God's Man (1917)

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Arnold L'Hommedieu (H.B. Warner) and his friends Archie Hartogensis (Edward Earle) and Hugo Waldemar (Walter Hiers) go to New York to find work after being unfairly expelled from college. Arnold starts off as helpful and idealistic, but after being beaten down by life, he decides he is only after money and becomes an opium smuggler. His pals have fared no better: Archie becomes a drug addict and is in debt thanks to his spendthrift fiancee, while Hugo has lost his money after investing in a show that flopped. The two go to Arnold for financial aid. They await a shipment of opium, but the police are onto them and raid the hideout; only Arnold evades the cops. He finds shelter in the cabin of an old philosopher (Tom Burroughs). The philosopher urges him to face up to what he's done, and to turn himself in -- that way he will have truly earned his name, L'Hommedieu, which is French for "God's Man." This ambitious picture (it was nine reels long and included a nearly all-star cast) was based on a novel by George Bronson Howard. Its approach to the drug trade was quite unusual and ahead of its time -- instead of creating false, melodramatic images, it showed how glamorous and tempting the drug smuggler's lifestyle could be, making Arnold's motivations quite clear. This sophisticated attitude, however, stunned quite a few moviegoers of the day.