Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: Theda Bara

June 1918

The news round-up this month is a bit deceptive, because a lot of the important historical events of this month weren’t heavily covered at the time. The biggest event really is the escalation of the “Spanish Flu” to a pandemic, but no one knew in June that it would ultimately kill more people than the First World War. The Bolsheviks weren’t advertising the fact that they had begun killing off the Romanov royal family, either. And, the important document the British government sent to the Syrians, assuring them of the principle of national self-determination would have significant influence on the Treaty of Versailles, although it received little publicity at the time. Sometimes, we don’t know what the most significant events of our times are until we can look back at them with some perspective.

 

World War One:

The Battle of Belleau Wood begins June 1. The U.S. Army 2nd Infantry Division deployed troops, including the 5th and 6th Marine Regiments, to hold Belleau Wood near the Marne River in France after the towns of Château-Thierry and Vaux fell to the Germans.

Allied counterattacks in the Third Battle of the Aisne on June 3 halted the German advance at the Marne River. Allied casualties were massive at 127,000, including 98,000 French casualties and 29,000 British casualties. Germany suffered slightly more with 130,000 casualties

The Austro-Hungarian dreadnought battleship SMS Szent István is sunk on June 10 by two Italian MAS motor torpedo boats, off the Dalmatian coast.

The first airplane bombing raid by an American unit in France is carried out June 12.

Grand Duke Michael of Russia

Russian Revolution:

Grand Duke Michael of Russia is murdered on June 12, thereby becoming the first of the Romanovs to be murdered by the Bolsheviks.

World Health:

The “Spanish ‘flu” becomes pandemic. Over 30 million people die in the following 6 months.

Disasters:

RMS Kenilworth Castle, one of the Union-Castle Line steamships, collides with her escort destroyer HMS Rival on June 4 while trying to avoid her other escort, the cruiser HMS Kent.

Astronomy:

V603 Aquilae, the brightest nova observed since Kepler’s of 1604, is discovered June 8.

Diplomacy:

The Declaration to the Seven, a British government response to a memorandum issued anonymously by seven Syrian notables after the Balfour Declaration and the Sykes-Picot Agreement became known, is published June 16. It assures Arabs of the British government’s support of the principle of national self-determination after the war is over.

Crime:

Suspects in the Chicago Restaurant Poisonings are arrested on June 22, and more than 100 waiters are taken into custody, for poisoning restaurant customers with a lethal powder called Mickey Finn.

Film:

Marion Davies produced and starred in her second feature film Cecilia of the Pink Roses, released through Select Pictures on June 2.

Theda Bara starred in the silent drama Under the Yoke, released June 9, which became noteworthy in its controversy in later years for its depiction of Filipinos and the one-sided view of American occupation in the Philippines.

Born:

Robert Preston (actor, in “The Music Man” and “Victor/Victoria”) June 8.

Jane Bryan (actress, in “Kid Galahad” and “Brother Rat”) June 11.

Ellen Liiger (Estonian actress, known for the film adaptation of Karge meri) June 26.

October 1917

Time once again for a roundup of news headlines from one century ago. A huge amount of war news dominates this month’s Century News. Some may be surprised that there’s nothing about the Russian Revolution, especially in light of the movie “October” and references to the “Red October.” The explanation for this is simple: the Russians were on a different calendar, so their “October” actually extended into our November, which is when the revolution actually occurred. Since the rest of my Century News has been based on the standard Gregorian calendar, I’m waiting for next month for that news.

Morning After the First Battle of Passchendaele.

World War One:

Battle of Broodseinde near Ypres, October 4: British Imperial forces overpower the German 4th Army‘s defences.

First Battle of Passchendaele, October 12: Allies fail to take a German defensive position with the biggest loss of life in a single day for New Zealand, over 800 of whose men and 45 officers are killed, roughly 1 in 1000 of the nation’s population at this time.

Operation Albion, October 12-19: German forces land on and capture the West Estonian archipelago.

At Vincennes outside Paris, Dutch dancer Mata Hari is executed on October 15 by firing squad for spying for Germany.

A Brazilian ship is destroyed by a German U-Boat on October 23, encouraging Brazil to enter World War I.

Brazilian President Venceslau Brás signs a declaration of war against the Central Powers.

Brazil declares war against the Central Powers on October 26.

Ottoman force attacks Desert Mounted Corps units garrisoning el Buqqar ridge on October 27 during the Battle of Buqqar Ridge fought in the last days of the Stalemate in Southern Palestine.

Battle of Beersheba, October 31: The British XX Corps and Desert Mounted Corps (Egyptian Expeditionary Force) attack and capture Beersheba ending the Stalemate in Southern Palestine.

