Movie flapper Vera Reynolds joins the army during WWI as an entertainer. She’s joined by BFF Julia Faye and together, they try to cheer up doughboys stationed in France. Naturally, romance and danger are in the cards.
Vera Reynolds and Julia Faye are a couple of manicurists who end up going “over there” during the First World War. Naturally, army life is more dangerous than either of them imagined.
After a very long hiatus, video reviews are back! You have probably learned by now that I adore kitsch and I will be reviewing one of the zaniest, kitschiest films of the silent era: Cecil B. DeMille’s The Road to Yesterday.
“So as I was saying…. hello? Hello? That’s it…”
Welcome to After the Silents, in which I explore the careers of silent film performers and crew after the talkies took over. Put on your rain gear, kids, because it’s going to be a dark and stormy night.
Corporal Kate (1926)
Status: Complete 35mm and 16mm prints and negatives held by the Library of Congress and the UCLA film archive.
Hollywood went through a major gender-reversing trend in the silent era. Film after film took plots and tropes and swapped the guys for the gals. Usually intended to be humorous (as in She’s a Sheik), these reversals were sometimes dramatic.
This is where Corporal Kate comes in. The Big Parade had been a smash in 1925. Why not take the story and reverse the genders? The John Gilbert role went to flapper actress Vera Reynolds. Reynolds was under contract with Cecil B. DeMille’s new studio, which was one of the leading purveyors of films that questioned and subverted gender roles. The Clinging Vines, Eve’s Leaves, Her Man o’ War… fascinating stuff.
I have seen relatively few Reynolds films but I like her very much. She is cute without being cloying and has a disarming sweetness that is very appealing. She reminds me of Viola Dana.
I had never even heard of the film before I was thumbing through William K. Everson’s film notes (and bless you, NYU, for making them available online) and stumbled across an offhand reference to it.
Photoplay was, I thought, needlessly cruel.
They were just as snarky in their capsule review:
The trade journal Motion Picture News had a more nuanced view of the film and felt that, while not a masterpiece, the film was worthy of praise and made for good entertainment.
Women in War Get the Spotlight
Their turn was bound to come, but it was up to the DeMille Pictures Corporation to see that with all these pictures on the late world war that members of the feminine sex should be the central figures, with men playing the role of supers. So it one is inclined to become captious and with the prophet exclaim: “How long, oh Lord, how long” this output of war pictures? he is partly disarmed by the fact that the hero is subordinated to the heroine or heroines, for there are three. Vera Reynolds and Julia Faye are two manicurists who decide to go “over-there” as entertainers for the Red Cross. But as entertainers they prove that they should have stuck to the barber shop. Yet they serve a purpose at that as probably every woman who enlisted.
Nominally a comedy the piece has a background of war that is as effective in an eight-reel picture as some of the so-called war specials. It suffers from an extremely tenuous plot, but is most of the time interesting, not through any plot development, but rather because of effective episodes such as the canteen entertainment, the doughnut distribution, the two New York girls making possible quarters in a disused stable, the ringing-true battle scenes, etc. Good performances are contributed by the star and the leading players. It is not a meat picture, but it is a good one and justifies itself.
THEME : Two manicurists in the world war. Their love for the same man and services in the war.
PRODUCTION HIGHLIGHTS: War scenes convincing and not moving picture-y. Good performances by cast. Intelligent direction.
EXPLOITATION ANGLES: Almost first of war pictures featuring the woman angle.
DRAWING POWER: Good
I wanna see it, darn it!
Army and Navy officers and enlisted soldiers were invited to view the film in New York:
This seems to have been a fairly common practice at the time. The Marine Reserve Corps added to the fun by showing off their bayonet skills in conjunction with the film.
According to Everson’s essay, Vera Reynolds’ character ends up losing an arm in the conflict. While he focused on this plot point’s similarity to The Big Parade, I think it is significant that the film allowed its leading lady to be injured in such a way. Movies tended (and still do to a certain extent) to make their heroine’s deaths and injuries “pretty,” for lack of better word. Even when the deaths are bloody, the blood tends to drip becomingly from the forehead or lip. An arm blown off? I have never seen that in a classic or silent war picture.
Unfortunately, Everson’s remarks make it impossible to tell whether he saw the film himself or was merely going off of historical records. Here’s hoping we get to see for ourselves very soon!
The Road to Yesterday features William Boyd as a two-fisted minister who is wooing a flapper. This does not sit well with her current fiance and there is a bit of a scuffle between the boys. This was Boyd’s first major role and he is rather charming (in spite of the silly story). I love the way he asks for Vera Reynolds’ indulgence before walloping his opponent.
Why were there not more love stories about flappers and two-fisted ministers? This is great!
On a side note, I do think that Boyd’s character had a touch of wish fulfillment for director Cecil B. DeMille. His father had been educated as an Episcopal minister and DeMille was quite the outdoorsy type.
Cecil B. DeMille’s first feature from his shiny new studio, The Road to Yesterday is the epic tale of two couples, marital strife, a fiery train wreck, flappers, ministers and a touch of time travel. You know, keeping things simple. It is also notable as the film that started William “Hopalong Cassidy” Boyd on his path to stardom.
This scene cracked me up so much! It’s from The Road to Yesterday, a spectacularly cheesy DeMille film from 1925. Vera Reynolds is on the run from Joseph Schildkraut (it’s a long story) and he does not like to be ignored. The look on Schildkraut’s face is just so perfect for the scene. Can’t put my finger on it but I never was very good at analyzing the why’s of funny.
I would like to say that this is one reason why I wish canes, walking sticks, scepters, riding crops and the like would come back in style for daily use. Think of all the mischief you can cause with one of these things!