Chloe, Love Is Calling You (1934)

Chloe Love Is Calling You (1934)‘Reckon most of ’em been up all night voodooing down in the swamp’

A voodoo priestess returns to Louisiana after 15 years to revenge herself on the plantation owner who she believes killed her husband. Unfortunately, her plans go awry when her mixed race daughter falls for a visiting white man…

1930’s romantic drama dressed up with a climactic voodoo ceremony that just about pushes the project into the borderlands of the horror arena. Nothing supernatural actually happens (and we never think it will for a moment!) but there is a little business with fetishes and pins in dolls before all the dark figures dancing in the smoke and the sacrificial knife is upraised.

This small studio, independent production sets its tale in the bayou around the property of Col Joyner (Frank Gordon) who lost his only child to a drowning accident many years before. His plantation distills resin from trees to produce turpentine, although we see nothing of its manufacture or workforce, aside from a couple of shifty members who star in a fairly pointless subplot. Enter Mandy (Georgette Harvey) who has brought daughter Chloe (Olive Borden) and family friend Jim (Philip Ober) back to her cabin after more than a decade away. She blames Gordon for the death of her husband who was lynched after the two indulged in a bout of fisticuffs. We later learn that Gordon was still unconscious when the murder was done, which I guess makes him completely innocent.

The problem for Harvey is that Borden meets handsome Reed Howes, who is helping Gordon and his niece Molly O’Day at the old homestead, and the two fall in love. In about thirty seconds flat. This is all completely fine because he thinks she’s white (and so do we for that matter). From there, the story development is so blatantly telegraphed that we can see everything coming from miles away. In fact, there’s really not much reason to watch the second half of the film! You know exactly how everything’s going to come out!

Obviously, the question of race is on a modern day audience’s mind when looking at a project like this. How does it look in today’s more enlightened times? Well, there are problems, certainly, but we are spared the eye-popping comedy schtick that was prevalent in Hollywood at the time. Yes, the Colonel and his white guests lounge around while the black folks fetch them mint juleps, but at least the servants are treated kindly and with respect. The main issue is with Borden’s character, who throws over her black family the first chance she gets for a shot at the wealth and privilege of the white world.

But it’s Jim who is the film’s main arguing point and question mark. It’s never established exactly who he is supposed to be (apart from a love rival for Howes), but he lives at the cabin with Mandy and Chloe. However, Ober was a white actor and, although prints of the film are in very poor condition, it doesn’t appear that any makeup was applied to darken his skin tone (and why not hire a mixed race/black actor for the role if that was what was required?) On the other hand, Borden rejects his romantic advances as if repelled by him, despite the fact that he’s a stand up guy who has even saved her life! Is it because she instinctively suspects they are off a different race? Obviously, you’d hope not but it is curious…and a puzzle that will probably never be solved.

Chloe Love Is Calling You (1934)

‘We’ve got to stop meeting like this.’

Overall, this melodrama plays out a fair bit like a film from the silent era and that’s not much of a surprise considering the talent that was involved. Director Marshall Neilan wielded the megaphone on more than half a dozen of Mary Pickford’s big hits before drinking and a vicious dispute with major mogul Sam Goldwyn over the final cut of ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’ (1924) derailed his career.

The cast had mixed fortunes in later life with Ober becoming a respected character actor with a featured supporting role in Oscar winner ‘From Here To Eternity’ (1953) and many other appearances. O’Day was a teenage star in the 1920s, whose later career suffered due to alleged weight gain, although there’s absolutely no evidence of that here. She retired from the business in 1935, and lived to the age of 87. Howes also failed to make a successful transition into talkies, ending up as a heavy on a many a b-Western.

But the real story here is Borden. She was a bona fide star at Fox during the silent era, but the advent of talkies was the perfect opportunity for many studios to renegotiate contracts with their major names. Borden refused to take a pay cut and left. It proved to be an error of judgement with tragic consequences. She made only half a dozen more features, of which this was the last. In 1946, she was found scrubbing floors for a living and died in a home for destitute women on L.A.’s skid row barely a year later. She was 41 years old.

A relic of its time. Interesting from a historical perspective but not as entertainment.


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