Religion:

The Miracle of the Sun is reported on October 13 at Fátima, Portugal. Thousands of people gathered to see a prophecy fulfilled of miracles performed by the Blessed Virgin Mary. They reported to have witnessed extraordinary solar activity, such as the sun appearing to “dance” or zig-zag in the sky, careen towards the earth, or emit multicolored light and radiant colors. According to these reports, the event lasted approximately ten minutes.

Politics:

Carl Swartz leaves office as Prime Minister of Sweden on October 19 after dismal election results for the right-wing in the Riksdag elections in September. He is replaced by liberal leader and history professor Nils Edén.

Transportation:

Dallas Love Field airport is opened October 19.

Film:

Cleopatra,” starring Theda Bara released October 14. This (mostly) lost film is among the most iconic of 1917, and images of Bara from the film still circulate on the Internet.

Satan Triumphant” (Satana likuyushchiy) released October 21. One of the last movies of the pre-Soviet Russian Empire.

The Adventurer,” a Charlie Chaplin short is released on October 22. This was the last of the films Chaplin produced under his contract with Mutual Studios, and for the first time since he started making movies, it left him with no contractual obligations to fulfill. He would soon sign for a million dollars to First National.

Coney Island,” a ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle / Buster Keaton short is released October 29.

Births:

Helmut Dantine, actor (in “Mrs. Miniver” and “Casablanca”), born October 7.

June Allyson, actress (in the 1948 version of “The Three Musketeers” and “The Glenn Miller Story”), born October 7.

Alice Pearce, actress (in “On the Town” and TV’s “Bewitched”), born October 16

Marsha Hunt, U.S. actress (in 1940’s “Pride and Prejudice” and “Johnny Got His Gun”), born October 17. Apparently she’s still alive! Happy birthday Marsha!

Joan Fontaine, actress (in “Suspicion” and “Rebecca”), born October 22.

Florence La Badie

Deaths:

Movie star Florence La Badie dies on October 13, from septicemia as a result of injuries sustained from a car crash in August. Several of her movies have been reviewed on this blog.

A Fool There Was (1915)

A Fool There Was

It’s high time I watched and reviewed this movie, which came out at the very beginning of 1915 (January 20) and was a big hit for the up-and-coming film entrepreneur William Fox. who founded the company that became 20th Century Fox and all of its derivatives. More importantly, it is known as the movie that launched the career of Theda Bara, who was one of the most important female stars of the Silent Classical Era, and also the movie that gave us the concept of the “vamp.” In fact, the film is based upon ( play based on) a poem by Rudyard Kipling, called “The Vampire,” and for some time in contemporary media, women such as Bara played were called “vampires,” without intending any supernatural or life-after-death elements. A “vampire” was a woman who lived off of men, luring them and exploiting them until they were no longer useful, then moving on to another.

 A_Fool_There_Was

The above is an adequate summary of the plot of the poem and the film (and probably the play as well). A prominent businessman (Edward José, who was a Belgian actor, and also appeared in “The Stain” and “The Perils of Pauline”) is sent to England as a special envoy. Due to an accident, his wife’s sister is laid up and he has to leave his family behind as he sails across the ocean. On the boat, he meets the Vampire, who has just thrown over her drunken fool of a victim, a young lad who shoots himself as the boat begins to sail. Soon, they are together in Italy, where he is lavishing her with attention, and utterly ignoring his diplomatic assignment. He is seen by friends, and soon word gets out that he is neglecting his duties. He can no longer gain admittance to fancy clubs, and he is discharged from his job. His wife debates divorcing him, but chooses to stick it out. He goes back the US and takes up residence in the Vampire’s flat, but he’s drinking heavily now and noticeably aging. The wife makes an attempt to recover him, but the Vampire kisses him, and he’s trapped. His decline continues to its inevitable tragic end.

 A_Fool_There_Was1

Now, I was expecting a lot from this movie. Without getting overly personal, I’ve played the “fool” a few times in my life, and I fully expected to see in Bara the faces of women who’ve torn me up inside (or inspired me to tear myself up, more accurately). Instead, I saw a rather strong facial resemblance to Margaret Dumont. It doesn’t help that her character seems to be angry most of the time, or coldly dismissive. Nor that her wardrobe is generally heavy, unrevealing, and shapeless. I guess one could say that she comes across as dominating, and there are men who like that, I know, but I was surprised at how little sensuality she displays. The one time she seems aroused is when she first sees the “fool” on the boat, and there her heavings looked to me more like an asthmatic attack than an orgasm. Maybe it was that heavy dress that made it hard to breathe.

