Here Are the Tropes, Cliches and Sloppy Mistakes that Annoyed Moviegoers 100 Years Ago

As we know, nitpicking movie mistakes is not a new hobby and Photoplay Magazine had an entire feature that published the snarky letters of sharp-eyed moviegoers. Let’s take a look at February of 1920.

Stoic Chinaware

In “Why Smith Left Home” there occurs a severe earthquake. Small houses on the edge of a cliff are shown collapsing, and an interior of the house in which Bryant Washburn and Lois Wilson are marooned shows cupboards falling, electric fixtures swaying, tables overturned, etc. Yet through all the confusion a row of plates on a plate-rail in the dining-room remain calm as a steel strike until the cobblestone chimney nearby is shaken over upon them.

Stuart S. Towne, Los Angeles, Cal.

This film survives with one missing reel in the Library of Congress. I find it to be very on-brand that the earthquake letter came from Los Angeles. If you’re curious about a plate rail (I don’t know how common they are anymore), here are DIY instruction.

“Till The Sands of The Desert Grow Cold”—

In your November issue “Mona M., New York,” criticizes Louise Glaum for wearing a fur coat in “Sahara.” I agree with her that a fur coat seems superfluous, but, really, the poor dear needed it as a protection against the cold. In the last scene she came out of the tent intending to leave her sweetheart to the tender mercies of the nice little missionary, and her congealed breath could be seen leaving her lips.

Stenographer, Indianapolis.

Sahara survives in the Netherlands but I should point out that the time of day makes a difference because the desert can be bitterly cold at night. Signed, a desert rat.

Ten Readers Saw This

In Maurice Tourneur’s “The Life Line,” the great ship runs on the rocks late at night; the frightened passengers are hastily summoned from their berths, and rush forth, clad in variously assorted night clothes and outer garments; but to supply pathos, toddling down the slanting corridor, come two little children, daintily clad in real party clothes, curls, frillies and hair-ribbons !

L. N. Brown, Lowell, Mass.

This picture also survives in the Netherlands. Go Netherlands, go! Although children do like to wear the darndest things at the darndest hours (source: me) I have to say that the curls lost me because there is no way a parent would curl their kids hair in the 1919 rag curler way in the dead of night.

Probably Not in Wichita

May I not suggest that the director of “The Grim Game”— a Houdini picture — visit newspaper editorial departments to see how real reporters and editors act when a big story breaks? Other news dogs don’t listen-in to hear what the star reporter is saying; nor do the city editor and the S. R. shake the farewell parting when the latter goes out to chase down a story.

Royse Sheldon Aldrich, Wichita, Kansas

The Grim Game was thought lost but a copy emerged and has been broadcast on TCM. Alas, there has been no home media release yet.

Maybe He Wore Out The First Pair

In “Out of Luck,” the Dorothy Gish farce-comedy, Ralph Graves, in the burglar scene, first wears a pair of high shoes and then a pair of low shoes. The chase was supposed to take place all in one evening, too.

R. L., Bellevue, Pa.

The “high shoes” and “low shoes” refer to the upper part of the shoe, the difference between regular sneakers and high tops, essentially. High shoes remained in favor even as other vestiges of earlier decades vanished. Also vanished: this movie. Check your attics.

Real Heroism — In Both Cases

I saw “For Better, For Worse” with Gloria Swanson and Tom Forman. Gloria is seen looking out of a window at the soldiers. It is snowing hard and all the boys have on large overcoats and are covered with snow, but when Tom bursts into the room he is hatless, coatless, and doesn’t even fleck off a single snowflake.

In “Daring Hearts,” a Bushman-Bayne film, a little girl gives F. X. B. a shaving mug and brush. Without bothering about soap or hot water he starts to shave.

V, D. A., Grand Rapids, Mich.

For Better, For Worse was released via a Kickstarter a few years back. Daring Hearts, like most of the Francis X. Bushman and Beverly Bayne vehicles, is missing and presumed lost.

In The Days Before H. C. 0. L.

In “Girl of My Dreams” Billie Rhodes takes a large market basket of eggs to the hotel to be sold. The basket held at least eight or ten dozen eggs. She receives two dollars for the entire lot! Where, and when please, was this story laid?

Mrs. J. M. M., Washington.

HCOL stands for High Cost of Living and eggs in 1920 cost an average of about fifty or sixty cents per dozen. That’s about six or seven dollars in today’s money. So ten dozen eggs for two bucks was a bargain indeed! Alas, the film is missing and presumed lost.

You can look up lots of swell clippings like these at the Media History Digital Library.

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2 Replies to “Here Are the Tropes, Cliches and Sloppy Mistakes that Annoyed Moviegoers 100 Years Ago”

  1. Your mention of a “plate rail” caught my interest. My grandparents who lived in Morgantown WV had a plate rail all around the upper walls of their dining room. Their rail was filled with an array of nice-looking china settings that always fascinated me when I was a kid. The house had been built in about 1919 and had wonderful woodwork throughout the house. I never realized that the railing built onto the wall was actually designed to display plates. To my knowledge no plates ever fell, but I don’t think they ever had earthquakes of any significance.

    My grandmother moved out of that grand old house in the mid-1980’s and passed away in 1988. Her oldest living daughter (now also deceased) got nearly everything that was in the house that wasn’t sold at yard sales. I wish I knew what happened to all that old chinaware.

    Arlee Bird
    Tossing It Out

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