100 Years Ago, These Were the Mistakes and Cliches That Annoyed Movie Fans

We’re back with more nit-picking and and witty put-downs from the pages of Photoplay. In November of 1918, these were the errors (real and perceived) that were annoying moviegoers.

How Short the Days Are Growing!

Recently I saw “Riders of the Night,” a photoplay starring Viola Dana. On the screen were flashed the words, “Midnight and the toll gate takes it toll,” then Miss Dana is seen coming out of the room where her grandfather died and behold, the time by a clock on the wall is twenty-five minutes after nine.

Willis Taylor, St. Paul, Minn.

Whoopsy! I suspect this might be a case of the title writer adding a detail that was not planned for in the original story. An incomplete version of the film survives in Amsterdam but I do not know how much. The director of the film, John H. Collins, succumbed to influenza in October of 1918.

Crossed Wires, Perhaps

I have just seen Goldwyn’s production of the “Fair Pretender” and, while the cast and acting was superb, a small and often misused detail caught my attention. The gentleman spy, Ramon, is shown receiving a Marconigram at sea and a close-up of the message reveals that the message is written on a sending blank! I have often seen similar mistakes in other productions and anyone at all familiar with telegrams or cables knows that the messages received are invariably written on receiving blanks. Don’t directors or property men ever receive telegrams?

C. R. L., Petersboro, Ont.

A Marconigram refers to a telegram sent by Marconi’s wireless system; you’ve probably heard of it as a radiotelegram. By the way, a complete print of this film survives in Valencia, Spain.

Something seems off in “The Forbidden City”

Aren’t You Glad It Wasn’t in German?

In “Hearts of the World,” the box from which “The Little Disturber” takes the hand grenades to attack the Germans, is marked very conspicuously in English: “HAND GRENADES!” and the box is owned by the Germans.

P. E. S., Washington, Pa.

Silent films could be all over the place when it came to dealing with foreign languages. The Forbidden City features its “Chinese” characters reading their correspondence upside down! Hearts of the World survives and is available on DVD.

The Housewives Want to Know

Dear Mister Why-Do-They:

The upward trend of the cinema is indeed marvelous. I refer particularly to the ease and speed with which directors see that the clothes of drenched and dripping players are dried out. Hardly is the half-drowned heroine lifted out of the water when — floo-o-o-op! Her clothes are just as dry as ever.

I am sure that the secret of this high-speed evaporation would be appreciated by housewives. Only yesterday my laundress said in mock severity: “Missis Fick, do you-all know how them movie people dry out their clothes so fast-like? Lawsy — I wish I

Come — directors — give us your secret. Think what a help it would be to us on rainy washdays !

Vivienne Fick, Evanston, Illinois.

Vivienne would probably be amused to know that 100 years on, we still have our share of quick drying heroes and heroines.

Dorothy Dalton baffled in “The Vagabond King” but at least she didn’t drop her apples. (This scene is portrayed as cute in the context of the film. Yeah…)

A Memo to Mr. Hoover

In “The Mating of Marcella,” with Dorothy Dalton, Marcella buys a bag of apples to take to her invalid father. The hero comes along in a swell limousine and nearly runs over her, causing her to drop her bag of apples. Hero and heroine drive off but leave the bag of apples on the pavement. Marcella arrives home and surprises her father with the same bag of apples.

Carl J. Peterson, San Antonio, Tex.

I am posting this one for the title alone because, goodness gracious, it’s the worst I have seen in a long time. It makes the heroine sound like a lab rat or a prize Pomeranian. The film is missing and presumed lost.

English As She Is Wrote

I’m sending you the program of a picture theatre out here — where they make ’em, and ought to know. I have, quite unnecessarily, called your attention to some of the best effusions of the theatre’s inspired publicist, and want your thanks for enlivening a dull day.

English as she is wrote: “‘Tangled Lives’ — an unusually strong story with a steady grip of suspense.”

“‘Jules of the Strong Heart’ — a story of the Great North Woods and virile manhood. The smell of the pines and the breath of love mingled into a plot that brings a lump to your throat one moment and leaves you convulsed with joy the next.” Truly an acrobatic performance!

Another picture is described as “the story of a great love surging with the mighty problems of today.”

“A Man’s Man” is “red-blooded, gripping, virile, adventurous, spectacular, and a sweet love story” in addition to being “The biggest picture of the year.”

But this one is the gem of the collection: “Alimony — the story of an unwanted wife. A picture the whole family can see with profit and remember with pleasure!”

These films may be all that is said of them; I don’t know. But if they are, why on earth did they put the movies in the “essential” class?

J.J. Craig, Los Angeles.

J.J. was probably a lot of fun at parties.

Milton Sills was probably the least-shaved star in Hollywood.


In “The Claw” we find Milton Sills being rescued from the African natives, and as the hero of the moment (Jack Holt) enters the cave where Mr. Sills has languished for months supposedly, we find, naturally enough, that the latter ‘s face is covered with a heavy growth of beard. Then follows a wild ride through the night on horseback, pursuing natives, etc., and lo! and behold! when home is reached and Mr. Sills dismounts from his horse, his face is as smooth and fresh looking as a two-year-old’s. Now it may be possible but not probable that there was a barber shop along the way — or yet again, arming himself against the inconveniences of South Africa, maybe Mr. Sills carried his own safety razor with him. Who knows?

Ruthe A. Newcomb, San Francisco, Cal.

These days, instant shaving has been replaced by perma-stubble. I am more than ready to see it leave as I honestly have trouble telling all the mumbling, unshaven modern action stars apart. This film is missing and presumed lost.


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  1. Shari Polikoff

    I think we’re supposed to assume that the Hand Grenades box is labeled in German and the characters are seeing it in German. Just the way we should assume that foreign characters addressing each other in their own language would be speaking it fluently and not with the broken accents that we find in the titles or sound dialogue. (I just waded through Lon Chaney’s French Canadian ‘accent’ in ‘The Trap.’)

    1. Fritzi Kramer

      Well, this is the movie in which Lillian Gish’s “French peasant” traipses around in silk stockings so I think we can safely assume that Griffith was busy salivating over the idea of yet another attempted rape scene instead of worrying about any accuracy. I like it when silent movies show the box or letter or what have you in the original language and then dissolve to English. It’s a nice touch.

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