Ella Cinders (1926) A Silent Film Review

A Cinderella story for the 1920s. Colleen Moore plays the Ella of the title, a waif who finds happiness and her prince charming via Hollywood. The picture has some clever and funny camera work and an extremely beguiling performances from Moore, who lends her ready wit and elastic features to the affair.

Home Media Availability: Released on DVD.

Cinderella Goes to Hollywood

Cinderella is one of those stories that we never get tired of hearing. An ideal blend of realism (unhappy step-families and drudgery) and wish fulfillment (fairy godmothers and Prince Charming), Cinderella has been performed set in hundreds of times and places. For a silent film, what better place than Hollywood?

Ella Cinders (Colleen Moore) is the orphaned slavey who dreams of escaping her toils. Waite Lifter (Lloyd Hughes) is the charming iceman who loves Ella. But how will Ella escape her wicked step-mother and horrible step-sisters?

Why, enter a motion picture beauty contest, of course!

Ella wins and dashes out to Hollywood lickety-split. But the contest was a scam and Ella is forced to join the ranks of the hopefuls at the studio gates. A few misadventures later, Ella finds herself in pictures but where is her Prince Charming? Well, it turns out that Waite Lifter is actually George Waite, heir to a fortune. And he is out to claim his Ella. Will all end happily? Well, this is a fairy tale.

Ella and Waite
Ella and Waite

The plot is really just a clothesline to hang the jokes on. But when the jokes involve Colleen Moore, anything can be forgiven. By this time, Moore had established herself as the flapper extraordinaire and as one of the better comediennes in motion pictures. Ella Cinders has pratfalls and puns galore but it’s at its funniest when Colleen is just allowed to be Colleen.

The Many Faces of Ella Cinders

I think I can rest my case. Between funny faces, genuine emotion and some dead-on impressions, Moore never misses.

Her child-like cuteness is perfectly suited to the material. It’s her movie all the way, though Harry Langdon does have an adorable cameo.

Lloyd Hughes, who is probably most famous for supporting Mary Pickford in Tess of the Storm Country (1922), is, as usual, dull but he gets the job done. You do have to give him credit for playing a guy who calls himself “Waite Lifter”. The rest of the cast hams it up with aplomb. Watch for the real-life director of Ella Cinders, Alfred Green, as… a director.

Colleen gets a little help from Harry Langdon.
Colleen gets a little help from Harry Langdon.

Besides the comedic abilities of Miss Moore, Ella Cinders is famous for a fun bit of trick camera work. While studying to be an actress, Ella begins eye exercises. Using a seamless split screen effect, each of her eyes darts about independently.

Ella Cinders is probably Colleen Moore’s most recognizable film and it is essential viewing for cinema fans.

Movies Silently’s Score: ★★★½

Where can I see it?

Ella Cinders is available on DVD.


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