Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: Gloria Swanson

Teddy at the Throttle (1917)

Gloria Swanson and Bobby Vernon are back in another slapstick romantic comedy from Keystone Studios. While it has the signature Keystone zaniness and even ends with an over-the-top chase-and-rescue sequence, this movie is longer and more complicated than the earlier films of that studio.

teddy_at_the_throttleAs the movie begins, Gloria and Bobby are sweetheart neighbors living in a high-class apartment building. Bobby’s money is being “managed” in trust by an older man (Wallace Beery), who actually squanders large sums on himself. Since Bobby is approaching the age of maturity, he’s worried that the shortfall will be noticed, but he comes up with a solution: If his sister (May Emory) can convince Bobby to marry her, they’ll go on controlling the money and Bobby will remain ignorant. Sis likes the idea of marrying an heir and goes to work on vamping Bobby immediately. Gloria doesn’t like this, of course, but Bobby seems to be excited about this sophisticated woman paying attention to him. Eventually, he’s ignoring Gloria and bringing flowers to May. Worse, when May tells him, “put a ring on it,” he immediately goes next door to Gloria, tells her that it’s over, and asks for the ring he gave her back! It doesn’t quite fit May, but she doesn’t complain.

teddy-at-the-throttleNow the plot thickens when Wallace receives a letter informing him that the will stipulates that Bobby loses his fortune if he marries anyone else but Gloria – the money all goes to Gloria in that case. Seems like it would have been easier for the departed to just make Gloria the heiress in the first place, but this is a Keystone comedy, so logic is not a strong point. Anyway, this gives Wallace an idea – he can marry Gloria and that will leave him in charge of the fortune while Bobby and his sister rot in poverty. The problem is that Gloria’s not interested in him, and he keeps dropping the letter in her presence and having to snatch it back before she figures out what’s going on.

teddy-at-the-throttle1The scene now shifts to a fancy nightclub where May and Bobby perform a humorous dance (she’s much taller than he is) and May keeps trying to get Bobby to elope with her. Gloria finally manages to read the letter while Wallace is off getting drinks, and she tries to tell Bobby while May drags him off to a preacher. Seems like if she just told May, it would solve the whole thing when May lost interest in being poor with Bobby, but, again, Keystone. May locks Gloria in the coat room and drags Bobby out to her car, where a storm is now raging, and of course the car has no roof. Undaunted, she speeds off on the muddy roads.

teddy-at-the-throttle2Gloria uses the coat room phone to call a lawyer and let him know what’s going on, and the lawyer climbs aboard the Limited train to intercept Bobby and May. When Gloria gets free, she also pursues, catching up to Bobby and May who have skidded off the road into a muddy ditch. Wallace now catches her, and realizing he can no longer count on Plan A, decides to try a better idea, he’ll chain Gloria to the train tracks and kill her, thus somehow finagling the books so that he keeps the money! Gloria foils this by using her dog whistle to summon Teddy, her large dog, and the title character finally shows up with about five minutes left to the film!

teddy-at-the-throttle3Teddy runs to Gloria, and she writes a note to Bobby, who steals a bicycle and follows Teddy to the train tracks. He is equally unable to free Gloria from the chains, but Teddy runs up to the engine, leaps aboard and shows the engineer the note. The engineer slams on the breaks, the train slowing down, but not quite enough to avoid Gloria. So she lies down on the tracks and lets the train roll overhead, the wheels severing the chains and freeing her to crawl out from beneath the now motionless engine. She and Bobby climb on board the cow catcher and ride happily to get married.

teddy-at-the-throttle4This is another comedy of the “girl tied up on the railroad tracks” variety from Mack Sennett, but it is a little more sophisticated piece of work than “Barney Oldfield’s Race for a Life.” Fritzi Kramer, over at “Movies Silently,” has repeatedly taken on the old saw about silent movie women being tied frequently to the railroad tracks, and these two movies are the major “evidence” for the other side. The point is, however, that these were parodies of an earlier cliché, which apparently was used on stage in popular theater. Let’s let it die already. I actually think I’ve seen the ending shot – with the two leads riding away together on a cowcatcher – way more times in silent cinema, but somehow that hasn’t caught on as a cliche.

teddy-at-the-throttle5Vernon is a good looking young man, but short, and part of the joke is how he looks paired up against the taller woman (he and Gloria are about the same height). Much of the humor, up until the climactic multi-vehicle chase, anyway, comes from romantic mix-ups and money grubbing, making it a more “situational” comedy than is usually associated with Mack Sennett. The villain here is Wallace Beery, who puts a lot into the role, even if ultimately he’s just as mustache-twirling as Ford Sterling. In the end, “Teddy” the dog does more to rescue Gloria than the ostensible hero does.

