Fun Size Review: Heart of Wetona (1919)

There are bad movies and then there are movies that are so bad that they are accidental masterpieces. This is one of those movies. The plot revolves around Norma Talmadge, a Native American (!) woman who has been no better than she ought and ends up in a marriage of convenience with a very embarrassed Thomas Meighan. The title cards are masterpieces of hilarity and the clueless plot makes this one for the ages. High recommended.

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Cooking with the (Silent) Stars: Norma Talmadge’s Vegetable Salad

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 one of the biggest silent stars whose career has been almost forgotten.

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Please send love-man here to give me million sweet kisses. (Really!) Animated GIF


Oh Norma, Norma, Norma… Norma Talmadge is a mystery in many ways. People wonder why her popularity faded after the silent era. Was it because she made “women’s” pictures? Was it because her work was too much of its time? Well, let me tell you something. It doesn’t help that a good number of her pictures are uproariously, hysterically bad, bad, bad.

Case in point: The Forbidden City. Norma plays a Chinese maiden who talks baby-talk and falls in love with Thomas Meighan. The latter is understandable but the former… Let’s just say that Groucho Marx and I share the same opinion on ‘ittle icky baby talk.

Anyway, the entire film is filled with bizarre moments like this and Norma seems to believe that in order to play an Asian character, one has only to pucker one’s lips and wear lots of mascara. (I also don’t think the filmmakers knew how the Buddha thing worked.)

(You can read my full-length review here.)

Availability: The Forbidden City is available on DVD from Grapevine as a double feature with The Social Secretary, another ‘teens Talmadge feature. It has also been released by ReelclassicDVD bundled with the silent movie retrospective Secrets of Hollywood but I have not yet viewed this edition. I should note that I have been very happy with all the discs from this company that I have viewed so far.

Miss? Miss? Is that Erich von Stroheim hiding in the bushes? Animated GIF


Oh, Erich. The silent era would have been so much more boring without him. I don’t pretend to be an enormous fan of his directing (a bit heavy on the “nudge nudge, wink wink” stuff for my taste) but no one could play a better slime. In this case, he is playing a paparazzo stalking Norma Talmadge in The Social Secretary. This was before he hit the big time by rebranding himself as a baby-tossing Hun.

I love the look on Norma’s face because it is exactly how 90% of us react to von Stroheim’s antics. “Um, did I just see what I thought I saw?” Also, she looks cute in glasses.

(You can read my full-length review here.)

Availability: The Social Secretary was released on DVD by Grapevine as a double feature with the ridiculous Chinese Talmadge drama, The Forbidden City. It is also available as a solo release from Alpha. I have not viewed the Alpha edition but it is probably their usual fare: Cobbled-together score, so-so print  but can be had for about $5.

In the Vaults #9: The Song of Love (1923)

Status: 35mm prints held by The Library of Congress and the Czech Film Archive.

The Song of Love is one of those films that is more famous for what went on behind the camera. First, there was drama on the set. Joseph Schildkraut got most of the blame but I think he was just annoyed about being decked out in spit curls and ballet flats.

Anyway, news reports about the Talmadge-Schildkraut collaboration went from this:


to this:


But I still blame those spit curls.

Don’t worry about Mr. Schildkraut, by the way. He ended up just fine.

He cried all the way to the Oscars.
He cried all the way to the Oscars.

And the film was Frances Marion’s third and final attempt at breaking into directing. Marion was, of course, a popular and successful screenwriter. The first film she directed was The Love Light (which, for the record, I hated), starring Mary Pickford and Marion’s husband Fred Thomson. Marion was hit by a falling arc lamp while making The Song of Love and frequent Norma Talmadge collaborator Chester M. Franklin filled in while she recovered.

The scenario was adapted by Marion as well. Norma Talmadge’s character is named Noorma-hal. Noorma-hal. This is going to hurt, isn’t it? I wonder if any scenarios exist for Poola-hal Negri? Or Doorothy-hal Gish? Or Doouglas-hal Fairbanks?

Okay, I’ll stop.

The plot involves a dancing girl (Talmadge) who falls for an undercover French agent (Schildkraut). When a villainous rebel chieftain (Arthur Edmund Carewe) captures Mr. Schildkraut (spit curls and all), Miss Talmadge must spring into action to save the man she loves. All while (naturally) wearing teensy little costumes. Feminism!

Photoplay was mildly enthusiastic:


Norma Talmadge steps slightly out of character one always thinks of her as dignity incarnate to become Noorma-hal, a passionate, lovely dancing girl of the desert. Although a different Norma she is always charming, always warmly sympathetic. Torn between the faith of her ancestors and the love of a man who has confessed to being a spy, the girl is forced to tight a great battle with herself.

Variety less so:

Outside of Miss Talmadge there isn’t an awful lot to “The Song of Love.” It is another of those desert stories, the same type more or less that went out of fashion a little over a year ago as far as the big first-run houses were concerned, at any rate. There is a lot of sand, some of the sheik stuff, some hard riding and gunplay, and above all Norma slips through a dance.

Just because a film was written by a woman, directed by a woman, and starred a woman… well, that doesn’t make it feminist. This is a fact some film historians seem to ignore. However, while it doesn’t work as an empowerment film, it looks like there are other advantages to this movie. Frankly, it looks like a kitschy riot! Here’s hoping we get to see it soon!

Fun Size Review: The Forbidden City (1918)

Norma Talmadge plays a Chinese maiden (hoo boy) who falls for American diplomat Thomas Meighan. The romance ends in tragedy for Miss Talmadge but not before she gives birth to a daughter who grows up to also be Norma Talmadge. The daughter sets out to seek her father and love. Racially clueless, which garbles its feeble plea for racial tolerance. Not Norma’s best.

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The Social Secretary (1916) A Silent Film Review

Mayme (Norma Talmadge) can’t keep a job. She’s far too pretty, you see, and the bosses won’t leave her alone. Meanwhile, the de Puyster family can’t keep a secretary. They’re far too pretty and get married. You can see where this one is going. Erich von Stroheim supports as a paparazzo. Light-hearted fun but questionable gender politics.
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The Forbidden City (1918) A Silent Film Review

Norma Talmadge and Thomas Meighan play an ill-fated interracial couple. When their secret marriage is discovered, Talmadge is executed by the Emperor of China for daring to marry a white man. Her daughter (also Talmadge) grows up and sets out to discover her American roots. A very, very odd film, full of outdated racial views and a rather icky father-daughter relationship.

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