A soldier comes home from deployment ready to marry his fiancée but then he discovers a horrible secret: she has taken to communicating solely in baby talk! A goofy pop culture satire from Mr. and Mrs. Sidney Drew.
Home Media Availability: Out of print
Dwate Bid Mankins All Dwowned in the Nassy Dreffle Lantywanty
Mr. and Mrs. Sidney Drew—née Lucille McVey—are among my favorite comedy screen teams of the silent era. They were co-stars, co-writers and sometimes co-directors of delightful domestic trifles that can be viewed as the building blocks of the sitcom. Unfortunately, most of their films have been lost, so any chance to see them in action must be pounced upon.
The Drews specialized in mocking then-current pop culture fads, the benign annoyances of marriage and the problems caused by their own May-December match. Usually, Lucille was entranced by the fashionable, to the bewilderment and horror of stodgy Sidney.
In Miss Sticky-Moufie-Kiss, he plays Wade Buchanan, a soldier who only dreams of returning home to his beloved fiancée. He is finally discharged and rushes to meet her but she has changed over the years and has taken up a lifestyle of sweetness. That includes flounces, sugar, perfume, fluffy animals in abundance—and baby talk. The last item is the problem. Wade wants to embrace his beloved but how can he do so when she calls him her Dwate Bid Mankins and tells him he’s going to stop being a nasty wasty Bachelor’s man after he marries her?
Wade’s horror grow during dinner when he realizes that this is not just a little afternoon lark. Her uncle smiles indulgently but Wade leaves early. (Miss Sticky asks him if her “Dwate Bid Fing feels tick.”) However, he doesn’t have the nerve to break the engagement, so they take the choochoo to their Atlywantic City honeymoon. Staring into the abyss of a lifetime of sweetness, Wade excuses himself and walks into the ocean.
Reader, I’m howling.
Those title cards! Much of the baby talk is classic (choochoo for train, dindin for dinner, etc.) but other turns of phrase are more distinct, so I humbly offer a brief glossary of Miss Sticky-Moufie-Kissisms from story and film:
Dwate Bid Mankins: Great Big Man
Lantywanty-tity: Atlantic City
Ongy-bossum Bidey: Orange Blossom Bride
Unfortunately, some of the stereotypes of the original short story, while toned down considerably, were included in the film adaptation. Most of this material is limited to the opening credits. This is obviously something that the viewer will want to be made aware of before watching the film so that they can make their own decision.
The picture was adapted from a short story by author and artist James Montgomery Flagg. He is probably most famous for painting the “I WANT YOU” Uncle Sam poster but prior to the U.S. entry into WWI, he was noted for writing and illustrating the adventures of spunky young women. He also did illustration work for other writers, often for magazines, and this is what inspired him to write Miss Sticky-Moufie-Kiss.
“I have had to illustrate stories like the following muscovado or saccharoid offering—and this is the impression they left on me.”
Flagg blamed women writers for such glurge but a quick skim of the magazine stories that he illustrated showed them to be a pretty coed affair. Heroines so sweet they could cause tooth decay were the fad in print and in films alike and everyone and their uncle was writing about them.
Silent movie heroines had their daredevils, scamps and vamps but there was definitely a trend to the syrupy at the time. Grown women were expected to scream with delight upon spotting squirrels, kiss baby socks and letters from their beloved and skip around like complete fools to illustrate their purity. Oh yes, I understand well where Mr. Flagg was coming from.
The question of baby talk was hotly debated at the time the story was written but it was more in relation to actual babies, whether or not using baby words would stunt their intellectual growth and speech development. However, multiple films of the era portrayed sexy baby talk spoken by adult women as flirtatious and not always in a mocking manner. In fact, both baby talk debates—good or bad for actual babies, okay or not from teenage girls and adult women—have regularly resurfaced in the decades since.
I have slightly mixed feelings about the grownup baby talk discourse, likely colored by my personal experiences. I hated adults trying to use it on me when I was a child and I find adults engaging in it now to be highly irritating. (Groucho Marx’s response in Horse Feathers slays me: “If icky girl keep on talking that way, big stwong man’s gonna kick all of her teef wight down her fwoat.”) So, obviously, the concept of Miss Sticky-Moufie-Kiss appealed to me enormously.
That being said, I do feel that the zany fads of women are often unfairly targeted for scorn, while those of men are given more of a pass. However, speaking as a woman, good heavens can some of them be annoying! So, yes, men grunting at the gym like they’re passing a kidney stone deserve to be scorned equally with, say, overdone vocal fry but that doesn’t make overdone vocal fry any less irritating to listen to. The childish pursuits of boys receive multi-billion-dollar cinematic universes but I also survived Titanic mania, so…
So, I guess what I am trying to say is that Miss Sticky-Moufie-Kiss as a story may not be entirely fair but it is still pretty accurate. And I feel that the fact that this was a Drew production makes it less unfair. You see, the Drews were engaged in a game of domestic comedy tennis with the pair of them taking turns being the goofball.
In Foxtrot Finesse, Lucille’s dancing obsession exhausts her older husband but his childish attempt to escape only ensures that he is trapped foxtrotting forever. In Diplomatic Henry, Sidney tries to score points by bashing Lucille’s domestic skills, so she conspires with his aunt to teach him a lesson. Honestly, the couple seemed to be having the time of their lives making these films.
Miss Sticky-Moufie-Kiss is darker and sharper than their usual fare but it still has had its rough edges sanded off, which works in this case. I am not sure that any other screen team could have pulled this off, other than Charley Chase and Martha Sleeper, who had a similar, affectionate chemistry.
The Drews’ delivery of their lines, obvious to lipreaders, is never less than sublime. The moment when Wade realizes what his fiancée has become and that he is stuck—horror washes over Sidney’s face. I am not sure how Lucille stopped herself from laughing as she addressed her Bid Tweet Mankins but she really sells her daffy character. The supporting cast all fawning over her “cute” ways adds to the joke as poor Wade is alone in his dislike of the Sticky-Moufie-Kiss lifestyle.
Flagg’s original story dropped the reader into the middle of the engagement. Miss Sticky is already engaged to Wade, who presumably found her charming for a time before her sweetness began to grate. The film provides an explanation for why the engagement happened: he was ambushed.
In addition, the title cards were slightly reworked so that the baby talk dialogue flows better and is decipherable immediately, rather than requiring a pause. Forcing the audience to pause and interpret was a cardinal sin with silent era intertitles. Jokes needed to be punchy, witty and fast.
And so, Lantywanty-tity became Atlywantic City and a few other minor tweaks that kept the original Flagg gags while making them flow smoothly for viewers of 1915. In other words, exactly what the film adaptation of a written work is supposed to do.
Title card writing was frequently a separate task from penning the film’s scenario and, unfortunately, we do not know for certain who wrote the cards. However, Motion Picture News published a small item about the purchase of Flagg’s story and it stated that Mrs. Sidney Drew was in charge of the picturization of the work. We can’t be certain if that included the cards, but it does allow us to give her credit for the adaptation.
Miss Sticky-Moufie Kiss is hilarious, one of the best surviving pictures of the Drew canon. And with internet slang keeping new varieties of baby talk alive and current, it’s safe to say that much of the humor (with obvious caveats) is just as funny today as it was in 1915. I would love to see this presented live with narration by professional actors.
Where can I see it?
Released on the defunct Unknown Video’s out-of-print Nickelodia 3. I would love to see a new high quality release of this picture because it deserves to be rediscovered.
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