Director: Clarence G. Badger

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Gloria Swanson, Bobby Vernon, Wallace Beery, May Emory

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

The Danger Girl (1916)

This short from Keystone is the first Gloria Swanson movie I’ve reviewed for this blog. It’s probably not the sort of thing most people think of when they think of Gloria, but it does demonstrate her versatility and comfort in front of the camera.

danger-girlThe movie begins with a quarrel between Myrtle Lind and Bobby Vernon. Myrtle’s in a rather unflattering Mary Pickford-style wig, which I guess signals us that she’s a “good” girl. Bobby quickly falls into the orbit of “bad” girl Helen Bray, who may be deliberately imitating (or parodying) Theda Bara’s performance in “A Fool There Was.” She’s going riding, and invites Bobby along after brushing off “Last Season’s Suitor” (A. Edward Sutherland).  Gloria shows up driving recklessly with her brother Reggie Morris (for some reason known throughout as “Honey Boy”). Reggie is hoping to hook up with the danger girl, and Gloria develops an interest in Bobby when he helps her change a tire. When all the men start gravitating to the danger girl at a party, Gloria decides to take matters into her own hands by dressing as a man and distracting her. Myrtle ends up with Reggie, once the danger girl is no longer in play, but Gloria has to avoid the attacks of Last Season’s Suitor until Bobby drives a bus through the plate-glass window of the café they’re at and rescues her. Finally, all the “good” people are happily paired up.

danger-girl1This movie is a bit hard to keep up with, in part because the prints I was able to find were of poor quality, so it’s hard to tell actors apart, but in part because the characters don’t have enough personality or back story to identify with. The danger girl is distinctive, and once Gloria’s in her masculine attire, she’s easy to track, but the others seem quite interchangeable. I’m still not 100% sure I kept the division between Myrtle and Gloria straight before the “drag” sequence, and I gave up even trying to tell Reggie from Last Year’s Suitor, although Bobby Vernon is generally recognizable.

danger-girl2For a Keystone comedy, I was a bit surprised at the “adult” approach to comedy for the first two-thirds of the movie, although once we get to the café the Mack Sennett chaos does kick into gear. The theme of women in “masculine” attire goes a bit beyond just the explicit drag sequence: the danger girl’s riding outfit includes pants and a blazer, giving her a “hard” look, and Gloria puts on overalls when she has to work on her car. I suspect this was titillating to a 1916 audience, who didn’t often see women in pants. Some of the most interesting scenes involve Gloria in the “male” domain of a saloon, where she has to figure out how to stand at the bar, and avoid being groped by a fat drunk.  We do get some basic camera movement and reasonably sophisticated editing, certainly if one compares this to the Keystone Chaplins of 1914, but it was hardly cutting-edge in production values.

Director: Clarence G. Badger

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Gloria Swanson, Bobby Vernon, Helen Bray, Myrtle Lind, A. Edward Sutherland, Reggie Morris, Josef Swickard

Run Time: 20 Min

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

August 1916

Once again it’s time to round up the major headlines of this month from 100 years ago. While the real Battle of the Somme continued to rage, audiences in Britain went to theaters to experience it on the screen. In the US, several steps were taken to conserve natural resources and even towards future decolonization, and the Cub Scouts got their start this month as well.

The 8th Australian Light Horse Regiment, at a site near Romani.

The 8th Australian Light Horse Regiment, at a site near Romani.

World War I

The Battle of Romani begins August 3 and ends August 5. British Imperial troops secure victory over a joint Ottoman-German force.

 

Diplomacy

Portugal joins the Allies, August 7.

Peru declares neutrality, August 21

The Kingdom of Romania declares war on the Central Powers August 27, entering the war on the side of the Allies.

Germany declares war on Romania, August 28.

Italy declares war on Germany, August 28.

 

Conservation

Lassen Volcanic National Park is established in California on August 9.

Migratory Bird Treaty between Canada and the United States signed, August 16.

U.S. President Woodrow Wilson signs legislation creating the National Park Service on August 25.

 

Colonialism

As a step towards future autonomy, the United States passes the Philippine Autonomy Act on August 29.

 

Education

Robert Baden-Powell publishes The Wolf Cub’s Handbook in the U.K. during August of this year, establishing the basis of the junior section of the Scouting movement, the Wolf Cubs (modern-day Cub Scouts).

