Review by Doug Gibson
For Bela Lugosi's birthday, I had considered reviewing his second-most-iconic-character film, "Son of Frankenstein." But then I was reading Gary Rhodes and Bill Kaffenberger's new book, "Becoming Dracula: Volume 2," and I was intrigued by some mid 1920s' silent films Bela acted in. One I watched, "Daughters Who Pay," impressed me, not so much with the film, which is mildly entertaining, but with Lugosi's magnificent screen presence. He's in his early '40s, and his commanding persona draws eyes to him in most scenes.
"Daughters Who Pay" was a 1925 states rights release that starred Marguerite De La Motte, a star of that era, who plays dual roles. There are separate plots that eventually intersect. The first involve young woman, Margaret Smith, who is essentially the head of a fatherless house. Margaret has a problem. Her loser brother, Larry, has frittered away, illegally, $10,000 from his firm. He faces ruin and prison if discovered. Margaret agrees to visit his boss and plead for mercy.
The other plot involves the boss, Henry Foster, who is upset that his son, Dick, is romantically involved with a Russian nightclub singer, Sonia Borisoff. The elder Foster demands his son give her up. Dick leaves, assuming he is cut off from the family fortune.
A theme of "Daughters Who Pay" is the Russian menace of the 1920s. Lo and behold we learn that Sonia is apparently part of a Russian spy operation. The local spy ring leader is played by Bela Lugosi, His name is Serge Romonsky. (Above is a photo of Lugosi with De La Motte in the film.)
Bela appears about 20 minutes into the film, interrupting Dick Foster telling Sonia that he's given up his money for her. Above at the top of the post (courtesy of the Bela Lugosi Blog) is a still of Lugosi in that scene. His youth, looks, and commanding sense are striking. He dominates the scene with an imperious air and visible contempt for the weak Dick Foster. "I can't say that I care for some of your American friends, my dear," Bela's character says in the titles.
Later in the scene, while they are alone, Bela's character orders Sonia to drop Dick Foster. She appears to have feeling for the young man, but reluctantly agrees. Bela's Romonsky lights up at this. He has feelings for Sonia. But she quickly rebuffs him. Offended, he leaves.
Meanwhile, Mary is unsuccessful in persuading Henry Foster to give her brother a break. She leaves and apparently runs into Sonia outside the Foster mansion, where the singer has been summoned. Once inside with Mr. Foster, Sonia agrees to dump his son, but only if he shows mercy to the brother of the woman she just met, Mary. Henry Foster appears bemused by this.
Meanwhile, members of the Russian spy ring are beginning to have suspicions about Sonia. Romonsky and the others make sure they are with Sonia when she tells Dick Foster their relationship is over. After she does that, crushing Dick, a triumphant Serge begins, in the parlance of the era, to make love to Sonia. She accepts a long kiss. After it's over, Romonsky recoils in shock, with blood dripping from his lip and mouth. (See photo below).
It's a fascinating scene; the most shocking part of the film. It also serves historically -- unintentionally of course -- as a preface to a future role, Lugosi as Dracula. It made me think a bit of Lugosi eying the blood on doomed Renfield's finger. The scene shifts to Sonia, who shows Lugosi the rose with thorns she had placed between her teeth prior to the kiss.
Soon afterward, federal agents raid the location. Many spies are arrested. Romonsky and Sonia avoid capture. This convinces Romonsky Sonia is a traitor, and he arranges to set her up for capture and presumably death.
I will not provide more of the plot except to mention this film is very easy to watch. Here is a YouTube link. The film is set mostly in the Hamptons and it was shot in winter, so there are nice scenes with New York snow. Reviews were middling, according to "Becoming Dracula: Volume 2," which includes snippets of many critics' opinions.
The film has about 15 or so minutes of deterioration, for about 10 minutes in the latter middle and then heavy deterioration in the final several minutes. (The film is about 78 minutes). This does not prevent the viewer from losing the plot, or losing enjoyment in the film, but it will likely prevent this film from ever airing on, say, Turner Classic Movies. De La Motte's star diminished with the beginning of sound films. She made only a handful of sound films. George Terwilliger directed the film. John Bowers played Dick Foster, J. Barney Sherry played Henry Foster, and Joseph Striker played Larry Smith. As mentioned, De La Motte has two roles, which sets up a surprise at the end. Can you guess?
Below is an April 20, 1926 ad for "Daughters Who Pay" from the Hattiesburg (Miss) American for the film promising free admission, with one purchase, for mom.