Stark Love is a 1927 film directed by Karl Brown.
It is set in the hills of Appalachia. The mountains of the Carolinas are in this telling inhabited by "an isolated and primitive people," who live in a cruel patriarchy where "MAN IS THE ABSOLUTE RULER—WOMAN IS THE WORKING SLAVE." The men sit around drinking all day and oppressing their women, who are more or less sex slaves.
One exception to this grim portrait is Rob Warwick, a thoughtful young man who seems to be the only person in his village who knows how to read. He tries to help his mother, who is literally being worked to death, and for this he is mocked by his brutish father James. Rob takes a liking to a neighbor girl, Barbara, and together they dream of escaping the valley, making it to the city, and getting educations. Rob actually leaves the valley, sells his horse in town, and gets back with the money to send Barbara to school—but in the meantime his mother has died. His father, needing a new sex slave, has set his sights on Barbara.
Filmed on location in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina, with a cast of local people that were recruited for the movie. Director Brown, who had a very, very low opinion of the Appalachians and of the people who lived there, deliberately shot out of sequence to prevent his actors from catching on to the extremely negative stereotypes he was putting on film. None of the actors in Stark Love ever appeared in another movie, although 16-year-old Helen Mundy (Barbara) was so excellent in her part that she was signed by Paramount to a contract, before changing her mind and going back home. Forrest James (Rob) went on with his life, and a few years later fathered Forrest Jr., better known as two-time Alabama governor Fob James.
Compare Tol'able David, a hit 1921 film that presented a somewhat less horrifying view of life in the Appalachians. See also 1931 documentary film The Forgotten Frontier, a Real Life portrait of life in the Appalachian region.
- Abhorrent Admirer: Barbara is not at all pleased to find out that Jason has claimed her as his new bride.
- Distressed Dude: Rob tries to rescue Barbara from his father, but winds up getting his ass kicked and chucked into the river. Barbara responds to this by grabbing an ax and forcing her way out of Jason's cabin, whereupon she saves Rob from drowning.
- Due to the Dead: The village holds an annual "funeral feast" in which the dead are remembered.
- Foreshadowing: Roughly halfway through the movie the preacher tells Rob that the river is rising so he's going to have to take an alternate route home. This foreshadows the stirring climax when Barbara rescues Rob from the raging, flooding river.
- Funetik Aksent: Used a lot in title cards to suggest the accents of the locals, as was common practice in silent films of the era.
- Kubrick Stare: Barbara gives one of these to Jason after Jason overpowers Rob and throws him out of the house. She turns out to be more effective at protecting herself than Rob is.
- Never Learned to Read: Actually it's not quite clear how Rob can read, since he seems to be the only person in the village who can.
- Non-Action Guy: Rob. He rather meekly accepts his father's abuse of his mother. At the end he mans up and fights his father for Barbara—only to get his ass kicked, with Jason literally throwing his son out of the house. It's up to Barbara to grab an ax and free herself.
- Regional Riff: A good 35 years or so before Deliverance, hillbillies are playing banjos.
- Sarcasm Mode: A title card describes the local miller as one of the "hard workers" of the area. The film then cuts to a shot of the miller, sleeping on the front porch of his shack.
- The Savage South: The Appalachians are presented as a cruel and savage place where the men oppress and exploit the women.
- Scenery Porn: The decision to shoot on location paid off with some stunning views of the mountains.
- Sex Slave: Rob's mom is literally worked until she dies. His father laughs at Rob's efforts to lighten his mother's load. After waiting a whopping three days, Jason decides that he needs a woman, and gets Barbara's father to give her to him.
- Tomboy: Barbara is introduced smoking a corncob pipe. She laughs scornfully at the pictures of "chi-val-ry" that Rob shows her in his books. Later she says "I kin take care of myself" when Rob talks about protecting her, and in the end she does, grabbing an ax and getting the better of Jason.
- Toplessness from the Back: A title card notes that there's no privacy in those primitive mountain cabins, which is why everyone sees when poor Barbara has to change her clothes.