100 Years Ago, These Were the Mistake, Cliches and Tropes That Annoyed Filmgoers

We’re back with another selection of kvetches from Photoplay Magazine’s monthly “Why Do They Do It?” column. The idea was for readers to write in with their complaints about the then-latest releases and they were a sharp lot indeed.

As always, my comments will be in italics and I will let you know if any of these films are available to modern viewers.

Norma Needs Glasses

In “The Heart of Wetona,” while stealing through the woods to the home of her lover. Norma Talmadge often turns around to see if she is being followed. Her father is following right behind her and is perfectly visible to the audience even if Norma did look right at him several times without seeing him.
-M. J. Lakey, New Rochelle. N. Y.

M.J. is absolutely correct. I tore Heart of Wetona apart some time ago and was greatly amused by its general sloppiness. It’s nice to see that its problems were just as visible to audiences of 1919.

Maybe She Practiced in the Bath Tub.

In “A Perfect 36” Mabel Normand is a paperhanger’s daughter working in her aunt’s boarding-house. Although she apparently had never left her own city, while at a country resort she performs some fine water stunts which must have taken considerable practice. Is it likely that a girl who has lived in poverty would have much chance to learn swimming tricks?
Theo. J. Cutting, Philadelphia.

Sadly, we will likely never know how Mabel learned her swimming tricks as the film is missing and presumed lost.


Andrien Wolcott (Irving Cummings) certainly lived up to his title of “The American Genius” in Fox’s “The Woman Who Gave” for he painted Colette’s (Evelyn Nesbit) profile while she posed full face.
George R. Ifant, Alliance, Ohio.

And yes, that is THE Evelyn Nesbit of “girl on the red velvet swing” infamy. The film is lost, more’s the pity, because Nesbit’s life and career deserve reassessment.

A Detroit Combine!

In “The Lure of the Circus.” Eddie’s father, walking along a country road, is struck by the villain’s car — a Chandler. The closeup shows him underneath a Packard, and later, during the getaway, the auto is a Cadillac.
Casimir Labunski. North Detroit. Mich.

Let me start by saying Casimir Labunski is an amazing and wonderful name. I know absolutely nothing about vintage cars but I’ll bet some gearheads would be interested in this shapeshifting vehicle. I don’t know if this footage is contained in the Grapevine release but let me know if you see it.

Small Town Drudgery

I’d hate to be a lumber company cashier in the town where Mae Marsh in “The Bondage of Barbara” worked as such. Imagine — she was eating breakfast at “dawn” the subtitle said, and spent barely five minutes after that before rushing away to the office.
A. B. M.. Chicago.

I think we can safely say that the silent era took alliterative titles too far. Alas, this is another picture (like much of Marsh’s Goldwyn output) that is missing and presumed lost.

They Don’t Have That Kind in Our Town

The taxi-driver who took the singer home in “The Cabaret Girl” accepted tip nor fare neither on starting his trip or upon ending it. And gasoline so expensive too!
-R. J. T., Montreal, Canada

This reminds me of how all drinks in movies cost exactly as much cash as the hero fishes out of his pocket and slams on the bar. Funny economy in movieland. The film survives in the EYE Institute’s holdings, so that’s good news.

A Healthful Basement

Geraldine Farrar in “The Hell Cat” has a scrap with a cow puncher and gels her face clawed up. She has a large scar on her chin when the cow puncher puts her down a cellar when the sheriff calls. The sheriff’s call is very brief, say five minutes. Geraldine is then let out of the cellar and the scar is gone. Some health resort this cellar.
-Sam Browne. Los Angeles.

Disappearing scars are yet another benefit to living in movieland. I understand that Farrar was game for anything and quite popular with the stuntmen because, despite being a real opera diva, she wasn’t a real diva at all. Sadly, this picture also lost.


  1. detour1945

    “This reminds me of how all drinks in movies cost exactly as much cash as the hero fishes out of his pocket and slams on the bar. Funny economy in movieland.”

    I always assumed that the hero was tipping the bartender/wait staff. If he/she slaps down a $5 bill, then drink was $4.99 or less!

    Great topic!

  2. Paddy Lee

    Those errors do seem rather glaring and they do make me chuckle.

    Once at the movies with a pal when we were kids, she commented that you could tell it was a movie because of the rear projection. I responded that you could tell it was a movie from the sticky floor under our feet.

    – Caftan Woman

  3. Marie Roget

    Casimir Labunski, I’m in love with your name (plus, your being a fellow vehicle nerd). That set of car mismatches would have driven me nuts, too. We just had a car show here and there was this 1924 cream-colored Packard everyone was drooling over. What a honey……but I digress.

    Mr. Labunski, I salute your eagle eye- see you in the next life.

    Never seen The Lure of the Circus, but now I’d sure like to!

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