Deliciously over-the-top, slightly goofy, always fun… Who among us hasn’t wanted to say, “Kiss me, My Fool!” at least once? The funny thing is, people say the line without even realizing that they are quoting a silent movie.
The line comes from A Fool There Was (1915), Theda Bara’s first vamp film. (You can read my full review here.) Bara plays a seductress who drains men of their wealth and then drives them to disgrace and, often, death. She is confronted with a former lover who is armed with a pistol. When he threatens to kill her, she hisses this deathless line. He obeys and then obligingly shoots himself. (Did I mention that this is kitschy stuff?)
Bara’s real target in the film is a dim diplomat named Schuyler (Edward Jose) and she concludes the tale by sprinkling rose petals over his corpse, as one does. Some sources claim that she delivers the “Fool” line to Schuyler but no such scene exists in the surviving prints of the film, if it ever existed.
I should point out that the line is not unique to the film as it was based on a stage play by Robert Hilliard, which was adapted into a novel in 1909. As you can see, the line is quite intact here:
The Vamp later repeats “Kiss me, My Fool!” to Schuyler in the novel, which is possibly the cause of the confusion.
The line has been quoted, requoted and sometimes mutated into, “Kiss me, you fool!” It’s one of the few direct relics of the movie vamp fad. (Indirect influences are, of course, plentiful.)
Why did they love it back in 1915 and why do we still love it today? Well, many people make the mistake of assuming that ironic enjoyment and the savoring of hokum are modern innovations. Not so. Audiences of 1915 enjoyed repeating purple prose just as much as we do today. A Fool There Was was a blockbuster and helped spark the vamp craze (it was not the first or only vamp picture but it was a big one) but women of the 1910s must have appreciated the humor of applying the dialogue of Theda Bara to their everyday life. Similar to the way we might enjoy quoting some of the clunkier lines from Star Wars today. (“NOOOOOOOO!!!!!”)
The best way to enjoy the line is also the best way to enjoy A Fool There Was: with a healthy sense of humor and heavy eye makeup.
This is my contribution to the Classic Quotes Blogathon hosted by the Flapper Dame. Read all the other posts here.
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