Silent Movie Trivia #8: Don’t Change Your Husband (1919)

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This time, we are going to be enjoying trivia from one of Gloria Swanson and Cecil B. DeMille’s decadent collaborations. Together, director and actress did much to make the post-war movie world an opulent world of wealth and spectacle. Behind the scenes, they remained friends and had an enormous amount of mutual respect. Don’t Change Your Husband was their first collaboration.

(You can read my review here.)

In spite of numerous negotiations and near-misses, the duo’s last film together was the 1921 marital dramedy, The Affairs of Anatol. Well, that is until Sunset Boulevard. (Unless you count those tour of Hollywood documentaries and I don’t.) Part of the reason why that film is so fascinating is that it slithers between fiction and reality and you can never be sure which is which. The use of DeMille and Swanson’s real friendship is just one example.

Availability: Don’t Change Your Husband is available on DVD and via streaming.

Silent Movie Rule #6: Don’t you be playing any of that devil music around here!

Thomas Meighan tries to spice up his marriage with Gloria Swanson. His methods? A little music, a little dancing, a new negligee and then… romance, right? Well, Gloria stops him right there. Music? To dance to? Must he be so physical? This is from Why Change Your Wife? Cecil B. DeMille’s best marital comedy.

You can read my review here.

(In fact, I did have someone complain about devil music in my presence. It was Pink Floyd. Really.)

Availability: Released on DVD and via streaming.

What? Gloria Swanson be rude to you? Never! The very idea! Animated GIF

manhandled-1924-gloria-swanson-silent-movie-dealing-with-pomposity

Gloria Swanson returned to her comedy roots in Manhandled, a romantic comedy that is not nearly as sassy as the title suggests. In this case, she is a shop girl who has been given a bit of grief by her boss. She knows how to handle him, though. Her boyfriend is a lot trickier, though, and that is where the plot thickens.

(You can read my review here.)

Availability: Manhandled was released on DVD by Grapevine Video as a double feature with Swanson’s 1918 film Shifting Sands.

Photoplay Cookbook: Gloria Swanson’s “Cream Fudge”

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Welcome back! I am cooking my way through the 1929 Photoplay cookbook (recipes of the stars!) and you are invited to tag along. (I have listed all the recipes I have tested on this dedicated page. Check back often.) Today, we will be testing a recipe from someone who is considered to be one of the symbols of silent film.

Gloria Swanson started in comedy, jumped to drama and was one of the top stars in the world throughout the silent era. Her career took a dip when she accepted career advice from her lover, Joseph Kennedy, compounded by the fact that the extravagant dramas that she was associated with were no longer stylish. She had an excellent voice, both for singing and speaking, but did not enjoy the same level of success in talking pictures. That is, until she was cast by a certain Mr. Wilder…

The glamorous Miss Swanson.
The glamorous Miss Swanson.

Swanson was a star and she knew it. She embodied the glamor of the silent era and always knew how to rock an ensemble. She also wrote a memoir that is pretty much the gold standard of silent actor tell-all autobiographies. (Swanson on Swanson should be part of a welcome package for new silent movie fans.) While her Sunset Boulevard role made her an icon to a new generation, never forget that she was amazing in her prime.

Later in life, Swanson became an advocate for all things health-foody, macrobiotic, raw and sugar-free. So, it is not without a bit of irony that I present her recipe for the cookbook, a faux fudge that is pretty much all sugar.

Gloria-Swanson-Cream-Fudge

A pretty simple recipe, as candy recipes go. Perhaps a little too simple? See, candy is wonderful but I like my sweets to have a bit more complexity, especially if they are home-made. Just sugar and cream? In theory it should work but would it be good enough to warrant an entire pan-full of the stuff?

I’m not going to lie, candy making is not my favorite kitchen activity. There is so much stirring and testing and beating. I keep thinking that I could have whipped up a batch of cookies or a cake in half the time. However, Gloria Swanson beckoned so I gave it a try.

I think it’s a mistake to call this a fudge. It hardens up quite crispy (notice that the recipe says to “break” the candy, not slice it) and is really heading into butterscotch territory. I think my version ended up a little grainy but I blame myself and not the recipe. However, the texture was not unpleasant. It may have been better if I had added the optional pecans.

The stuff took forever to firm up. I just ended up storing it in the cold oven and going to bed. The recipe was not kidding about the buttered dish thing, by the way. I greased a 9×13 baking dish with a few tablespoons and the fudge still stuck.

Here is the result:

I don't pretend it is a thing of beauty.
I don’t pretend it is a thing of beauty.
Yup, definitely not a glamor girl.
Yup, definitely not a glamor girl.

