Mormonism was considered something of a hot potato in 1917, with many sideline observers (including such self-proclaimed "experts" as Arthur Conan Doyle and Zane Grey) regarding the religious movement as a sinister cult, promoting blasphemy, polygamy and mind control. Director Robert Z. Leonard valiantly attempted to present a balanced view of the subject in his 1917 epic The Mormon Maid, using carefully delineated "good" and "bad" Mormons, just as D.W. Griffith patronizingly offered both heroic and villainous African Americans in his controversial The Birth of a Nation. The story begins in 1848, as frontiersman John Hogue (Hobart Bosworth and his family watch the westward procession of Mormons, who are in the process of escaping religious persecution in the East. Among these pilgrims are the sincerely religious Tom Rigdon (Frank Borzage) and tyrannical Mormon elder Darius Burr (Noah Beery Sr.). Both men are attracted to Hogue's beautiful daughter Dora, played by director Leonard's wife Mae Murray. When the Hogue homestead is attacked and burned down by Indians, the family is rescued by the Mormons, who take them along to the "promised land" of Utah. By and by, Nora becomes engaged to Rigdon, while the polygamous Burr plots and plans to add the heroine to his "harem." The emotionally overwrought climax finds the virtuous Nora lying about her sexual history to save herself from a forced marriage to the despotic Burr. While A Mormon Maid was considered to be scrupulously fair in 1917, modern-day viewers may be offended by the prejudicial depiction of the Mormon Elders, and by the misinformation cavalierly dispensed about the Mormon movement in general.
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