In Africa a young mother dies upon hearing that her husband’s illness was fatal. Her young child is the heir to their estate. The child’s uncle pays the mother’s companion, Mrs. Harrington (Margaret Dale) to take the child away so that he can claim the estate. Sixteen years later, on his deathbed, the uncle confesses what he did years ago. He charges his solicitors with finding his brother’s child and restoring the family fortune to the rightful heir and cutting out his own son John Fairfax (Henry Hull).
In the meantime the child, Agnes (Carol Dempster), has grown up thinking that the distant and cold woman who raiser her is her mother. Mrs. Harrington’s fortunes have been depleted and she now needs money. She stole a piece of jewelry from another woman but was seen by a callous man with bad intensions, J. Wilson Rockmaine (Morgan Wallace). Rockmaine blackmails Harrington into allowing him to marry Agnes in exchange for not turning her in to the police. Agnes goes along because, even though Harrington is cold to her, she still believes the woman is her mother.
The Fairfax estate is empty except for a caretaker. The real estate agent, Clary Johnson (Herbert Sutch) is using the mansion as a warehouse for bootleg liquor. When he finds out that John Fairfax is back in town he knows he must move his operation somewhere else. Deciding to cheat his partner out of his share Johnson plans on absconding with half a million dollars in ill gotten gains. When he hears someone coming he hides the loot in a trunk under some papers. His partner shoots him but before he can search for the money people show up at the house. When the body is found the police are called and a detective (Frank Sheridan) starts investigating.
John meets Agnes at a party and falls in love with her. To try to spend more time with her he invites everyone to the estate for dinner. He has his butler (Percy Carr) hire staff and has the house cleaned. The butler finds the trunk full of papers and, not knowing if they are important or not, brings them downstairs and hides the trunk in a hidden safe in a bookcase.
Not knowing where the money is the mysterious partner must return to the house and search for it while there are people now in the house. Murder is in store for those that find out he is in the house searching.
“One Exciting Night” was released in 1922 and was directed by D.W. Griffith. It is a silent comedy horror mystery. It is also an old dark house style film that was done before “The Old Dark House” 1932.
D.W. Griffith did a shitload of movies, over 500, but most of them were shorts. Only a handful were more than two hours long and only a couple considered epics. “One Exciting Night” is not one of them. It’s your basic average mystery movie that happens to be over two hours long. There is lots of build up to the spooky goings on at the mansion before anything really exciting happens. I blame that on Griffith trying to dip his toe in a genre he’s not familiar with and finding he can’t swim. You can’t make an old dark house mystery an epic. It doesn’t work. O.D.H. mysteries should be quick and snappy. They don’t span sixteen years and they don’t take over an hour to get to the good stuff. Griffith made tons of shorts. He should have used that formula for this movie.
The film is incredibly racist. The blacks are portrayed as lazy. Even the ambitious ones shuffle along. They are also the comic relief doing unfunny racist tropes. There are also white guys in blackface who are doing most of the unfunny racist tropes. Griffith had a lot of racism in his films. The eternal question is was Griffith himself racist or was he exposing racism in his films? Did he even care about the subject? Some say he made films based on what he thought would excite audiences not because of their political content. Race has always been a dominant factor in society and was blatant in early film. Was Griffith holding a mirror up to it or did he believe it himself? I don’t know that we’ll ever really know.
Despite all the bad stuff the movie wasn’t all bad. Other than the blackface the casting was OK. The hurricane was wonderful but I did have an issue with huge trees falling slowly. He seems to have milked that segment a little too much. Other than that the hurricane was great. In a nutshell it was a long racist slightly above average mystery with a good ending.