See Mormon Film: Key Films of the First Wave
Though largely unknown today, A Mormon Maid
is arguably the most potent and important anti-Mormon film in the history of cinema. Produced under director general Cecil B. DeMille at Famous Players-Lasky, it was heralded as the most-advertised picture in the history of American cinema up to that time. Critical reviews were generally extremely favorable, and audiences flocked to it. It played for months across the United States, Europe, and other countries, and anti-Mormon organizations kept it in private circulation for years to come. The LDS Church sought to suppress it or ameliorate its influence, but, as with many other anti-Mormon films, all such attempts were futile. Mormons at the time and for years to come remembered it as the most lethal cinematic treatment they had ever received, particularly because of its depiction of sacred temple robes.
Given this status, it is interesting that the film is nearly forgotten today, losing its notoreity to much lesser films such as Trapped by the Mormons
(1922). At the time A Mormon Maid
was in all respects a prestige production from a major studio (opposed, for instance, to Trapped
's B-picture status from a brand new independent firm), and it was, to all appearances, designed to benefit from the success of D.W. Griffith's landmark The Birth of a Nation
from two years earlier. Not only was it handled and marketed in this way, but the film's content itself made explicit references to the Ku Klux Klan by linking them with the Mormon Danites. (The Danites' hoods, we are told--which never existed historically--are the historical precedent for the KKK's more famous attire.) The connection was noted by contemporary critics, and the entire concept worked, bringing in large audiences.
This makes all the more perplexing A Mormon Maid
's neglect by modern historians, LDS and otherwise. Though it was a lesser film than Birth of a Nation
, it still seems odd that while Griffith's film has proven quite controversial and received many revisionist readings by African Americans, A Mormon Maid
, in contrast, has received very little critical attention at all. To date, the only revisionist reading by a Latter-day Saint critic is Richard Alan Nelson's article "Commercial Propaganda in the Silent Film: A Case Study of 'A Mormon Maid' (1917)," which was printed in Film History
Vol. 1 (1987), p. 149-162. Hopefully as LDS cinema continues to progress, A Mormon Maid
will assume its rightful position within the canon.
It is interesting to note that Mae Murray, who was then married to Robert Leonard, was reportedly uncomfortable with the subject at the time of shooting and later greatly regretted being involved. Also, Frank Borzage, apparently the only native Utahn in the cast, was a Catholic who later gained prominence as a director, winning the first Oscar for that position in 1927/8. --Randy Astle