These Were the Mistakes, Cliches and Irritations That Annoyed Moviegoers 100 Years Ago

Photoplay would regularly publish a roundup of reader complaints about movies in release and here is a selection from August of 1920.

The best thing about reading these complaints is seeing that silent era audiences were smart, astute and they were annoyed by many of the same things that bother us today. They liked good continuity, attention to detail and enough realism not to take them out of the picture. And product placement… ooo, they did not like that one little bit!

Roast Chicken for Theda

In “Kathleen Mavourneen.” with Theda Bara, some strange things occurred. For instance, in one scene, Kathleen (Theda) sits before a great open fire, and just as she is falling asleep, one of the chickens, wandering about the room, walks directly into the fire and does not come out.

G. M. 0., Auburn, New York.

Like almost all of Bara’s Fox output, this film is missing and presumed lost. I was extremely amused to see that Bara’s leading man was Raymond McKee, who had credibly played a young teen just two years before. The chicken-in-the-fire was likely the result of the “fireplace” being nothing more than an alcove with some kind of light source inside. Nosy chicken!

Screen Advertising

Several well-known national products are given a lot of advertising in Cecil DeMille’s “Why Change Your Wife?” Thomas Meighan is shown holding a razor which is unmistakably a Gillette; two — no, three magazines are displayed to advantage, but the worst comes when Thomas, after talking to Gloria Swanson, walks over and selects a record of a popular song, “Hindustan.” with the record maker’s name (Victor) very plainly seen, number 18507 A. But — when in another sequence of the story he visits Bebe Daniels after the theater and she picks up a record, it’s the same “Hindustan, number 18507 A.” Maybe Thomas sneaked it there under his coat. But why must pictures become a medium for advertising certain products?

R. H., Chicago

DeMille did indeed incorporate a lot of product placement into his films at this time. Everything stated about Why Change Your Wife? is true (still a good movie, though, here’s my review) and the Victor number for Hindustan is indeed 18507. And, obviously, product placement has been here ever since.

Not the Cameraman, Anyway

In Earle Williams’s picture “The Wolf, a sub-title says something like this: “When the wolf howls …. someone must die. Then a flash is shown of a howling wolf. It was all right except that anyone with sharp eyes could see a chain leading toward a convenient tree from the wolf s neck. What do they mean “someone must die?”

N. Hoyt. Angel Island, Cal.

Alas, we may never know as the film is presumed lost.

Dear Little Lasca!

In “Lasca.” Edith Roberts in the title role stabs the hero in the back. A few minutes later, full of remorse, she gently bandages his arm.

L. H., Rochester, N. Y.

That was awfully nice of her, though I would have used “The Little Lascal” as the heading for this one. The film survives, by the way.

Silly — They Didn’t Want to Be Seen!

Can you tell me why Frank Mayo, riding a motorcycle to intercept the crook in “The Peddler of Lies” has no headlight burning? Neither have the crooks when they escape in cars.

Operator, Yoakum, Texas.

Another lost film. A pity.


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  1. Shari Polikoff

    I don’t get that about the Victor records. Surely the number on the RCA label would be the same on every copy of ‘Hindustan,’ not a different number for each record manufactured. So there could be two different records in those scenes, not one carried from one location to another.

    1. Movies Silently

      I think his point was that it was a specific recording of a specific song (pop music at the time often had many recordings by different artists in simultaneous wide release) when there were dozens more to choose from and in both cases the label and number of the record were clearly visible so that the audience could be sure to note it for later purchase.

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