I think it’s pretty clear by now that silent movie audiences were smart, sharp and perceptive and they were more than willing to call baloney or complain about mistakes that they spotted in the movies. Photoplay regularly published their observations in a dedicated column and here are the selections from June of 1919.
As always, my notes will be in italics.
It’s Greek to Us.
In Norma Talmadge’s “The Forbidden City” — two notes of Chinese character were shown. That was all right but when they were seen to be flashed on upside down — that was too much for a person born in China ! Also who ever heard of a Chinese worshiping Buddha? Some mistake!
A Chinese-born American. East Orange. N. J.
I am not a hugger but want to reach back in time and hug this observant, anonymous viewer in New Jersey! Too often, errors in silent films are put down to “nobody noticed or cared back then” but our friend the letter writer clearly proves this to be utter bunk. You can read my review of The Forbidden City here but I was so struck by the errors when I saw them that I made GIFs! I have found my silent era soulmate.
Perhaps He Could Still Smell
In “The Honor System,” Miriam Cooper brings some flowers to Milton Sills who has been blinded during his term of imprisonment. Fancy bringing flowers to a blind man! It must be interesting indeed to listen to a bunch of flowers.
In the same picture, Milton manages to send a wireless to Japan. The receiving station there is in a beautiful little bamboo cottage. Looks very nice and pretty, but let me tell you that the wireless station even in Japan is in an ordinary brick and mortar building and not in a nice pretty little bamboo tea-house.
K.O., Jr., Christiana, Norway
Photoplay’s header gives us a hint here. Blind people can smell and touch and they know a friendly gesture when they receive it. There’s more to flowers than just their appearance. I think this complaint is off-base but the second, that all Japanese buildings would be portrayed as old-timey bamboo affairs, demonstrates Hollywood’s sloppy research and general disinterest in bringing the real flavors of foreign culture to the screen.
That Would Be Inhuman !
In “Hands Up” with Ruth Roland our hero and his cowpunchers dress like ’48 and Ruth, like 1918. Why the mixture of 1848 and 191 8? Every time Ruth gets into trouble which is often, our hero is right there with a dozen cowpunchers the ranch house. If they be cowpunchers why don’t they punch cows now and then?
W. B. Elm, Portland, Ore.
Well, W. B. Elm makes a good point. There were lots of films that had this title but this serial was a breakout role for Roland despite her fashions and lack of punched cattle. (Reader, I lol’d.)
Stowaway De Luxe
In “The Man Hunter.” William Farnum became a stowaway on the ship which carried the villain. Discovered, he was put to work polishing the rails, it looked like; and finally encountered the villain in the ship’s salon! I’ve crossed several times and I didn’t know they permitted the workmen to mingle with the first-class passengers.
Betty Evans, Chicago, Ill.
Alas, we cannot say whether or not Betty was onto something as the film is missing and presumed lost.
Woodman — Spare That Tree!
In “The Heart of Humanity” one of the widow’s sons is shown cutting a tree, using the dull side of the axe.
F. E. L., Dallas
Falsifying False Faces
Having just seen Henry Walthall in “False Faces” I would like to ask:
Since when do they carry life preservers on the boat deck and not in the cabin?
Since when does an officer go into the crow’s nest, and if he does see a sub, why not use the phone to the bridge instead of the megaphone?
Why does a ship of that size run with lights blazing in the war zone and portholes uncovered?
Why does the. submarine come straight up to pick up Lone Wolf? They always come up under headway by use of the horizontal rudders.
What kind of submarine uses a large wooden wheel to steer with?
How does the helmsman steer without compass or binnacle?
How does — but that’s enough for now.
A. W. 0. L., Boston
You can look up lots of swell clippings like these at the Media History Digital Library.
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