Classic Film Guide

Moran of the Lady Letty (1922)

Directed by George Melford, and adapted by Monte Katterjohn from the novel by Frank Norris, this Rudolph Valentino silent features Dorothy Dalton in the title role. In the film, she is known as Moran, the daughter (who wishes she were the son) of Captain Eilert Sternersen (Charles Brinley) whose Norwegian ship is known as the Lady Letty. Valentino's character, the favored son of a wealthy family, Ramon Laredo, is often referred to effeminately as ‘Lillie of the Vallee’ by the rakish Captain ‘Slippery’ Kitchell (Walter Long) of the outlaw ship "The Heart of China", whose crew shanghais him. Emil Jorgenson appears briefly as the Letty's first mate Nels Larsen.

Ramon, who actually has brief chance meeting with Moran and Sternersen at the port of San Francisco (she jokingly refers to him as a ‘softy’ to her father), misses the boat and a day of yachting on "the Petrel", owned by the Herricks of Nob Hill, with his girlfriend Josephine Herrick (Maud Wayne). He's then taken advantage of by an old man (uncredited) on the docks and a tavern owner (Charles French according to imdb.com), who slip him a Mickey Finn and take him to Captain Kitchell’s ship. But Kitchell is disappointed when he sees the young man he rightly suspects has never done a day of labor in his life. He states that he'll make a man out of this dancing master he dubs ‘Lillie of the Vallee’, or Ramon will become shark-bait. In short order, Ramon impresses even himself, the hard work having transformed him into a scrappy, strapping Second Mate of the ship.

Meanwhile, a coal fire in the belly of the Lady Letty has gassed the remaining crew and disabled the ship. Naturally, Kitchell’s "pirate" ship comes across the Letty and the captain sends a crew aboard to rob it of any treasure. Ramon discovers a crew member aboard who's gone loco from the gas; he's surprised to discover it's a woman (e.g. Moran) because she's dressed as a man. He carries her back to their ship and the cook, ‘Chopstick’ Charlie (George Kuwa), helps him to temporarily hide her. Shortly after the captain discovers that Moran is a woman, the crew confronts him about their share of the human bounty; Ramon becomes her protector.

The Heart of China finally arrives at a secret (from the police of four nations) Mexican harbor, where Kitchell goes ashore. Aboard his ship, he's brought guns that Pancho (Cecil Holland) needs. Ramon and Moran also decide to go ashore with Charlie, who hears Kitchell discussing plans to sell the girl to Moran. He rushes to the two budding lovebirds (actually, they consider themselves mates), who'd found a spot along the shore together, and tells them of Kitchell’s plan, which includes disposing of the current crew. The three rush back to the ship to tell the others and, using the guns in transport, fend off Kitchell, Pancho and his men when they return to The Heart of China for the weapons. Charlie, who is mortally wounded in the siege, gives Moran a dress he'd bought onshore. Kitchell becomes a prisoner on his own ship.

Ramon has become the outlaw ship's captain and he directs them to sail to San Diego harbor. Once there, he goes ashore and coincidently runs into his old San Francisco friends at a society party that includes Josephine. But Ramon is a changed man and he declines the offer to stay at the party, with Jo and the others, in order to return to the ship, and Moran. Meanwhile, Kitchell learns that he's alone aboard the ship with Moran. But before he's able to complete his assault and defile her, Ramon arrives just in time to save her by killing him. Then, of course, the two mates decide to be together; they kiss as the film fades to black.

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