Sog.: Sessue Hayakawa. Scen.: J. Grubb Alexander. F.: Frank D. Williams. Scgf.: W.L. Heywood. Int.: Sessue Hayakawa (Wang), Bessie Love (Mary), Janice Wilson (Norma Biddle), Frankie Lee (Buster), Lillian Langdon (la signora Biddle), Harland Tucker (Spencer Wellington). Prod.: Hayakawa Feature Play Company. 35mm. L.: 1420 m. 20 f/s. Bn.
In 1918, Japanese-born Hollywood actor Sessue Hayakawa formed his own company, the Haworth Pictures Corporation, renamed Hayakawa Feature Play Company in 1921, which in four years produced a score of successful films, with Hayakawa starring as the (Japanese, Chinese, Hindu, Egyptian or Spanish) hero. Hayakawa left Hollywood in 1922 to work in Europe, as it had become impossible for him to play leading roles opposite a white actress (his last two films were released in spring 1922 just before the MPPDA became operative) and with anti-Asian racism rampant in the US.
The only known print of The Swamp is held by the Gosfil’mofond archive of Russia. During the 1920s, Hayakawa was very popular in the Soviet Union. “Impeccable”, “Great artist, perfect talent”, “The great tragic actor of our time”, enthused contemporary film critics and texts on posters which, amusingly enough, occasionally included quotes from Louis Delluc’s essays about the actor. In 1925, at least four movies with Hayakawa were distributed in the USSR, including The Swamp, which was released as In the City of the Yellow Devil. The press deemed the title unsuitable, while censorship officials argued that “it is unacceptable to describe life and daily routine of the poor as ‘a swamp’” and therefore it would have been impossible to present this film to the working classes without changing the title.
The film was not heavily re-edited, but some significant changes were made. The hero’s bride was transformed into his sister. The intertitles, “due to excessive poetry”, were rewritten and simplified to the detriment of their dramatic value, and they were carelessly inserted into the film; the ones appearing in the surviving print are clumsy and do not fit the delicate story (with its overtones of Broken Blossoms and The Kid) and Hayakawa’s sophisticated acting. Many of the scenes doomed to be cut by the censors are actually present in this print (such as the episode with the broken milk bottle), but some close-ups of a ballet had less luck; they were eliminated, being deemed too risqué.