The Silence of Dean Maitland: A life sentence
Maitland (John Longden) has fallen asleep in the church, praying for the strength to confess his crime and clear his friend of murder charges. He’s about to tell the police when he sees the headlines – Alma Lee (Charlotte Francis) has lied to the court, saying that Dr Everard (John Warwick) was her lover. Maitland rushes to court to stop an unjust verdict, but his heart cannot take the strain. Everard gets a life sentence. Summary by Paul Byrnes.
Classic melodrama – the kind of scene that was common in silent films but harder to bring off in a sound film. Ken Hall was concerned about the rampant melodrama of the story and did his best to reduce it in the final script. Audiences loved it, nevertheless.
The Silence of Dean Maitland synopsis
A young clergyman, Cyril Maitland (John Longden) falls in love with a beautiful young vamp, Alma Lee (Charlotte Francis), in a seaside town. He is engaged to another woman, but Alma becomes pregnant. When her father Ben (Les Warton) finds out, he attacks the pastor and is killed in a fall. Maitland’s closest friend, Doctor Henry Everard (John Warwick) gets the blame, but neither Alma nor Maitland speaks up to clear him. Everard spends 20 years in jail as Maitland becomes a well-known author and bishop. On his release from jail, Everard comes to kill the man who ruined his life.
The Silence of Dean Maitland curator's notes
Ken G Hall wrote in his memoirs that he was initially reluctant to make this film, which was suggested by the boss of Union Theatres, Stuart Doyle. The original novel had been turned into a successful stage melodrama well before Raymond Longford filmed it in 1913. Hall found both book and play unfilmable, in the context of the sound era, but he persevered and the film became one of his biggest successes.
The scandalous story was updated, the dialogue modernised, and Hall pushed the bounds of how much of the sex could be shown, rather than suggested. The censors reacted on cue, objecting to Charlotte Francis’s brief seaside nude scene at the beginning, and demanding a trim to the only scene in which the pastor actually kisses her. The Cinesound publicity department fed the controversy in the newspapers and supplied photos to keep it going.
To modern eyes, the film retains much of its melodramatic origins, but Hall tried his best to minimise these old-fashioned techniques. He was very concerned that the production would incite religious anger, but it was a popular smash instead.
The original novel was set in England, and Hall made it look and sound like it was filmed there – which may have deflected some religious ire from the local churches. Much of it was filmed around Camden, NSW where Hall’s mother came from.
The cinematographer was Frank Hurley, making his second film for Cinesound Productions. Hurley’s command of studio lighting is evident in the studio-bound scenes. He continued as Cinesound’s chief cameraman for the next four years, shooting all or part of Hall’s successive features.
The version of Maitland released in England was cut down, but was still successful. That version was about 13 minutes shorter than the original running time of 95 minutes. Both versions are preserved in the National Film and Sound Archive.
Notes by Paul Byrnes