100 Years Ago, Here Are Even More Tropes and Mistakes That Annoyed Moviegoers

Since everyone enjoyed our last foray into Photoplay’s Why Do They Do It? series, here we are again! Why Do They Do It? was a regular feature that allowed readers to write in with complaints about tropes, mistakes and annoyances at the movies.

These selections from August 1918 has angry knitters, harpists and historians! My comments follow in italics, the header text was part of the original publication.

Each Purl a Tear

In The Thing We Love, Kathlyn Williams appears to be very proud of a sock she is knitting and anxious to do her bit, still it is very evident to real knitters she does not know the first principle of sock knitting for she is trying to knit it up side down. The sock is apparently finished except the cuff at the top and we see her knitting away at the end which in realty is the beginning of the sock. It isn’t being done that way — yet.

L. C, Toledo, Ohio.

L.C. shares the knitter’s universal disdain for knitting fakery in films. Socks were indeed knitted from the cuff down by most U.S. knitters (it’s how I learned) but toe-up patterns are available. (I also once embedded a double pointed size 5 sock needle in my thigh and had to have it surgically removed. Who said I never have any fun?)

Again — Cleo in Bad

Whoever wrote the photoplay “Cleopatra,” starring Theda Bara, certainly should have studied ancient history. Some of the incidents of the play, such as Caesar leaving Cleo to be crowned king of Rome, are ridiculous, as they are not in accordance with historical facts. In this picture the Priest of Isis in Egypt was represented to be a man with flowing hair and beard, while history tells us that the Priests of Isis were compelled to shave their heads and faces. Which shall we believe?

In one scene, Cleo is seen playing a harp.the strings of whichare so loose that the least shaking of the instrument causes them to vibrate wildly. Now, anybody who has had any experience with harps knows that the strings in such condition would never produce music.

Chas. Brumbaugh, Orange, N. J.

Charles comes out swinging! The history stuff seems a bit nit-picky but then again, ancient Egypt isn’t my field of study. I can assure you that 95% of all harps in movies are strung wrong, held wrong, played wrong. Harpists are used to is. Sigh.

Referred to Our Puzzle and Farm Editor

In “The Land of Promise,” Thomas Meighan is shown cultivating cabbage. In the distance we see corn flourishing as it would be in September. That evening Meighan makes the remark to his wife that they have been married six months. Their wedding taking place the 19th of September would make the time he cultivated the cabbage the 19th of March.

Grant Evange, Bangor. Maine.

Meighan would remake The Land of Promise (which is missing and presumed lost) as The Canadian, which is an excellent film and highly recommended.

From a Good Housekeeper

In “Tarzan of the Apes,” during one of those heavy tropical rains, a lion runs out in front of the camera and kicked up dust. I’m glad I don’t live there.

R. H. Hoopes, Salt Lake City.

R.H. makes a good point. There’s nothing worse than a dusty lion. You can read my Tarzan review here.

Chaplin Subtlety

Is there not something fine and splendid in the sight of Chaplin’s dog, in “A Dog’s Life,” caring for the brood of little puppies — the dog being of the masculine sex?

W. R. W., Chicago.

This reminds me of Data’s eternally gender and breed-shifting cat in Star Trek: The Next Generation.


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  1. Shari Polikoff

    Not being a knitter or a harpist, I would be blissfully unaware of those goof-ups, but I like knowing that we have something in common with people who lived a century ago, in that all of us devoted movie buffs probably have our own points to nit-pick about.

    Interestingly, according to Groucho Marx, his brother Harpo once said he had learned the ‘wrong’ way to play the harp from their grandmother, but he certainly produced some wonderful music from it.

  2. Marie Roget

    Film nitpickers unite: yes indeedy, those continuity errors and downright goofs can be distractions that accelerate to downright annoyances. My example is hand props (as smallish props are known) changing placement or vanishing/reappearing from a table or desk (pens, inkwells, rocking blotters, candlesticks, vases, serveware ). Candlesticks lit for one take unlit for others and chandeliers swaying then perfectly still during the same scene are a personal bugaboo. If memory serves there’s a bit of this in She Did and She Didn’t.

    Tablecloths etc. flapping in the breeze “inside” a house that is actually on an open air stage are things all silent fans understand and put up with so no error there, of course.

    Speaking of the Marx Bros., another great Harpo story is that Harp learned his “blowfish” face from his mother Minny who would make it (when their backs were turned) at tradesmen and others who were giving her a hard time. All the brothers attributed a great part of their comedic style to mother Min, who must have been a riot to live with.

    Couldn’t agree more that Harpo had his own unique harp playing style, and wow was it outstanding. No slack strings there! So did Chico at the keyboard, undisputed master of the one-finger rollover.

    1. Fritzi Kramer

      Yes, Chico’s piano playing doesn’t get nearly enough love. The single funniest scene in Animal Crackers is Chico’s piano antics and his intentionally obnoxious playing followed up by some genuine brilliance.

      1. petey

        is that where margaret dumont asks “mr baravelli, what is the first number?”, and he answers, “number one!”?

      2. Fritzi Kramer

        I think that might be The Cocoanuts. This is the one where Chico says “I can’t think of the finish” and Grouch says “And I can’t think of anything else!” 😀

      3. Marie Roget

        Just got back from scavenging several yard/garage/car port sales in my area. Found a sheet music extravaganza, in a car port of all places! Among the lovely finds was a 1944 version of When I Take My Sugar To Tea. In honor of the great (somewhat unsung) piano master Chico Marx, would like to post this link- includes Take My Sugar plus nine more Chico hits from Marx Bros. films:

    1. Fritzi Kramer

      No, it’s just really boring. I had some socks I was knitting in a canvas bag, I was putting it away when it caught on a chair and I kind of walked into it. It was like a Wile E. Coyote cartoon, basically. I have a one-inch scar but it didn’t hit anything major, they just sliced it out at the hospital.

  3. petey

    mr. brumbaugh was indeed correct about egyptian history.

    however, w.r.w. was confused, it’s either the male sex, or the masculine gender, but not the masculine sex.

    A. Pedant, New York

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