The seething East, hostages, civil unrest, despotic rulers, hatred of the West, reprisal killings – sounds like today’s news. In fact, these are plot elements from THE GREEN GODDESS, a hit play for George Arliss in 1921, that he made as a silent film in 1923, and again as a sound film in 1929. So how can something so old be so topical in the 21st Century?
The play was a first-time effort by veteran drama critic William Archer, based on a dream he had. Archer earlier published a book that set down rules for playwrights whereby he all but guaranteed that following his rules would assure success. Archer then ignored all his own rules in writing THE GREEN GODDESS.
The temple of the Green Goddess but the play’s title actually refers to another type of green-jealousy. This is the set from the 1923 silent version.
Arliss plays the omnipotent Rajah of Rukh, a small kingdom somewhere in the Himalayas. Western educated, but hateful of the British, the Rajah finds himself unexpectedly the host of three British survivors of a plane crash.
The Rajah impresses his guests with his militia.
Ever the perfect host, the Rajah gradually explains that he is holding the trio as hostages. His brothers have assassinated a British official and are due to be executed – so “an eye for an eye.”
The three “guests” – Major Crespin, his wife Lucilla, and Dr. Traherne – keep their wits, bribe the Rajah’s English valet, and attempt to send a wireless call for help.
Major Crespin is fatally shot by the Rajah and confesses that he failed to send the radio message for help. Arliss, Harry T. Morey, and Alice Joyce in the 1923 silent version.
But the Rajah is willing to spare Lucilla – if she becomes one of his wives. The silent version with Jetta Goudal as a lady in waiting.
To sweeten his offer, the Rajah proposes to kidnap Lucilla’s children and bring them to her in Rukh. Arliss and Alice Joyce again, but from the 1929 talkie version.
The Rajah’s ultimatum-return to the palace as his wife or be dragged back as his slave:
The sacrifice proceeds as planned with the two surviving guests, Lucilla and Dr. Traherne – –
Arliss, Alice Joyce, and Ralph Forbes in the talkie version.
— but the Major lied – his message did get through and the RAF arrives with bombs.
Now a deposed despot, the Rajah consoles himself over losing Lucilla with the classic closing line: “She’d
probably have been a damned nuisance.”
A lucky playgoer of 1924 not only preserved the ticket stub, but got Mr. A to autograph the playbill:
Notice the ad in the lower left of the playbill for the book edition- here’s the cover:
Finally, a rarity – the last page of the silent film script. Notice that Arliss’s exit line is faithfully preserved:
[Click on this image to access “hidden” frame captures from the 1929 film]
Notes: George Arliss was nominated for the Best Actor Academy Award both for THE GREEN GODDESS and for DISRAELI. He won for DISRAELI, thereby becoming the only actor in film history to compete against himself for the Oscar. Also, THE GREEN GODDESS was actually filmed prior to DISRAELI during the summer of 1929 but was not released until February 1930, some four months after DISRAELI’s release. Why? That’s another story.