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

Why Do They Do It? was a regular feature in Photoplay Magazine that allowed readers to write in with complaints about tropes, mistakes and annoyances at the movies.

These selections are from the September 1918 issue and feature complaints about the weather, stockings and day-for-night shooting. My comments follow in italics, the header text was part of the original publication. As always, I will make a note if the film in question is currently available on home video.

Yes — Many Actresses Should Be Stenographers

I would like to contribute my plea to the many complaints that come from all sides relative to the “efficient” stenographers who appear in office scenes in pictures. It is really pathetic to see some two-fingered typists in a big office where only experts would really fit in with the air of efficiency and luxury.

M. E. J., Camden, N. J.

I’d be willing to wager that M.E.J. worked in the steno pool at some point.

Imagine Being a Barber There!

Can you explain how Tarzan, in “Tarzan of the Apes,” apparently a normal youth, could grow to maturity without any sign of a beard? Was he born with a safety razor or did he shave with that knife he found in the hut?

A. V. Seeds, Philadelphia.

A.V. Seeds would probably be equally annoyed at the stubble-that-never-quite-becomes-a-beard that modern action stars sport. I recently saw a preview with what I thought was one stubble-rific guy but then realized it was two actors playing two characters when the cast was announced. Oops.

You can read my review of Tarzan here and the film is available on DVD.

Did You See the Ark Around?

In”Rich Man, Poor Man,” Marguerite Clark returns through a terrific thunderstorm to find her mother dead. According to the insert, “They find her several hours afterward.” The doctor is sent for, calls, and leaves, and all
the time the storm rages without. Some thunderstorm.

W. H. Price, New York.

Alas, we will not be able to see if W.H. Price was correct as Rich Man, Poor Man is missing and presumed lost. Marguerite Clark’s popularity rivaled Mary Pickford’s but very few of her films are available for examination.

Tints in “The Dragon Painter” create the night.

SOME Moonlight

When the “Night Shift” of the munition workers were toiling in the Ninth Episode of the “Eagle’s Eye,” the sun was shining in through the windows in all its splendor and glory.

W. P. V., Fort Wayne, Ind.

This serial starred King Baggot and is considered lost. Day-for-night shots were common in the silent era and usually hold up pretty well with correct tinting. Looks like this one didn’t make the grade.

The Will to Live!

In an episode of “The Fighting Trail,” “Shoestring” is driving a wagon containing a load of nitro-glycerine, when along comes the villain and takes a shot at the wagon. Instead of “Shoestring” being blown to bits, he seems to be only mildly injured. In another episode a man is shot in a running duel, but each time he got up and kept right on running. How do they do it?

Elmer A. Biersach, Milwaukee, Wis.

Once again, we see that indestructible action heroes are not an invention of the 1980s. This was a serial that starred Antonio Moreno but, alas, also seems to be lost.

The famous hosiery in “Hearts of the World”

Have a Heart!

I realize, of course, that France manufactures some of the finest silk stockings, and that possibly they are cheaper there than here ( I paid two and a half for the last pair I bought) but still do you really think Marie (Lillian Gish) in “Hearts of the World” would be quite likely to insist on silk hosiery to wear while going through the perils of life in a town in the hands of the enemy? I wonder!

Moreover, picking potatoes and wandering in the fields is rather hard on hosiery, isn’t it? She surely must have had a large supply.

B. M. L. New York.

B.M.L. would have paid the modern equivalent of $45 for her silk stockings so it’s easy to see why a run would be so disastrous at the time. I am reminded of Lillian Gish’s scuffle with Erté when he designed costumes for La Bohème. He wanted cotton, she wanted silk (she thought it made more convincing rags). However, also remember that D.W. Griffith insisted that Gish be dolled up immediately after the ice flow sequence in Way Down East (she objected) so we cannot be sure who was responsible for the famous stockings.

Hearts of the World is available on DVD. The ReelClassicDVD edition has a score by Ben Model.

“Ain’t It the Truth?”

Why, oh, why? Last night I sat through a Burton travelogue and a Shriner parade in Cheyenne to find that Chaplin will show tomorrow.

Hildegarde Rudin.

We hear you, Hildegarde.

In Defense of the Clergy

To me there is something disgusting in the way directors insult the ministry, making most ministers narrow-minded, hypocritical objects, always rolling their eyes heavenward and throwing up their hands in horror at the least thing. This was especially so in “Naughty, Naughty” with Enid Bennett. In all travels I have never met this type of man in any church, large or small, and it hurts me to see them portrayed in this manner. The most of them are loving, kind and though strict on certain things, do not deserve this burlesque.

Mrs. L. Jones, Buffalo. N. Y.

I don’t mean to trigger a religious war but Jesus did spend a fair amount of time in the gospels calling out religious hypocrisy. Just sayin’. Your move, Mrs. L. Jones. The wonderfully-titled Naughty, Naughty is missing and presumed lost.


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  1. James Knuttel

    In the novel “Tarzan of the Apes” by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Tarzan learns how to shave using his father’s knife. Hence the reason that he doesn’t have a beard in any of the Tarzan movies.

    1. Fritzi Kramer

      In all fairness to our indignant 1918 reader, films of this sort in general went out of their way to avoid having a bearded hero (I recall a reviewer praising The Sheik for its lack of beard on Valentino) and so I wonder if this was backlash to the luxuriant beards of the previous generation.

  2. Marie Roget

    Regarding the two-fingered movie typists that so annoyed M.E.J. of Camden: anyone who has ever typed on one of those old Underwoods, Smiths, or Uranias knows how difficult it would be to fake typing proficiently. My father owned an ancient Underwood- I learned to type on it as a child. Type clumsily and rapidly and the keys get stuck, you tangle the ribbon, basically the whole machine jams. I can still hear that carriage coming down with a loud bang when you let the shift key go too quickly after doing an upper case letter. Bang, bang, bang…Hoo Boy. Type quickly, carefully, and quietly, it will help build up your arm muscles, Pop used to laughingly tell us. Computers have to be so much easier to “movie fake” with their nice flat keyboards!

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