film work in that her hair is very short. I think she pulls it off great. She has an important presence throughout the film; however, her acting range is very limited here, most likely just due to the script. She’s basically Gilbert’s bitch and her role is therefore limited, but apparently it calls for lots and lots of glaring and shooting the evil eye at people, but it comes off nicely. I especially enjoy the ending of this film. It’s sad; both rivals die and Joan is left alone, which kind of makes it stand out among other films of the day. Motion Picture Magazine even commented in the October 1927 issue that “The film breaks the bounds of what might be called movie tradition by having a sad ending.”
I don’t imagine they would have been able to get this film past the censors after the Hays Code went into effect in 1934. I think the content would have been a bit too racy. Apparently the French thought so. A couple of funny lines from the film are when Joan’s husband says, “As an American citizen I demand to know what time it is!” and when Gilbert says to Torrence, “I know a girl in Honolulu that would find you beautiful. Of course she’s as blind as a mole.”
Overall, a handsome film with a fine production and a simple plot, set on a boat with a bunch of dangerous bootleggers. Almost lost to time, Twelve Miles Out remains an intriguing entry in Crawford’s silent picture catalogue. Well worth watching!
Stephanie Jones (January 2006)
Rating: - 1/2 of 5
I wonder if different versions of Twelve were released in Europe and in the U.S. My French print is about 58 minutes long and several plot points vary from the synopsis in the entry in the Films of Joan Crawford book, which lists the running time as 85 minutes. My print could just be missing the first reel, but that wouldn't account for plot variations that also occur later in the film...
At any rate, my print begins with the rum-running Jerry (John Gilbert) and gang making a mad dash from the US Coast Guard and taking refuge in a home occupied by the upper-class Jane (Joan) and her snooty, weak fiance. When the couple threatens to report Jerry upon his departure, he takes them prisoner aboard his boat. After a few confrontations between the cowardly fiance and the good-at-heart Jerry, and a few piercing glances between Jane and Jerry (truly, no one can compare to Joan Crawford and Jack Gilbert when it comes to Intense Stares), Jane realizes she loves Jerry. (At which point the fiance inexplicably disappears---I've watched the film twice now and still can't figure out what happened to him! Did he fall overboard?!)
Once the spark between Jane and Jerry is kindled, though, the real trouble ensues when Jerry's old bootlegging rival and sometime buddy Red (Ernest Torrence) shows up. This hulking brute immediately starts trying to manhandle Jane and claim her for his own. To protect her, Jerry first devises a drinking contest, hoping to force Red to pass out and forfeit the girl. When this doesn't work, Jerry secretly sends an SOS to the Coast Guard, even though this means he'll give up his own freedom...
This film is all Gilbert's. Sorry to say, I haven't seen him in anything besides this aside from Queen Christina, but I was captivated and impressed with his performance here. He's a hearty, confident physical actor who's also capable of great facial expressiveness and subtlety. Granted, sometimes the Intense Stares are a tad bit over-the-top, but these are more than countered by other thoughtful moments when he's quietly looking at Jane, or grinning at her engagingly, or exhibiting disappointment with himself.
I've got to admit that Joan seems slightly overpowered onscreen by his charisma. And the camera notices, too: There are many more close-ups of Gilbert than of Joan, which doesn't just have to do with the fact that he was the bigger star; in this film at least, he is simply more interesting to look at. Joan doesn't have much to do here except stand around a bit stiffly (with the occasional fainting spell), looking at first disdainful and then sadly in love, and, finally, frightened by the Red menace. All of which she does more than competently; it's just that she seems a bit boyish or kid-like here, without the raw glamour and sex appeal that Gilbert exudes.
Another powerful presence here is Ernest Torrence (also Joan's co-star in '28's Across to Singapore and '29's Untamed). Egads, what a big, leering galoot of a man! His scenes with Gilbert, whether they're brawling or trying to outwit each other, are intense and interesting because of both the psychological and physical acting power each possesses. As described in the Films of JC book synopsis, the first part of the movie focuses on Jerry and Red's rivalry, as they compete for money, women, and daredevil glory around the globe. Maybe seeing more of this psychological backstory of the two men would have made this a 3-star rather than 2-1/2-star film for me. As is, it's a decent adventure tale, simply plotted, with a love interest thrown in, with points given for the acting chops of the two male leads.
Joan would have to develop for a few more years before she'd have the onscreen wattage of Gilbert (or of Lon Chaney, for that matter, with whom she also co-starred in 1927). By the time she began appearing with Clark Gable in 1931, she had definitely summoned the inner resources necessary to hold her own and project against a strong, charismatic male co-star. Here, though, she's still a bit of a lightweight.
Above: US lobby cards.
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