100 Years Ago: 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 October 1918 issue and feature complaints about flowers, cars and misplaced priests. 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.

Ho! Boy — Bring a Level!

In “Come Through,” didn’t I spy a Level street in a Montana mining town? And did a Montana mining town ever have a level street?

Yes, Clara, it does in Hollywood.

“O. L.,” Seattle, Wash.

I have never been to a Montana mining town, are there any level streets? (This film is, alas, presumed lost.)

Constance Talmadge and Harrison Ford in A Pair of Silk Stockings.

A Heavy Car

In “Up the Road with Sally” an auto is driven swiftly down a grade towards a garage. Just in front of its destination the car stops so suddenly that everyone is beginning to wonder if someone has been run down. But no, the driver (in nightie and slippers) jumps out in the mud and rain and takes a look at his gasoline gauge, which shows “no gas” as the reason for the car being “stalled.” The driver bravely pushed the car to the garage. At the rate of speed the car was going it could easily have coasted ten feet more into the garage— but perhaps that wouldn’t have been to the director’s taste.

Same picture. Time, about nine o’clock in the morning!

Sallie (Constance Talmadge) drives to her aunt’s mansion, goes directly to the latter’s bedroom, where Sallie’s uncle had died late the day before, and as she enters the door registers surprise, and exclaims (as per sub-title), “Oh, Auntie, you have had your room all done over in pink.” Think of it. all done over in pink while auntie was snoozing. Besides being a record job on the part of the trimmers, wasn’t it somewhat callous of Auntie to begin alterations almost the minute hubby had departed “for regions unknown.”

A. P., New Bedford, Mass.

Constance Talmadge comedies were not what you could call realistic under the best of circumstances but it looks like we won’t have to take this letter writer’s word for it. A complete copy is held by UCLA, hurrah!

Maybe It was a Borrowed Church

I saw Wm. S. Hart in “Dakota Dan” the other night,  and I noticed Walt Whitman, who played the part of the parson, was dressed as a Catholic priest. Later on, there was shown a close-up of the church and, behold, the bulletin-board had written on it, “M. E. Church.” Get the idea?

H. C. P., San Antonio, Texas.

Dakota Dan was a re-release of a 1915 Hart film The Tools of Providence and Whitman’s character was credited as “Reverend Austin” which would be appropriate for the Methodist Episcopal Church but I have not seen his vestments.

Fairbanks sporting an even bigger hat in A Modern Musketeer.

This and That

Just recently I saw Douglas Fairbanks in “The Half-breed.” Very good show, indeed! But why, may I ask, did Doug wear a big thick fur cap when everything else indicated that it was midsummer? Also, Jewel Carmen enters the house, from a peaceful, sunny outdoors, and standing still a minute, her hair is wildly agitated as if a terrific gale were blowing!

“Puzzled,” Devon, Penna.

Good point about the fur hats, I certainly wouldn’t want to wear one in the summer. The Half-Breed is available on DVD and Bluray, though, so you can check out Doug’s headgear for yourself. Yay!

Century Plants, Perhaps

Recently I saw Earle Williams in “The Seal of Silence.” One of the men who admires the doctor’s assistant brings her a bouquet of flowers.

Three years elapse and the same bouquet remains in the same place.

Are they supposed to be real flowers or is it the style to bring artificial flowers to the girl?

I wonder what they put in the water to make flowers last three years.

M. L. L., St. Louis, Mo.

Good points, all. This picture is another one for the Missing and Presumed Lost list.

Light on Auto Lights

In “Mile-a-Minute Kendall,” featuring Jack Pickford and Louise Huff and produced by the Paramount, there was an “old time” automobile. It represented an old fashioned car excepted for the fact that it carried the latest model of the Ford side lamps. In the early days of the automobile no sidelights were carried and when side lamps first came into style they were not fitted with the latest style of “none glimmer” lens and were not so nicely shaped as they are now.

Seph Ward, Paris, Ontario.

Another lost film but I was tickled by this letter. There are always auto and gun geeks (I live in a rural area) ready to proclaim assorted details anachronistic and it’s fun to see that they existed back in 1918 as well.

Mary Pickford in Stella Maris.

In Mary Pickford ‘s “Stella Maris” the first time that she took a step she had on French-heeled slippers. When a person is an invalid do they put on high-heeled slippers as soon as they can walk?

Mrs. R. F. Lussier, Birmingham, Ala.

In the film, Mary Pickford plays an invalid who is able to walk again thanks to the miracle of modern surgery. I quite agree that heels would not be ideal but the rest of the film is splendid. You can read my review here and get a copy on DVD here.


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  1. Marie Roget

    Well, being both a car geek and a firearms geek, I can certainly relate to Seph Ward of Paris, Ontario! And especially nowadays there’s zero excuse for getting any car details wrong, particularly classic or older vehicle details. That’s what the internet is for, picture car coordinators! A relatively recent film is a personal favourite for getting multiple era (approx.1910-1940) movie vehicles exactly right: The Color Purple.

    1. Fritzi Kramer

      One big advantage of geek viewers is the way they help identify real period films. It’s amazing how often little techy details will reveal exact info about when a picture was made. 😀

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