The silent films released by Grapevine Video are usually interesting, but the latest is a very good film indeed.
Homecoming (originally Heimkehr, 1928) is a German film, directed by Joe May. Its plot is simple enough. Richard and Karl are two German prisoners of war in Russia. They are unguarded, because escape is presumed impossible. They meet one soldier who tried it, and he was caught and sentenced to the lead mines – more or less a death sentence. They make the attempt, however. Karl gets away, but Richard is captured by Cossacks.
Karl goes to see Richard’s love, Anna, who he has heard so much about, and the two fall in love. Then Richard comes back.
Variations of this story were told many times in the twenties, often melodramatically, and sometimes for comic effect, as in Somerset Maugham’s Home and Beauty.
What makes this version special is the direction and the acting, or rather the close collaboration between director and actors. Most shots are tightly framed to concentrate on facial expressions, and the story is told with very few intertitles. The long sequence in which Karl and Anna realise that they love one another is slow but riveting, because the characters’ emotions are so clear, and the story is so well-told.
Dita Parlo plays Anna, and she has joined Janet Gaynor and Dorothy Gish on my shortlist of favourite silent film actresses.