That Royle Girl premiered in Chicago, on Saturday, November 21, 1925[i], at the Balaban & Katz Uptown Theater located at Broadway and Lawrence Ave., (Uptown Theater had just opened its doors on August 18 of 1925) and had a general release on Monday, December 7 (according to Internet Movie Data Base and other sources), 1925; but this information seems a bit sketchy because the movie debuted on Tuesday, December 1, 1925 at the Regent Theater, in Norwalk[ii], Connecticut, and in Nevada, Missouri (south of Kansas City), it opened at the Star Theater on Wednesday, December 2, 1925[iii]. Setting the exact date of release may not be reasonable for Royle, as with most films of that era, small cities and towns received a print that was well worn by the time of its small-town premier. Primarily, why December 7, 1925 is so often considered the official release date of That Royle Girl, is because that is what was reported to the movie-theater trade magazines[iv]; then a staggered roll-out was used instead.
Royle was directed by D.W. Griffith, based on the Edwin Balmer novel of the same name (which appeared serialized in Cosmopolitan Magazine (1924-1925), with the screen adaptation by Paul Schofield, cinematography by Harry Fischbeck and Harold S. Sintzenich; starring Carol Dempster, W.C. Fields, James Kirkwood and Harrison Ford (no relation to Han or Indy Harrison Ford). All sources direct us to the fact that Griffith did not want to make this film and took it simply to comply with his contract. But I prefer my fantasized version better: Griffith in Chicago, at Bert Kelly’s Stables on Rush St. and he says, “I got the Jazzy Inspiration to produce ‘That Royle Girl’ while visiting Bert Kelly’s Stables, which I consider the real Chicago Nite Life Atmosphere;” wait, that’s not a fantasy, that’s a advertisement[v]!
This film is presumed lost, and when we lose a film, we have not only lost a piece of moving-art but we have also mislaid a part of photographed-history (when shot on location). What a memory activator That Royle Girl could be, a time capsule from 1925 has vanished to us the modern audience; what a shame the loss we the movie watchers experience corporately, for this film was shot in and around Chicago, in some sense a travelogue, seen through the perspective of the keen eyed Mr. Griffith; a deep-dish (get it? Chicago) slice of history has been taken from us. That Royle Girl was selected for the American Film Institute Top 10 Most Wanted Lost Film List, in 1980, along with: Frankenstein (1910), Cleopatra (1917), The Kaiser, the Beast of Berlin (1918), Little red Riding Hood (a Walt Disney production) (1922), Greed (all reels wish list) (1923), London After Midnight (partially restored) (1927), Camille (1927), The Divine Woman (1928) and Rogue Song (sound film) (1930). The last known trace that I can find of That Royle Girl, intact, was January, 27, 1932, in an article written by Louella O. Parsons[vi].
Regardless of the reasons for each film’s inclusion on the list, at least the Most Wanted Lost Film roll brought to the attention of the American audience the suspected ruin of so many early films. I know that I have made mention of lost cinema, numerous times, but the point cannot be made too often, that we are missing out on about 85% at the most, or an unknown percentage at the least[vii], or somewhere in between may be more accurate, especially when considering feature-length films[viii]; David Pierce’s work is the latest and might be the best on the subject[ix]. Any deficit of our silent-moving-pictures is too much, for thereby we lose an element of ourselves, a thread of our common history on film. I believe it is our responsibility to ensure that what films have survived, remain intact, preserving, restoring, regardless of whether the movie’s title is recognizable or popular, and then making them available to the general audience. Of course, that implies ample donations to finish the work; yet, millions of feet of film lay waiting to be resuscitated.
That Royle Girl has the perception with many of not having received good reviews; Richard Schickel in particular, in his book D.W. Griffith: An American Life[x], appears determined to represent that the cyclone finale did not persuade critics or anyone at the production company, (Famous Players-Lasky) of realism. Also, Simon Louvish wrote: That Royle Girl “was judged a failure by the critics[xi].” Michael Corcoran and Arnie Bernstein said: “That Royle Girl did little to impress either critics or moviegoers.[xii]” But I did not find that to be true, at all, from Carl Sandberg’s short article to many newspapers across the nation, Royle, if not a darling, was at least liked of critics, who praised the cyclone scenes. That Royle Girl made appearances on two top-ten lists, which is not studio hype: Gervaise Butler, Pantagraph, Bloomington, IL and Harold D’Valpey, The Daily Item, Lynn, Mass. As well, Carol Dempster won the Photoplay Magazine Best Performance for the month March, 1926, and Royle was listed as one of the six best pictures of the month in Photoplay Magazine March, 1926.
