Plot: Renee (Norma Talmadge) is an artist’s model and she has a close relationship with artist John Minturn (Tully Marshall), not just a professional one either, as there is often a personal affection involved as well. She struggles however, as she has developed an addiction to morphine, which took hold when she was prescribed the drug to ease her anxieties. As Minturn gains some prominence for his work, he meets a young socialite and her father, who take an interest in his art. Soon Renee notices that the socialite has become close with Minturn and in an effort to scare her off, Renee gets the artist hooked on morphine as well. But will her plan work or has he ruined the promising future of the artist and lost him in the process?
Entertainment Value: The dangers of addiction are explored in The Devil’s Needle, but in a serious, even dark approach, so don’t expect a Reefer Madness, camp oriented type experience here. I do think the hallucination scenes are humorous in some ways, but by and large, this is a sincere, serious picture. The narrative is predictable, but I found it to be effective and I was always drawn in. The movie also runs just under an hour, so the story unfurls at a brisk pace and no real filler is present. This helps balance out the routine story elements to a good degree, since there are no slow stretches or filler, just the core narrative push. I think The Devil’s Needle shines in how it portrays the withdrawal and desperate need for the next hit, as those scenes are bleak and quite effective. The rest of the movie is good, but doesn’t reach those levels and winds up as a solid overall picture. I’d recommend it to fans of silent films, Norma Talmadge, and drug scare movies.
As this movie was made in 1916, the performances are interesting and reflect a much different approach than the eras that followed. As with a number of silent films, that can mean overly theatrical, broad efforts from some cast members, but Norma Talmadge delivers a more subtle, natural performance. She seems at home in front of the camera and for lack of a better phrase, gives a much more modern style turn, which makes her scenes more effective. I would think a lot of those drawn to The Devil’s Needle are brought in by Talmadge’s presence and she doesn’t disappoint in the least. Tully Marshall isn’t quite on her level, but he handles his role well and he does nail some of the movie’s more memorable scenes. The cast also includes F.A. Turner. Marguerite Marsh, and John E. Brennan.