100 Years Ago, These Were the Tropes and Mistakes that Annoyed Moviegoers

We sometimes think of ourselves as terribly modern and sophisticated but it is always appropriate to remember that silent era audiences were pretty darn sharp themselves. Photoplay had a regular feature that allowed readers to write in with complaints about tropes, mistakes and annoyances at the movies.

These selections from July 1918 show the readers in rare form and loaded for bear! My comments follow in italics, the header text was part of the original publication.

We Were Going to Ask

WHY do movie actors, no matter where they’re supposed to be — in parlor or ballroom — when they receive a letter or telegram, tear it open, take out the message and throw the envelope on the floor? Most of us would return the letter to the envelope and put it in our pocket. Such conduct conveys the impression that actors were born in saw mills. Another thing — can’t the producers find any other name for a Mexican than “Pedro”?

W. H. Cram, Waterville, Minn.

W. H. shows that it’s all guns blazing! He’s quite correct about the envelope litterbugs and he takes a stab at ethnic stereotypes as well. Go get ’em!

The Zenith of Nonchalance

IN “Blue Blazes Rawdin,” “Joe” sure must have been excited. In the scene, where Rawdin was shot by the “Kid,” Joe, that veteran of many a fierce fight, became so absorbed, or frightened to death, that he stood for several minutes with his hand calmly reposing on a “red-hot” stove (at least it should have been “red-hot,” as there was a roaring blizzard outside).

C. J., Tacoma, Wash.

You can check this one out for yourself as Blue Blazes Rawden is on DVD.

Anna — You Oughta Know!

IN “The Brand of Satan” I saw a woman spend several minutes shrinking into a wall as a brute prepared to attack her when, had she been properly desperate, she might have gotten out the door. In the same picture another woman stood silently by and emoted while the brute strangled her father. Then she flopped down on her dead father, allowing the murderer to take a notion to drag her off to his den, which was accomplished with very little protest. I have seen this sort of thing so often in pictures that I wonder if that “eternal feminine” stuff isn’t being overworked. Are women really so utterly stupid in a crisis?

Anna M. Baugh, Indianapolis.

Hear, hear, Anna! It’s nice to hear some vintage pushback as the notion that silent movie heroines were all fainting daisies is harmful one.

We’ll Supply a “Photoplay”

TELL me — why is an art director? In “The Spreading Dawn” the A. D. suffered to be plastered perfectly good study lamps and those awful pedestals all over the set for a Civil War picture. It’s a puzzle to me. And did they use glaring headlines in the papers in those days? Well, rather not! At that rate, the photoplay world should show me, ere I die, at least two per-fect-ly good victrolas, several Big Bens and a few copies of “Photoplay” in the Ark.

R. E. Larson, Green Bay, Wis.


Why Not — if Your Wife’s in Danger?

IN an episode of “Vengeance and the Woman,” the hero has his leg badly injured when it is caught in a wolftrap. Although the doctor says he cannot use the leg for a couple of weeks, five minutes later when he sees his wife
in danger, he suddenly starts on a run that would turn “Doug” green with envy.

Edith Collins, Winnipe

Edith would have been horrified by the superhuman abilities of modern action film stars, who should by all rights be in hospital shrieking “Owie, owie, owie!” Doug, of course, refers to Douglas Fairbanks.

Lost: Some “Lingerie”

WHERE did dear old Spottiswood Aitkin capture the “lingerie” in the abduction scene of Mary Miles Minter’s “Beauty and the Rogue”? And at what point in the chase did he— ahem— lose them? When awakened by the noise of the abduction, he rushes down stairs in his night shirt and seemingly nothing else. Getting his gun and his derby hat, he joins others in the chase. During the hunt— without once stopping— we suddenly see Mr. Aitkin’s legs draped in “lingerie” to the ankles. Then— they must have hindered his running or something, for he lost them in the shuffle as he arrived at the end of the chase clad only in the w. k. night shirt.

M. C, Memphis, Tenn.

Before you ask, alas, the film is missing and presumed lost. I know! I’m dying to see it too. (But if anyone knows what a “w.k. night shirt” is, I should be grateful.)

(You can find more swell clippings like these at the Media History Digital Library.)


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  1. Marie Roget

    Ha!!! These audience comments are terrific! The hot stove business I enjoyed in particular as an obvious mistake that would take 1918 viewers right out of Blue Blazes Rawden for a long, annoyed moment. Anyone who has ever dealt with one of those old wood or coal fire stoves (as I have in cabins on Blue Chalk Lake) knows you’d never let it go cold on a nippy fall night, let alone in a frigid winter as it is doubling as the heater. Plus, if you’ve ever stood even a yard or so from one of those stoves when it’s going full blast (as C.J. in Tacoma no doubt knew from experience) the heat radiation alone is a huge warning not to put any body part on the metal!

    As to Spottiswood Aiken’s w.k. night shirt, no clue. All that popped into mind was “well known” since M.C. of Memphis had mentioned it several times already. The combination of nightshirt, gun, and derby hat and the continuity error of Aiken’s long johns popping on and off are a lot of fun, though!

    1. Fritzi Kramer

      Yes, now I am absolutely dying to see the picture! Disappearing lingerie has got to be worth something. 🙂

      Good thoughts on w.k. I will have to look around for the acronym just by itself in period texts.

  2. Karen S Snow

    Yes, please more of these ! Nice to know audiences felt like throwing popcorn at the screen in frustration too (don’t get me STARTED on the available parking spaces characters enjoy at a moment’s notice in NYC – or any crowded city).

  3. PBT

    I just noticed a possible blooper in West Point (1927). There is a scene where Bill Haines throws his false shirt-cuffs onto a table. He has an altercation with his room mate Tex and storms out. We then see Haines moodily stalking the grounds of West point, complete with shirt-cuffs. Cut back to his dorm and the shirt-cuffs are clearly still on the table where he threw them. Maybe he always carried a spare pair?

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