If Schickel was confining his information to publications such as the New Yorker and Variety, which trashed Royle, then his claims that people did not find the cyclone ending persuasive is backed up, but to come to that conclusion, many good reviews had to be discounted. Now, granted, some of the rave evaluating-missives were from smaller markets, maybe Schickel and other writers have dismissed the local-yokel drama-critics for the company of the early Nuevo-urban-film-critic-intelligentsia; yet, overall Royle (by my research, of which I am including excerpts and some reviews in full, more than 30) was warmly welcomed.
If the only axe to grind by many modern writers was just regarding the critical reception of Royle, that would be one thing, but the accusation is that the box-office was awful, because the film was not believable; well, the box office doesn’t lie. According to Variety, January 1926 and the Film Daily Presents the Film Year Book 1927 (drawing fine receipts nation-wide), Royle was in good health financially at the box-office. Indeed, it took in $44,500 in one week, while breaking records at the Chicago Theater, in Chicago, IL[xiii]. So popular was Royle in St. Petersburg, Florida that it had a re-run of two days beginning on January 1 of 1927[xiv]. The film received an overall value of 65 from the Motion Picture News in their box-office report [xv]; Motion Picture Magazine, reported that “D. W. Griffith’s ‘That Royle Girl,’… hit big business in Baltimore, Chicago and other [xvi]cities.” According to Richard Schickel, Royle lost about $180,000[xvii], while the cyclone scenes cost $200,000-$250,000[xviii]. That Royle Girl made money, just not enough to offset the budget-overrun.
If you have any further information regarding That Royle Girl, please contact me.
Stills from That Royle Girl:
By C. S. Williams
[i] The Movies Are”: Carl Sandburg’s Film Reviews and Essays: 1920-1928, edited and with historical commentary by Arnie Bernstein, Lake Claremont Press, October, 2000, page 284
[ii] Norwalk Hour, Tuesday, December 1, 1925, page 4
[iii] The Nevada Daily Mail and the evening Post, Wednesday, December 2, 1925, page 7
[iv] Exhibitor’s Trade Review, August 22, 1925, page 54
[vi] Milwaukee Sentinel, Wednesday, January 27, 1932, page 11
[vii] Nitrate Won’t Wait: A History of Film Preservation in the United States, By Anthony Slide, McFarland & Company, Inc., 1992, page 5
[viii] The Survival of American Silent Feature Films: 1912–1929, by David Pierce, Council on Library and Information Resources The Library of Congress, September 2013, page 2
[ix] The Survival of American Silent Feature Films: 1912–1929, by David Pierce, Council on Library and Information Resources The Library of Congress, September 2013
[x] D.W. Griffith: An American Life, By Richard Schickel, First Limelight Edition April 1996, by Proscenium Publishers Inc., page 517
[xi] British Film Institute Film Classics, Volume 1, edited by Rob White, Edward Buscombe, published by Fitzroy Dearborn, 2003, page 253
[xii] Hollywood on Lake Michigan: 100+ Years of Chicago and the Movies, by Michael Corcoran and Arnie Bernstein, Lake Claremont Press, 1998, page 39
[xiii] Motion Picture Magazine, February, 1926, page 78
[xiv] The Independent, St. Petersburg, Florida, Saturday, January 1, 1927, page 6
[xv] The Motion Picture News, the Weekly Edition of Exhibitors’ Box Office Reports for January 16, 1926.
[xvi] Motion Picture Magazine, April, 1926
[xvii] D.W. Griffith: An American Life, By Richard Schickel, First Limelight Edition April 1996, by Proscenium Publishers Inc., page 516
[xviii] D.W. Griffith: An American Life, By Richard Schickel, First Limelight Edition April 1996, by Proscenium Publishers Inc., page 517