Silent Movie People Behaving Very Disreputably Indeed

Somebody just wrote yet another old movie article that gets the silent era wrong. Never mind where, just know that apparently silent movie actresses had two options: damsels-in-distress or wide-eyed young virgins.

Obviously, this inspired me to post some GIFs of silent movie people behaving very disreputably. Who can blame me? I’m sick of this notion that silent films were these naive little things. Feh! I’ll stack them against your pre-Codes, post-Codes and modern pictures any day of the week.

In Cecil B. DeMille’s Saturday Night, an Irish-American laundress (hilariously named Shamrock) marries money but she still can’t get a drink at the party. Well, she’s not taking THAT lying down.

Read my review here.

Available on DVD.

A VERY wild party circa 1912. Dancing and twirling and all sorts of other shenanigans, I shouldn’t wonder. This is from An Unsullied Shield, an early example of the Family Portraits Come to Life genre.

Read my review here.

Available on DVD.

Silent movie women and girls also engaged in a little light political assassination, as was the case in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. What a world, what a world…

Read my review here.

Available on DVD and Bluray.

In Sawdust and Salome, the fuddy-duddies are thoroughly called out for their hypocrisy. The tights they reference refer to the costume Norma Talmadge wore as a (gasp!) circus performer.

Read my review here.

Available on DVD.

I’ve been funnin’ you but Inside of the White Slave Traffic is genuinely gritty. Stuss is a variation of faro, which is the game people play in westerns if they want to look all old-timey-like.

Read my review here.

Released on DVD and Bluray.


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10 Replies to “Silent Movie People Behaving Very Disreputably Indeed”

  1. Yes, I, too, was shocked that Norma Talmadge had worn tights at one point! So much so that I had to send my son out of the room until the film was finished (not that he wanted to watch to begin with).

  2. This reminds me of that other myth about silent movies, the one where a damsel in distress is tied to the railroad tracks! There is a scene just like that among the silent films in Robert Youngson’s When Comedy Was King, but it is played strictly for laughs. I wonder if there was ever a serious use of that situation so that people would recognize what was being made fun of — or has it always been ridiculous. I suppose we’ll never know and it really doesn’t matter.

    1. The train tracks bit was used pretty extensively in cheap melodrama because it was an inexpensive way of building suspense. But that was from about the 1860s onward and so the bit was pretty tired by the time the movies came along. Audiences recognized it as that cheap suspense trick that thrilled nana and papa back in the day.

  3. “…apparently silent movie actresses had two options: damsels-in-distress or wide-eyed young virgins.” In which case Eve’s Leaves ought to send the
    article’s author rushing to the fainting couch in need of smelling salts!

  4. You’re dead right that movie actresses have been put into ridiculous categories by thoughtless people. Of course, Mary Pickford, after once wearing tights for the evil Griffith, then, with great indignation, refused to don a grass skirt, turning the whole course of movie history on its head i.e. delayed her stardom, boosted Mae Marsh, and led the certain other Biograph girls to refuse to bare their legs (except for comic effect!).

    1. Keep in mind that D.W. took great pleasure in playing his stars against one another, particularly the women. He clearly got some kind of sick thrill out of teenage girls competing for his attention. Mary did far, far better without him.

      1. The more and more I read about Griffith, the more I’m convinced that if he were working today, he’d be on some sort of FBI watch list.

      2. And busily trying to spin it so that HE could be called the victim. (I believe Lillian Gish likely WAS on some sort of watchlist for her pro-fascism activities in the 1940s.)

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