Singed Bottoms, Curly Fonts and Tarzan on a Horse: These Are the Mistakes and Cliches That Annoyed Audiences 100 Years Ago

Photoplay had a regular segment dedicated to readers discovering and sharing errors and cliches in popular films. We modern viewers have nothing on these sharp-eyed viewers from March of 1919!

Remembah! Tarzan was a Superman

In “The Romance of Tarzan,” when Tarzan came to California, he road in a saddle as nicely and as comfy as though he had received years of equestrian training.

Gayton McCorkle, Havenford, Pa.

The Romance of Tarzan was the direct sequel to Tarzan of the Apes but it seems to be missing and presumed lost. I reviewed the original Tarzan picture here.


In Ethel Clayton’s new film, “The Mystery Woman,” after her leading man was wounded, he was told that he could return to the front again in three days if he would give up smoking. He immediately put his lighted pipe in his back pocket. Ouch!

Fred W. Sidley, Denver, Colo.

Ouch! indeed.

Not Scared Out of His Boots

In “Hell Bent,” Harry Carey forces his “pard” to get out of bed and to jump out the window. When he lands he is wearing his boots. Do cowboys, then, wear their boots to bed? Later in the same picture, Harry is supposed to be buried completely by a sandstorm, but a close-up after it passes shows plainly the footprints approaching the spot.

Eddy Arken, Ennis, Tex.

Hell Bent was directed by that amateur westerner (checks notes) John Ford. A Czech language copy survives in the George Eastman House.

Russian Technique!

In “The Changing Woman,” starring Hedda Nova, Hedda is perched up on a table in a hotel dining room playing a guitar but instead of playing where it should be played, she plays it way up where the frets are and she uses no fingering and a ukulele stroke instead of picking it.

Foxey, Syracuse, N. Y.

Hedda Nova was born in Odessa and made a string of films in the 1910s and 1920s. I have not seen any of them and The Changing Woman is missing and presumed lost.

Gloria Swanson ukes mournfully in “Don’t Change Your Husband”

Art Is Often Simplicity

They say photoplay directors should be students of pretty nearly everything in order that their pictures shall be, at least technically, correct. Doesn’t, or shouldn’t, this category of texts include typography?

Some of the most interesting and smooth-running of pictures are made almost incoherent by delirious subtitle artists whose notion of lily-painting an otherwise perfect production is in dolling up the y’s and t’s and g’s with tails, horns, spirals, typhoons and other befuddling whatnot.

In reading one certain subtitle in Hart’s “Branding Broadway.” I devoted all of the brief instant of its presence on the screen toward trying to figure out what a “cat,” mentioned in the second or third line, had to do with a most important situation; then to discover, at the last flicker, by unraveling the curley-cues of the “n” that the word was “can.” Decorate the subtitles all you want with sunsets, midnight moons, skulls-on-the-desert, yosemites and such — but please make the reading matter legible.

Will Montague, Nutley, N. J.

Many a graphic design teacher would probably agree with this. I have to say, though, I am a fan of the fancy-pants title cards myself. MoMA has a copy of Branding Broadway.

This card in The Whispering Chorus would probably drive the letter writer mad.

He Would Make a Fine Smuggler

Wallace Reid certainly gets better every day, in fact in “Too Many Millions” he not only excels all of his past performances but has somthing on most bridegrooms we have seen. He loses his millions, his car, spends his “change” for supper and then in the dead of night his clothes are destroyed by fire. Without preparation and clad only in patch-work quilts, he and the heroine are married at once. Question: Where did “Wally” hide the new wedding-ring the bride looks at so lovingly at the close of the ceremony?

William Gordon , Oklahoma City. Okla.

Oh my! And, alas, presumed lost.

We Can’t Answer

In the 12th episode of the “House of Hate.” the Hooded Terror is shot. He was home and in bed when one of his gang came and told him the police were after him. He got out of a window and climbed the water-spout to the top of the building. Why is it that no matter how badly hurt a person is they can always get away?

M. L. P., Minneapolis, Minn.

Because the story would be over in ten seconds otherwise, that’s why! The Serial Squadron has made surviving chapters of this Pearl White serial available on their YouTube channel.

So there we have it! Vintage kvetching and ain’t it fun?


  1. Steve Phillips

    I always enjoy reading these complaints!

    Speaking of escapes, it seems that water spouts (what we’d call downspouts today) were built to a remarkably strong standard 100 years ago…

    Note that MLP doesn’t question the feasibility of using a water spout as a ladder, only the plausibility of doing so after taking a bullet!

  2. Marie Roget

    I love these Why-Do-They Do-It posts too! Re: being shot and climbing up the water spout- I’m binge watching a recent tv series and got to an ep where the hero has been beaten by thugs so badly he’s in the hospital bloody and wheezing (cracked ribs…?). Next ep, a slight passage of time, and voila, he’s walking, running even, just fine with a small bandage on his head. The Hooded Terror has nothing on this guy (plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose)!

    Also got a kick out of Hell Bent’s “cowboys wear their boots to bed?” complaint. The visual that conjures up is pretty hilarious, as is The Mystery Woman’s male lead sticking a hot pipe in his back pocket. Someone should have thought to hire Photoplay’s eagle-eyed audience members to do on-set continuity 😉

    1. Fritzi Kramer

      Yes indeed! They certainly have a firm grasp on these matters.

      I shouldn’t laugh at injuries but modern heroes do go overboard so often. Mortals with punctured lungs proclaiming “‘Tis but a scratch!” and returning to the fray. I wonder what Photoplay readers would have made of that!

  3. Steve Phillips

    Yes, that must help!
    I’ve had a fondness for waterspout escapes ever since I first read P.G.Wodehouse. Many a time did Bertie Wooster use one in the wee hours to escape unpleasantness at some country house, just in time to catch a milk train to London. (Please excuse the digression)

  4. Shari Polikoff

    Fancy typography in film titles doesn’t bother me, but if I make it to that celestial film festival in Heaven, I’d like to meet Will Montague and try to match wits with his delightful sarcasm!
    Isn’t it great that our love of classic films can unite us, in a way, with people who lived generations ago?

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