Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: Ethel Lee

Wanted: A Nurse (1915)

This short comedy from the team of Mr. & Mrs. Sidney Drew plays on stereotypes about nurses – but also pokes fun at the men who promote those stereotypes. While it’s not an especially sophisticated example of situational comedy, it does once again demonstrate that slapstick wasn’t the only option available to the silent comedian.

Sidney plays J. Robert Orr, a seemingly idle rich “club man” who spends his evenings in card games. One day, while walking down the street, he witnesses man having a medical emergency, which is attended to by a pretty young nurse, Helen Worth (Mrs. Drew). They exchange glances, but soon the ambulance arrives and she is whisked away. Orr is so obsessed with her that the four queens in his hand turn into images of the nurse. He fixes himself a drink and comes up with a plan, suddenly throwing himself across the table, convincing his friends that he needs medical attention. He is taken to the hospital, but when the doctor comes in to examine him, he cries, “I don’t want a doctor, I want a NURSE!” However, Helen is out of the hospital right now, attending a serious case. So, several other nurses are sent in, one at a time. Each of them is ugly, fat, old, or mannish, and he is increasingly agitated. Finally, he dresses as  a nurse to escape via the fire escape, and returns to the club. His friends now think he has gone nuts, so they take him to another doctor, who pronounces that he has “nurse-itis.” He goes to get Helen to help attend the case, and Orr hides beneath the covers, terrified of what he may see. When he sees it is her, he softens and smiles. A quick edit covers his recuperation, and he proposes to the girl, who gladly accepts. The end.

The fact that the stars really were married may have helped soften the blow of this premise of this movie, which essentially involves a man stalking a girl he saw once and ignoring the professional qualifications of her and her colleagues, seeing them only as “ugly” or “pretty.” For modern viewers, however, it doesn’t help that Sidney is a good 20 years older than his wife (whose name I always think of as “Nancy,” for obvious reasons, but it was really “Lucille”). He does a pretty good freak out over the disappointment, and one does laugh a bit at his antics, but as I said, it’s not terribly witty. The movie also cross-cuts between his torment and Helen’s actual work, but this serves no obvious purpose, except to remind the audience of the real object of his quest. Certainly not the worst movie of 1915, but not the best, either.

Director: Sidney Drew

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Sidney Drew, Lucille Drew, Ethel Lee, Mary Maurice

Run Time: 12 Min

I have not found the whole move for free on the Internet. You can watch a short clip of it: here.

Fox Trot Finesse (1915)

The Slapstick Encyclopedia” makes much of the more “refined” approach to comedy evinced by this movie, and its stars, Mr. and Mrs. Sidney Drew. The Drews eschewed slapstick in favor of situational comedy, much as John Bunny had before them. I haven’t found many surviving examples of their work, but here we have one to work from and consider, released in October of 1915, after many of Chaplin’s great but “vulgarEssanay comedies of that year.

Fox Trot Finesse3Here, Sidney plays Ferdie Crosby and Lucile (his second wife) plays Eva, Mrs. Crosby. Eva is young and sprightly, and in love with the Fox Trot, but Ferdie is middle aged and likes peace and quiet. His happiness is the more challenged by the fact that Eva’s mother (Ethel Lee, as “Mrs. U. Newitt”) is staying with them indefinitely. In order to get away from her, Ferdie gives in to his wife’s demands and dances the nights away, but he’s very tired and stiff the next day. Finally, mother-in-law leaves, called away because of a birth in the family. Now, Ferdie put his plan into action, and fakes an ankle injury. His wife is sympathetic, pampering him and giving him foot rubs, and he puts on a great show of being terribly disappointed at not being able to Fox Trot.

Fox Trot FinesseHis wife, however, is no dummy. Although Ferdie makes a point of going about on horribly mis-sized crutches, she spots him tossing them aside on his way to work and skipping happily down the street. Now, he’s in for it! Eva writes to her mother, telling her that Ferdie is injured and needs another nurse, she can’t handle it all by herself. Ferdie panics, and tells his wife that it’s all been a joke, tearing up the letter to mother-in-law.

Fox Trot Finesse1Maybe I’m setting him up here, but let’s have a look at what Sidney Drew said about his own work just 2 years later, in Moving Picture World: “Humorous action does not mean gross horse-play. It does not mean that the characters dash madly into scenes, trip over matches, and fall out of the scene again. In our own comedies, Mrs. Drew and myself work to appeal to the mind as well as the eye, but to appeal to the mind through the eye.” Quite a claim! But, does “Fox Trot Finesse” have much to offer the mind (or the eye through the mind)? I’d have to say not really. It’s a plot worthy of “The Flintstones,” not some highly refined observational humor. OK, no one gets hit with a brick, and people don’t “dash madly into scenes,” (although the constantly Fox-Trotting wife does add some physical comedy), but this is hardly sophisticated stuff: a husband tricks his wife and she uses the mother-in-law to get even.

Fox Trot Finesse2I note that where the “Slapstick Encyclopedia” describes the Drews’ comedy, it uses the term “refined drawing-room style,” and this may be the real key. This is not a comedian who plays a tramp, or a bumpkin, or some other lowly member of society, this is a comedian who appears as a comfortably middle-class burgher, making fun of the mores of that class. He works in an office and they even have servants. And that’s what makes this “refined,” or at least not “vulgar,” the fact that it takes place in the “normal” world of the white middle class, and not on its fringes where Keystone and other studios focused. I was surprised by Drew’s look, actually he reminded me of D.W. Griffith in slightly later years. He was, as it happens, 27 years older than his wife in reality, so the focus on May-December romance as a source of dilemma and humor makes sense. Lucile and he worked together on the scripts, and at least by her account it was an equitable collaboration. Certainly, in this instance she comes off looking like the smart one, even if her obsession with Fox Trot is a bit bizarre.

Director: Sidney Drew

Camera: Unknown

Cast: Sidney Drew, Lucille Drew, Ethel Lee

Run Time: 16 Min

You can watch it for free: here (no music) or here (with music).

Also, read the review at “Movies Silently” for another view.