And here is the taste test video:

My rating: 2 out of 5. This stuff is the very essence of sickeningly sweet. Basically, the first bite is okay and then when you take the second one, you start to feel more than a little lightheaded. By the time you take a third bite, you are fairly certain that diabetes is imminent. If you manage to take a fourth bite, you will probably be sick.

I can see it being better in tiny portions but the recipe produces an incredible amount of candy. It more than filled my 9×13 dish and likely could have slopped over into a smaller dish as well.

All I can say is that if Gloria Swanson was really eating like this, she needed to go on a sugar-free diet. One session with this fudge and you will get your sugar intake for the month.

Can it be improved? Not really. Not without turning it into a whole other candy.

Eat this instead: 4 Ingredient Peanut Butter Fudge. No cooking required, this is a truly fast faux fudge.

Fun Size Review: Manhandled (1925)

manhandled

Gloria Swanson sheds glamor for a stick of chewing gum. She plays a shop girl who feels neglected by her inventor boyfriend so she gets her kicks posing as a Russian countess. Unsavory men start sniffing around and Gloria has to beat them off with a club. That or smack her gum at them.

manhandled-1924-gloria-swanson-silent-movie-gum-chewing

Needless to say, chaos ensues. Swanson’s return to her comedy roots is a pleasant and unpretentious little romance that plays to her strengths.

[toggler title=”How does it end? (click here for a spoiler)” ]Gloria’s boyfiend thinks she is cheating and dumps her but all is forgiven when he realizes how much she loves him. Oh, and he becomes a millionaire with his inventions.[/toggler]

If it were a dessert it would be:

gum
(via rachaelray.com)

Homemade chewing gum. We’re taking something back to where it began!

You can read my full-length review here.

Recommended

Gloria Swanson demonstrates how to fake a language, Animated GIF

manhandled-1924-gloria-swanson-silent-movie-fake-russianWhat with the popularity of fake language speaking (this week anyway) I thought it would be fun to post a little goodie I have been holding onto for a while. Gloria Swanson is posing as a Russian countess because… Hollywood. Anyway, everything is okay until she meets a real Russian who, shockingly enough, decides to speak Russian. Gloria’s solution? Start sobbing!

“You remind me of old country!”

Russian is just too upsetting, it reminds her of the revolution! Don’t even think in Russian around her! The trauma! The trauma!

Brilliant. Mayhaps Ricardo Cortez should have tried it with Spanish.

I find this especially funny because I was once acquainted with a person who, for reasons best known to them, claimed to speak fluent Mandarin. It was… odd. (And extremely confusing to actual Mandarin speakers.)

The GIF is from Manhandled.

They may take our lives but they can never take our chewing gum! Animated GIF

manhandled-1924-gloria-swanson-silent-movie-gum-chewing

In the 1920’s, a working girl could be identified by her ever-present wedge of chewing gum. Gloria Swanson is rather annoyed at being asked to chuck it in Manhandled. The chewing gum phenomenon was immortalized in the 1924 novelty song Does the Spearmint Lose Its Flavor on the Bedpost Overnight? (It has been revived several times since, usually with “chewing gum” instead of “spearmint” in the title.)

Manhandled (1924) A Silent Film Review

Gloria Swanson sheds her glamorous image to play Tessie, a shop girl in the big city who just wants to have a little bit of fun. Her workaholic boyfriend (Tom Moore) is neglecting her in favor of an invention that could make his fortune so Tessie accepts an invitation from the smart set. However, she soon learns that all of the thrills and glamour come at a price.

Continue reading “Manhandled (1924) A Silent Film Review”

You know you’re miserable when even your ukulele doesn’t help, Animated GIF

manhandled-1924-gloria-swanson-I-am-miserable-and-even-the-ukulele-doesnt-help

Poor Gloria Swanson! Even strumming her uke doesn’t improve her mood in the 1924 romantic comedy Manhandled.

The ukulele is cheap, tiny and cute. Plus, it is easy to play! As a result, it became the go-to instrument for flappers and college saps all over the United States. In this film, Gloria is taking a break from glamour to play a shop girl who is living from paycheck to paycheck. Exactly the sort of person who would embrace the uke!

Questions from the Google: Who was the silent era villain who tied women to train tracks?

New feature! I like to read over the search engine queries that bring people to my site. Lately, I have been noticing the same sort of queries cropping up again and again:

Who was the silent era villain who tied women to train tracks?

Snidely Whiplash in silent films?

Silent star tied to train tracks.

I have previously posted about the origins of this cliche but let’s take a look at these search engine queries and see if we can finally put this ridiculous myth to rest.

(Oh, and in the spirit of generosity, let me advise you never, ever to bring this up among silent film fans as a serious topic. You will be ruthlessly mocked for your ignorance and you will deserve it.)

The Questions:

Who was the silent era villain who tied women to train tracks?

