Our Mutual Friend (1921)

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Wid Gunning, who founded the trade paper Wid's, decided to go for bigger game in the world of motion pictures -- this Swedish production of Charles Dickens' darkly hued final novel was one of the films he distributed. For those not familiar with the story, it borders on the macabre, opening up with riverman Gaffer Hexam (Peter Anderson) hunting through the Thames for drowned men and stealing their belongings before turning the bodies in to the police. The corpse he finds this night is wealthy John Harmon, who was murdered before he could claim his inheritance. He was supposed to marry Bella Wilfer (Catherine Reese) to collect his fortune, but now the heir is Nicodemus Boffin (Alfred Miller), and he and his wife (Joan Nethersole) adopt Bella. Their new secretary, John Rokesmith (Peter Walton) takes a peculiar interest in Bella. But there are humorous characters to be had, as there are in all of Dickens' stories -- blackmailer Silas Wegg (Betram Cross)! and his co-conspirator Mr. Venus (Charles Wilkens), to name two. Although by all accounts this was a quality film, Dickens didn't draw any better in the '20s than it does now (except for, of course, the film versions of his most famous works, A Christmas Carol and Oliver Twist), and it did poor box office, even in metropolitan New York.