In the Vaults #9: The Song of Love (1923)

Status: 35mm prints held by The Library of Congress and the Czech Film Archive.

The Song of Love is one of those films that is more famous for what went on behind the camera. First, there was drama on the set. Joseph Schildkraut got most of the blame but I think he was just annoyed about being decked out in spit curls and ballet flats.

Anyway, news reports about the Talmadge-Schildkraut collaboration went from this:

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to this:

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But I still blame those spit curls.

Don’t worry about Mr. Schildkraut, by the way. He ended up just fine.

He cried all the way to the Oscars.
He cried all the way to the Oscars.

And the film was Frances Marion’s third and final attempt at breaking into directing. Marion was, of course, a popular and successful screenwriter. The first film she directed was The Love Light (which, for the record, I hated), starring Mary Pickford and Marion’s husband Fred Thomson. Marion was hit by a falling arc lamp while making The Song of Love and frequent Norma Talmadge collaborator Chester M. Franklin filled in while she recovered.

The scenario was adapted by Marion as well. Norma Talmadge’s character is named Noorma-hal. Noorma-hal. This is going to hurt, isn’t it? I wonder if any scenarios exist for Poola-hal Negri? Or Doorothy-hal Gish? Or Doouglas-hal Fairbanks?

Okay, I’ll stop.

The plot involves a dancing girl (Talmadge) who falls for an undercover French agent (Schildkraut). When a villainous rebel chieftain (Arthur Edmund Carewe) captures Mr. Schildkraut (spit curls and all), Miss Talmadge must spring into action to save the man she loves. All while (naturally) wearing teensy little costumes. Feminism!

Photoplay was mildly enthusiastic:

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Norma Talmadge steps slightly out of character one always thinks of her as dignity incarnate to become Noorma-hal, a passionate, lovely dancing girl of the desert. Although a different Norma she is always charming, always warmly sympathetic. Torn between the faith of her ancestors and the love of a man who has confessed to being a spy, the girl is forced to tight a great battle with herself.

Variety less so:

Outside of Miss Talmadge there isn’t an awful lot to “The Song of Love.” It is another of those desert stories, the same type more or less that went out of fashion a little over a year ago as far as the big first-run houses were concerned, at any rate. There is a lot of sand, some of the sheik stuff, some hard riding and gunplay, and above all Norma slips through a dance.

Just because a film was written by a woman, directed by a woman, and starred a woman… well, that doesn’t make it feminist. This is a fact some film historians seem to ignore. However, while it doesn’t work as an empowerment film, it looks like there are other advantages to this movie. Frankly, it looks like a kitschy riot! Here’s hoping we get to see it soon!