Seriously, I can't be the only one who sees this?

Seriously, I can’t be the only one who sees this?

Whatever my personal response, however, there is no denying that audiences at the time found Theda Bara exciting, and she shot to fame almost overnight when this film was released. The reviewer in the “New York Daily Mirror” expressed considerable enthusiasm for the movie, and was especially pleased that the producers had not tacked a happy ending on to it (people were already bothered by that 100 years ago). I’ve also seen a good deal of discussion in “Moving Picture World” of the harmful moral effect that the popularity of “Vampire” films had on the industry as a whole, although no one ever called out this picture as a bad example.

Bara’s career, as important as it was at the time, remains something of a mystery to us today, because almost all of her other major films are lost, while what we have a great deal of studio hype, much of which was blatantly phony. Fritzi Kramer, at Movies Silently, discussed this recently, in connection with a recipe Bara ostensibly devised. She did wind up typecast as the “Vampire,” of course, and in reality was apparently a fairly shy, demure woman. Later stills from her turn as “Cleopatra” show that as the Teens continued, she at least got out of those heavy shapeless dresses.

Theda as Cleopatra. A bit less demure.

Theda as Cleopatra. A bit less demure.

Director: Frank Powell

Camera: George Schneiderman

Starring: Theda Bara, Edward José, May Allison

Run Time: 1 hr, 7 Min

You can watch it for free: here or here.

July, 1914

Babe Ruth pitching. He began his career as a left-handed pitcher for the Boston Red Sox in July 1914.

Babe Ruth pitching. He began his career as a left-handed pitcher for the Boston Red Sox in July 1914.

It’s time again for one of my monthly news roundups, in which I discuss what was going on 100 years ago, when the movies I review were being produced. This is a special month: July 1914 is generally known as the “July Crisis” which led up to the declaration of World War One and the “Guns of August.” It would be possible to dedicate an entire blog just to these events. In fact, my friends over at “The July Crisis, 100 Years On, 1914-2014” are doing exactly that, with daily updates on the events of 100 years ago. They’re doing it so well, I don’t see any need to replicate their efforts.

That said, I’m just going to hit a couple of World War highlights, and focus mainly on other things in the news at the time:

Funeral: the funeral for Archduke Franz Ferdinand is held July 4. Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany does not attend.

Anarchism: On July 4, an explosion in Harlem kills several members of the Anarchist Black Cross and one of the IWW, along with one un-affiliated woman, and injures twenty others. The anarchists has been involved, along with Alexander Berkman and Louise Berger, in a plot to bomb John D. Rockefeller in retaliation for the Ludlow Massacre, but the dynamite went off unexpectedly in Berger’s home.

Sports: Babe Ruth debuts as a major league ball player with the Boston Red Sox, July 11.

Legal: Supreme Court Justice Horace H. Lurton dies on July 12, at the age of seventy. He had been appointed just four years earlier, as the oldest member of the Court, by then-President Taft. He would be succeeded by the conservative James Clark McReynolds, appointed by Woodrow Wilson.

Ireland: On July 14, the House of Lords passes a bill for Irish Home Rule, but the World War prevents its enactment. Ireland continues to struggle for independence throughout the War and until another Home Rule Act (the fourth) is finally passed in 1920.

Mexico: On July 15, President Huerta resigns from office, under pressure from the United States and rebels within Mexico, including Emiliano Zapata and Pancho Villa. Huerta will go into exile and attempt to raise a new army with German support, but winds up imprisoned in the US until his death.

Ultimatum: on July 23, Austria-Hungary presents its ultimatum to Serbia. It includes demands that Serbia remove from office anyone the Austro-Hungarian government requests and the censorship of the press and removal of school text books critical of Austria-Hungary. It is calculated to be nearly impossible to comply with, as Germany and Austria have now made their plans for war.

Mobilization: On July 28, Austria-Hungary orders mobilization and begins hostilities against Serbia. Russia orders partial mobilization in response that day, and full mobilization on the 31st. A state of war now exists among belligerents in Europe, and mobilization will continue through August.

Movies released in July, 1914: “My Official Wife” starring Clara Kimball Young, “The Man on the Box” co-directed by Cecil B. DeMille, “The Stain” with Theda Bara, and “By the Sun’s Rays” featuring Lon Chaney, Sr.

Births: July 29, Irwin Corey, American comedian and mentor to Lenny Bruce; July 31, Louis de Funès, French comedian of Spanish origin.

Deaths: on July 1, both actress Grace McHugh and cinematographer Owen Carter die in an on-set accident during the filming of “Across the Border.”