Silent Movie Stars Glued to Their Phones

If there is one way to make yourself sound like a fuddy-duddy, it’s to complain about whippersnappers and their phones. Bonus points if you do so via text. Of course, I’m as concerned about distracted drivers as the next almost-dead pedestrian but, dudes, it ain’t just kids.

The telephone was established technology in the silent era and was lavishly used as a plot device. In fact the “Help! I’m about to be murdered!” via telephone was one of the most popular suspense tropes of the nickelodeon era. Possibly THE most popular.

Dorothy and Lillian Gish made their 1912 film debut in An Unseen Enemy, in which they must call their brother for help when they are menaced by a “slattern maid” and Harry Carey through a hole in the wall.

Read my review here.

Released on DVD.

Lois Weber did D.W. Griffith one better in Suspense, her stylish variation of the popular plot. Here she employs a triptych to show the wife, the husband and the telephone line being cut.

Read my review here. I also write extensively about the origins of the trope in French theater and film.

Available on DVD and Bluray.

Of course, those wags at Keystone were always ready to have some fun with a popular plot device. Mabel Normand directs herself in Won in a Cupboard and plays the spoof for all it’s worth.

Read my review here.

Released on DVD.

If looks could kill, Sessue Hayakawa’s telephone would be stone dead. He is waiting for a call in The Cheat. Get that man a smartphone!

Read my review here.

Released on DVD.

Phone cases were… different back in the day. I am in love with Enid Bennett’s ruffled telephone cozy. Every home should have one! This is from The Woman in the Suitcase, which is NOT a horror movie about dismemberment.

Read my review here.

Released on DVD.


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4 Replies to “Silent Movie Stars Glued to Their Phones”

  1. Such an enjoyable post to read on the weekend- thank you!

    Re: The Woman in the Suitcase .gif of Enid Bennett and her telephone cozy- having rented, purchased, and lived in old houses pretty much forever, this little item certainly looks like the close ancestor to the “phone nook,” a feature on the ground floor in many, many homes (hotels, too. I remember asking to use the house phone in La Jolla’s lovely period hotel La Valencia only to be directed down a short twisty flight of stairs off the lobby to a “station of repose” for said phone. Telephone was located in a mahogany cubby hole with desk and chair, hotel stationary, and small vase of flowers) 😀

    1. Glad you liked it!

      Yes, aren’t all the accoutrements of telephoning charming? This was the first time I personally had seen one in a film but an article that I mislaid did complain about the prevalence of ruffled telephone covers in film.

      Ooo, I will have to check out that “station of repose” at some point. Sounds fab!

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