Battle of the Somme-film-adBattle of the Somme-filmFilm

One AM” starring Charlie Chaplin is release on August 7.

The premiere of the movie “Battle of the Somme” in London is on August 10. In the first six weeks of general release (from 20 August) 20 million people view it.

The first episode of the series “Homunculus” is released in Germany on August 18.

The movie “The Danger Girl,” starring Gloria Swanson, is released on August 25

 

Births

Van Johnson, actor (in “Thirty Seconds over Tokyo” and “Battleground”), August 25; Martha Raye, actress (in “The Big Broadcast of 1937” and “Monsieur Verdoux”), August 27.

His New Job (1915)

His_New_JobFor his first movie at Essanay studios, Charlie Chaplin decided to lampoon Keystone Studios and have a bit of an in-joke for his fans with the title. He was already being paid better, given more creative freedom, and working in a longer format, but apparently the cold weather of Chicago in January didn’t agree with him, and he soon relocated back to California to resume working there.

His_New_Job1In this movie, Charlie shows up for “open auditions at Lodestone studios,” looking for extra work. He flirts with an aspiring actress, feuds with the (male) production assistant organizing the interviews, and knocks out fellow-extra-wannabe Ben Turpin several times. He manages to get hired, in spite of some amusing confusion with the studio head’s hearing aid, and goes over to the set, spoiling a shot. To get rid of him, the director sends him over to work with the carpenter, leading to the usual physical comedy with board and mallets, etc. Then the director fires one of the uniformed actors and tells Charlie to get a costume. He can’t find one, so he borrows one from the absent star’s dressing room. Then he proceeds to foul up several scenes, bending his sword out of shape, nearly knocking over the set, and tearing the female star’s dress. Finally, the star shows up and find him in his costume, leading to a Keystone-style confrontation with him, the carpenter, the director, Ben Turpin, and Charlie. Guess who wins?

His New Job1As we might expect, this first effort in an unfamiliar studio is lighter than the better work Charlie would go on to during 1915, but it already shows some improvements. Charlie’s character is still quick to violence and mayhem, but he’s already developing that playful shrug that would become his sympathetic gesture. The gags are better developed and there’s a bit more running humor involved. Still, it’s not much above “The Masquerader” or “A Film Johnnie,” and lacks some of the hooks that make those films so memorable (like cross-dressing and seeing the inner workings of Keystone studios). There are some interesting tracking shots, mostly used to take the audience “into” the scenes Charlie is ostensibly shooting from behind the camera, and one tracking-backward shot to follow him and the female lead as they walk up-set. There are no real close-ups, and we don’t even get a good look at Turpin’s trademark crossed-eyes. The editing is pretty standard for the time as well, with just a bit of cross-cutting to get characters into the same scene together. Apparently, Gloria Swanson auditioned for the film (she would have been just fifteen at the time), but Charlie wasn’t impressed, so she was relegated to playing a typist in the background.

His New JobDirector: Charlie Chaplin

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Charlie Chaplin, Ben Turpin, Leo White, Robert Bolder, Gloria Swanson

Run Time: 30 Min

You can watch it for free: here (no music) or here (with music, but 10 minutes short)

Happy Times and Jolly Moments (1943)

Comedian Ben Turpin in 1914.

Comedian Ben Turpin in 1914.

This turned up on TCM yesterday, and since my ability to download movies is limited, I thought I’d make an exception and talk about it. It wasn’t made in 1914, but it claims to be about 1914 movies – in particular the movies of Mack Sennett Studios. It’s a look at how the movie audiences of nearly 30 years later recalled our period. It even includes a recreated look at a Nickelodeon Theater, including a kid reading the Intertitles aloud to his little brother, confirming some of my ideas about audiences of the time. One name you’d expect to hear in a retrospective on Keystone is Charlie Chaplin, but no dice here. I think Charlie had re-acquired the rights to all his old movies at this time, and wouldn’t have allowed it. So, instead, we get clips of Billy Bevan, Ben Turpin, and even Fatty Arbuckle (with no mention of the scandal that brought him down). There’s a brief flash of Mabel Normand, and we also see Gloria Swanson as a Sennett Bathing Beauty, although she’d have denied ever holding that title. The Keystone Kops are featured, but for some reason are called “policemen.” The new score is beautifully timed, but not really appropriate to the period, while the narration swings from annoying to interesting. I suspect a lot of the footage is post-1914 Keystone.

Written by: James Bloodworth

Run Time: 18 Min

Not available for free viewing at this time.