Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Milton Sills: “Miss Lulu Bett” and the New Woman

It’s not flashy and it’s not famous but Miss Lulu Bett is one of the best dramas of the silent era. Directed by William deMille (Cecil’s big brother), it tells the tale of a woman throwing off the gloomy shackles of Victorianism and making her own way in the modern world. It’s subtle, it’s smart and its gentle humor always hits its target.

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Adorkable Dates of the Silent Era: Milton and Lois. Animated GIF

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Silent movie lovers were not all smoldering Valentinos or passionate John Gilberts. No, quite a few silent movie romances are adorably awkward. Take the central romance of Miss Lulu Bett as an example. Lois Wilson is the heroine, newly emboldened and emancipated by the failure of her marriage. Milton Sills is the local school teacher who has always fancied her but never had the gumption to ask her out. Well, he finally did. This is the result. Due to her circumstances, Lulu can’t get out of doing the dishes even when she has a date. So he helps. Awww!

I hesitate to call the film underrated since just about every film book and website that mentions it gives it rave reviews. It just doesn’t get talked about very much and that’s a crying shame. It’s smart, funny, feminist and contains some first-rate acting.

(You can read my full review here.)

Availability: Miss Lulu Bett was released as a companion to the delightful Why Change Your Wife on DVD and is available solo via streaming.

Silent Movie Trivia #11: Miss Lulu Bett (1921)

Click to view in lightbox.
Click to view in lightbox.

Now we are going to have some trivia from one of my favorite silent sleepers. Miss Lulu Bett is a powerful little drama about gender, women’s liberation and the changes in society that rocked the twenties. It’s held together by a sensitive performance from Lois Wilson, considerable blustering from the venerable ham Theodore Roberts and a likable turn from Milton Sills as the schoolteacher who falls for our heroine.

If this sounds a little dull, let me assure you that the film has heart and humor to spare. It’s the story of a young woman who strikes out to make her own happiness and succeeds. Good stuff and it would have been crowd-pleasing Oscar bait if Oscars had been a thing in 1921.

(You can read my review here.)

Availability: Miss Lulu Bett is available on DVD and via streaming as a companion to Why Change Your Wife? William de Mille directed the former, little brother Cecil directed the latter. Both are wonderful in their own way.