Director: Victor Sjöström. Cast: Lillian Gish, Lars Hanson, Montagu Love, Dorothy Cumming, Edward Earle, William H. Orlamond. Screenplay: Frances Marion (based on the novel by Dorothy Scarborough).
A starkly haunting silent film about a woman, played by the inimitable Lillian Gish, who moves from Virginia to Texas to live life on the frontier with a man named Beverly (Edward Earle) who was raised by her family as though he were her brother. Beverly's wife Cora (Dorothy Cumming) has her own suspicions of why Gish's Letty has relocated to Texas, amounting to a semi-incestuous desire she believes Letty to possess and which Cora commits herself to impeding.
This jealousy proves unfounded, but unfortunately Cora's antagonism is hardly the greatest of Letty's concerns in her new home. A man she meets on the train coming out to Texas reappears later in town to ask Letty's hand in marriage. At the same time, she is already being courted by Lige (Lars Hanson), a neighbor of Beverly and Cora's, and Lige's dimwitted sidekick Sourdough. Above all, a strong, sand-raising wind blows over Texas from the moment the train crosses the border into the state and ever after as the melodramatic interactions between the characters come to pass. Never does the gale subside, and it is this aspect of her new homeits ceaseless howl, its hammering of sand against the window, and its encroachment through cracks in her floors and wallsthat starts to disrupt Letty's mental stability. Director Victor Sjöström, the same man who would star in Ingmar Bergman's Wild Strawberries three decades later, brilliantly sustains the agitated, threatening atmosphere of the picture, though neither his own stylistic choices nor the paramount acting of Gish reach for any conspicuously large effects. The film's power and tension increase as surely as in Polanski's Repulsion, and though The Wind is less of an explicit horror film than that later work, the pictures are comparable in their irreproachable craftsmanship and their disturbing, potent effects on the viewer.
Most readings of The Wind liken the insidious gales to the forces of male desire and unruly attempts at seduction that Letty, as a "proper" woman of Virginia, is unable to withstand. The ending of the picture, wholly reconceived after test audiences rejected the scripted version as too depressing, comes within a hair's breadth of sabotaging the whole picture, which is therefore viewed to best effect if the VCR is shut off three minutes before the film's end. Still, if you are interested in silent film acting and directing at their best, or if you are willing to be adventurous in your search for a quick-moving and discomfiting chiller, The Wind can hardly be a better selection. It's a consummate ghost story without the ghosts. Grade: A