No one.

Let me repeat for emphasis.

NO ONE!

No Hollywood executive said “We need that fellow who does the railroad track thing! Get him at once!” There was no such man because the cliche was simply not used that much in motion pictures.

The footage of the train track cliche that usually gets trotted out is from one of two Sennett comedies, Teddy at the Throttle or Barney Oldfield’s Race for Life. Both films were making fun of the cliche, which was seen as dusty, clueless and so last century.

Ahem.
Ahem.

The gentlemen playing the villains in these films were Wallace Beery and Ford Sterling, respectively. However, both men were better known for their other comedic skills. This is not how they regularly spent Saturday night.

The play that originated this trope, Under the Gaslight, was written in 1867. The victim, by the way, was male. There was a real-life copycat incident in 1874. Again, the victim was male.

Snidely Whiplash in silent films?

Dudley Doright
Not a silent movie.

Snidely Whiplash is a send-up of Victorian melodrama villains, the same target that inspired the Sennett comedies. If he is based on a silent era character, it is likely one of these Sennett comedians.

Silent star tied to train tracks.

Again, no silent era studio executive ever said, “That girl who gets tied to the tracks all the time! Fetch her for this film.”

In the films mentioned before, the victims were Gloria Swanson and Mabel Normand. I am going to repeat this one more time: These were comedies! The peril was meant to make fun of the over-the-top melodramas that had been in style a few years before.

In the 1916 serial A Lass of the Lumberlands the hero, Leo Maloney, is tied up and stumbles onto train tracks and then is rescued by Helen Holmes. Not exactly a perfect fit. Pearl White, to the best of my knowledge, was never victimized in this manner and any purported footage of this has yet to turn up. (The trope was used in the ridiculous sound remake of The Perils of Pauline.) Please note too that American serials were not regarded as the pinnacle of fine film writing.

train-tracks

In one of the few examples of this trope presented seriously in a mainstream silent feature film, the leading man of Blue Jeans (which I wrote an article about) was nearly sliced in half in a sawmill before being rescued by leading lady Viola Dana. Contemporary reviews praised the film but noted its old-fashioned source material. The train tracks/sawmill thing was just not something a modern film circa 1917 would use.

Blue-Jeans-Viola-Dana-John-Collins-1917 (2)

I have run across comments that talk about wanting to make a “1920 silent movie where a woman is tied to the train tracks.” I should mention that I have never found an example of this cliche in studios films made after 1919.

So now we know that the trope was rare, that men were just as likely to be victims and that the whole thing died before the twenties let out a single roar, well except for amateur films like this one:

Home videos are totally the same as studio releases! (And, again, the victim is a man.)

This fixation on railroad tracks is especially strange when you consider how long the silent film era lasted. Saying that silent movies (the era stretched between 1895 and 1929) regularly featured women tied to the train tracks would be like looking at the Home Alone movies and their ripoffs and then declaring that all films made in the 1990’s to 2010’s regularly featured small children beating up dimwitted burglars with elaborate booby traps. Avatar? Jurassic Park? Independence Day? The Artist? Men in Black 1-3? They all had that in them, right?

Other film sites have written on this oddly specific misconception but the queries keep on coming in. It’s a myth that really needs to die.

Fun Size Review: Why Change Your Wife? (1920)

Gloria Swanson has a problem. Her husband, Thomas Meighan, has purchased her a negligee! The degenerate! And he listens to fox trot music, if you please! Thomas is soon driven into the waiting arms of Bebe Daniels. Realizing her mistake, Gloria dons designer duds in a bid to win him back. Cecil B. DeMille’s best marital comedy, it is spunky and fast-paced. Excellent performances by all the leads make the film memorable. Worth seeing for Bebe and Gloria’s costumes alone.

Continue reading “Fun Size Review: Why Change Your Wife? (1920)”

Why Change Your Wife? (1920) A Silent Film Review

It’s Gloria Swanson’s turn to be the offending party in this DeMille marital comedy. She is a lovely young prude who moralizes her husband right into the waiting arms of another woman. Only then does Gloria realize that she has made a mistake and a little romance helps in marriage. Armed with this knowledge- and a wild wardrobe- she sets out to win back her man.

Continue reading “Why Change Your Wife? (1920) A Silent Film Review”

Don’t Change Your Husband (1919) A Silent Film Review

Gloria Swanson is a young wife whose husband is, for lack of a better word, a pigpen. Tired of his slovenly ways and uncaring manner, she leaves him for a better groomed, sweet-talking man. But all is not wine and rose and she soon learns that it may not have been a good idea to change her husband after all. DeMille’s dive into marital comedy is a glimpse of good things to come.
Continue reading “Don’t Change Your Husband (1919) A Silent Film Review”