It is often true that the villain is a far more interesting character than the hero of a film. The more lurid the story, the chances are that the colorful antics of villainy will far outshine the interest generated by the rather straightlaced square jawed purity of heroism: the good guy may get the girl, but the bad guy generally has all of the fun. This does suppose that the innate blandness of the forces of good will create an unintended but dramatically stimulating contradistinction positioning the pure against the morally vile, and with this happy exhibition of the more seductive nature of the nefarious, creating an occasion for the safe enjoyment of the wickedness inherent in the more flamboyant conspiratorial enterprises of evil. This was especially true of the films produced under the Production Code which, in theory, attempted to dispel the attraction of wrongdoing, but simultaneously created a forced homogenization upon the villain’s decidedly milquetoast opposition. However, since conflict be the heart of drama, then a steady diet of all good or all bad is an unrecommended recipe for unrelieved temperamental monotony.
“The Ace of Hearts” begins with a languid meeting of a secretive “Brotherhood” as if the members were converging before the decision to begin the film properly had been made, which in essence is what is going on. The conclave exchanges what appears to be rather insignificant information about an unnamed “Man Who Has Lived Too Long” and vote to put him to death, though this conspiratorial congress goes unexplained nor are the qualifications for touching upon this group’s sour disposition unveiled, however, during the entire murderous election process, one of the group, Farallone (Lon Chaney) spends the bulk of the discussion mooning over the empty chair opposite him. As it turns out, the absent member is the lone female of the group, the oddly schizophrenic Lilith (Leatrice Joy), who enters the film bespeaking the same zealous commitment to the “Cause” as would a pioneer temperance crusader, but with an alarming swiftness, radically metamorphosises into a tearful, helpless waif through no other transformative process necessary than enjoying a night of connubial bumpies. Lilith is also at the center of the primary (actually, only) relationship in the film, spreading her charms between the morose Farallone and the more gregarious Forrest (John Bowers) who she ends up marrying simply by the random draw of a playing card, which instead of an act of chance, she romanticizes into an indication of courage.
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