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Film / Wild Oranges

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Wild Oranges is a silent film from 1924, directed by King Vidor.

A sailor, John Woolfolk, who lost his wife in a carriage accident, now travels the seas lonely (presumably he's filthy rich, or else we'd wonder why he's jobless). He lands near an isolated house in Florida and meets a woman, Millie, who is living with her grandfather Litchfield Stope (a Civil War veteran) and is menaced by a neigbor Nicholas. Woolford and Millie meet and part, but he soon returns, because he's in love with her. The menacing neighbor turns out to have been a wanted killer. He kills Millie's grandfather and takes her captive. Woolford frees her (actually she frees herself, but he fights the killer) but in the struggle a lamp burns the house down.

The "wild oranges" in the title refers to the metaphor of wild oranges, which we are helpfully told by the intertitles are bitter when you first taste them but ultimately rewarding.


Tropes include:

  • Abhorrent Admirer: Millie is not at all interested when Nicholas tries to ask nicely if she'll marry him.
  • Bound and Gagged: Nicholas has Millie bound and gagged on the bed and is almost certainly about to rape her when John comes to the rescue.
  • By the Lights of Their Eyes: A pretty effective shot in which the killer dog charging down on Nicholas in the dark is shown as two lights in the blackness.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The Angry Guard Dog seen several times in the movie, chained up in the backyard, barking angrily whenever there's a disturbance. At the end the dog breaks loose from its chains and kills Nicholas.
  • Damsel in Distress: Millie, Bound and Gagged by Nicholas, rescued by John.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen / Romancing the Widow: Gender-reversed. John is roaming the earth in his boat because, after the death of his wife, he shuns all companionship. Millie, who immediately falls in love with him, defrosts him.
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  • Dies Wide Open: A close up of John's wife's face in the opening scene after she's thrown from a carriage. (Amusingly, the closeup is repeatedly followed by a cut to a medium shot in which the actress's eyes are closed.)
  • Downer Beginning: The first scene is John Woolfork's beloved wife getting killed in a carriage accident.
  • Hollywood Darkness: Uses the very common silent movie convention where nighttime scenes are tinted a purple-blue shade.
  • Literal Ass-Kicking: John kicks Nicholas right in the butt after wresting the knife away from him.
  • Milking the Giant Cow: Mixed with Neutral Female. Most silent film performers Milked the Giant Cow to show emotion, but in this movie Millie does it while John is in a life-or-death struggle with Nicholas over a knife.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Litchfield was "stricken with the curse of Fear" after fighting in the Civil War. He has passed this fear of the outside onto his granddaughter Millie.
  • Skinnydipping: What Millie is doing in the waters of the inlet when John sees her for the first time.
  • Title Drop: As John eats wild oranges on the Stope estate, a title card explains how wild oranges are bitter at first but are later "pungent and zestful".
  • Twisted Ankle: Happens to the hero, who gets his foot stuck in a hole in the floor, loses his gun, and gets attacked by the killer.
  • Undercrank: The big fight scene is sped up.
  • "Wanted!" Poster: How we learn that Nicholas is wanted for murder. How does Millie, who's never left the island, have the poster? The world may never know.