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Trespasser, The

00:00 Introduction by Peter Bagrov, Senior Curator, Moving Image Department, George Eastman Museum
04:54 The Trespasser

The Trespasser (US 1929)
Writer and director: Edmund Goulding
Producer: Joseph P. Kennedy
Cinematographers: George Barnes, Gregg Toland
Art director: Stephen Goosson
Furnishings: T. E. Dickson
Costumes: Judge Johnson
Editorial associates: Laura Hope Crews, Cyril Gardner
Film editors: James Morley, Duncan Mansfield
Art effects: Edward Jewell
Production manager: Harry H. Poppe
Sound engineer: George Ellis
Musical director: Josiah Zuro
Songs: “Love Your Spell Is Everywhere” (Words: Elsie Janis /Music: Edmund Goulding); “Serenade” (Words: Sigmund Spaeth / Music: Enrico Toselli)
Cast: Gloria Swanson (Marion Donnell), Robert Ames (Jack Merrick), Purnell Pratt (Hector Ferguson), Henry B. Walthall (Fuller), William Holden (John Merrick Sr.), Wally Albright Jr. (Jackie), Blanche Friderici (Miss Potter), Kay Hammond (Catherine “Flip” Merrick), Mary Forbes (Mrs. Ferguson), Marcelle Corday (Blanche)
Production company: Gloria Swanson Productions Inc.
Distribution company: United Artists Corp.

Release date: 9 September 1929 (World premiere, London, UK)
Sound: sound
Color: b/w
Format: 35mm
Original length (in feet): 8,223 ft.
Original length (in reels): 10
Surviving length (in feet): 8,035 ft.
Surviving length (in reels): 5 double reels
Running time: 89 min., 43 sec.

Generous support for the video introduction provided by Art Bridges.

Preserved at Haghefilm Laboratory
Digitized at Eastman Museum Film Preservation Services
Funded by the American Film Institute Challenge Grant Program

This film has been made accessible to the public in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities: NEH CARES. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this video, do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The long and luminous screen career of Gloria Swanson (1899–1983) began in Mack Sennett comedies—she splashed with other Sennett “bathing beauties” Blanche Sweet and Mabel Normand and achieved a notable success as a lady in distress in Teddy at the Throttle (1917). Swanson quickly rose to prominence in Hollywood under director Cecil B. DeMille, who cast her in lavish comedies and dramas. In haute couture fashions and fabulous jewels, she defined decadence in the movies, and women across America devoured every scrap of newsprint that chronicled her lifestyle and films. DeMille also helped her to refine her considerable acting talent. When sound arrived in Hollywood, Swanson was already in the producer’s seat, having created Gloria Productions Inc. She could afford to take her time to select exactly the right story with which to launch the second phase of her screen career. In The Trespasser, Swanson found everything she needed to showcase her vocal talents, stretch her acting muscles, and command the attention of the legions of female fans who rooted for her to overcome class barriers to achieve success. It is a melodrama of the first rank, and Swanson is effortlessly natural and appealing in her sound debut. As Marion Donnell, a secretary who marries the boss’s son, she runs an emotional gamut as she wins the man she loves, nobly gives him up, and finally gets him back. She even proved to have hidden musical talent by performing two songs. 

The Trespasser was a big hit, earning Gloria Swanson her second Academy Award nomination. It seemed that this great star of silent cinema has made not just a smooth but a triumphant transition to sound. However, all the talking pictures she made in the subsequent five years did poorly at the box office. Swanson, who had worked steadily for twenty years, began to choose her film projects with care while she opened her life to other possibilities and endeavors. Today, she is best remembered for her amazing performance in Billy Wilder’s scathing critique of Hollywood Sunset Boulevard (1950). She fully embraced the role of the delusional Norma Desmond, faded silent star of the silver screen, and worked with Wilder to incorporate many aspects of her own career into Norma’s. But Gloria Swanson was the antithesis of Norma Desmond—she lived in the present and strode through life with courage, imagination, and fearlessness. The Trespasser is but one shining milestone in the career of this unique woman. 

It is worth noting that this film was instrumental in launching another brilliant film career. Director of photography George Barnes was so impressed by the work of his second cameraman Gregg Toland that he insisted on the two getting equal billing. In the next two decades Toland (who died in 1948, aged 44) became one of the true international stars of cinematography. Among his many masterpieces are Wuthering Heights (1939), The Grapes of Wrath (1940), The Long Voyage Home (1941), The Little Foxes (1941), The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), and, of course, Citizen Kane (1941).