Tuesday, February 25, 2014

HOORAY FOR HOLLYWOOD: SOULS FOR SALE (1923)

2014 is the year A Person in the Dark celebrates films about my favorite place - Hollywood!


SOULS FOR SALE


By 1923, Hollywood had already established itself as the capitol of glamour, dreams, scandal and sin. William Desmond Taylor had been murdered and the Arbuckle scandal cast a great shadow over the film industry. Still, the young and beautiful continued to make their way west, hoping for fame and glory. 

Innocent Mem and her odious husband

Souls for Sale is a fun/melodramatic/romantic entertainment that both makes fun of and glorifies our favorite town west of the Mississippi. The film opens by showing young and innocent Remember Steddon (great name, no?) on a train with her brand new husband, Owen Scudder. She is a small town girl whose preacher father spent a great deal of time railing against the evils of Hollywood. Mem (as she will be known) is having serious buyer’s remorse. As the train chugs west towards a boat that will carry her and new hubby to China, she suddenly gets the feeling all is not well. Since hubby is played by that professional cad, Lew Cody, who can blame her? Rather than spend the night with her mustachioed Lothario, Mem jumps off the train and lands in the desert. 

Is it a sheik? No - it's only a movie star

Parched and near delirious from the heat, she sees a vision in the distance: a sheik! On a camel! He jumps off his mount and rushes to rescue our heroine Is he a mirage? No – he’s only an actor! “The usual sheik led the usual captive across the usual desert.” This sly Valentino jab is one of the first of many taken at Hollywood. A wonderful movie stock company nurses her back to health and, before you know it, both the leading man and the director are in love with Mem. 
The leading lady is star struck by her director

Mem resists working in films, but our runaway bride has to earn a living, so she swallows her pride and takes work as an movie extra. This is where the film really gets fun. Mem works as an extra in Chaplin’s "A Woman of Paris," (Chaplin is seen furiously directing) and watches Erich  Von Stroheim guide Jean Hersholt though a scene in "Greed." She also bumps into Zasu Pitts, Chester Conklin, Barbara Bedford and Elliot Dexter at the commissary. Mem’s lovesick director and leading man both propel her before the camera and, shades of "42nd Street,", when a huge overhead light falls on leading lady Robina Teele, Mem gets her big chance to star in a drama of the big top. 

Mem is an extra in Chaplin's "A Woman of Paris"

Meanwhile, we learn that Mem’s husband, the loathsome Scudder, is actually a murderer who marries women and then kills them for the insurance. While Mem is making a name for herself on the screen, Scudder lands in Egypt and is engaged in swindling an English lady and her father. In a very funny turn of events, it turns out the lady is a bit of a Lady Eve and swindles the swindler. Down on his luck, he returns to Hollywood to collect his “wife.” It seems even he is susceptible to the charms of Hollywood. Instead of wanting to murder her, he now wants to love her. Meanwhile, Mem has kept the secret of her marriage from everyone, including her true love, director Frank Claymore, fearing a scandal that could ruin her. 

It all goes up in flames, literally, in the exciting climax. The circus set is engulfed in flames and the bad faux husband, who confesses that he and Mem really weren't married, dies in a wind machine in a gallant effort to save her. The cameras have kept grinding through the storm and fire and the director gets his film and his girl. 

The glorious Barbara La Marr

While not a classic film, this sure is a fun one. Check out this cast: Eleanor Boardman in a star-making role as Memory Steddon, the manly Richard Dix as director Claymore, Aileen Pringle as the larcenous English lady, Mae Busch as the ill-fated star, Robina Teele, and the ultra-glamorous Babara La Marr as Leva Lamaire, the cinema vamp with a heart of gold. Leva can not give her heart to anyone since she witnessed her love, a daredevil stunt pilot, die on a film set in a horrific crash (real life aviator Ormer Locklear died the same way). In fact, my only real complaint about the film is that there is not enough Barbara La Marr. Boy - was she terrific. Known as "The Girl Who Was Too Beautiful," I need to see more of La Marr's work! Oh, and you know the minute I saw that her name was Leva Lamaire I thought of my girl, Lina Lamont!;) Oh, and William Haines has a small but showy part. You can see the man had star power.

"Souls For Sale" was written and directed by Rupert Hughes, whose nephew Howard, made a trip to Hollywood to visit and decided he liked the town just fine. Believed lost, copies of the film were discovered in the 1980s and 1990s. A beautifully restored and scored version is available from TCM and Warner Brothers Archives.

Mem's husband's lament and proof that she is a bona fide movie star!



18 comments:

Kelly Wittmann said...

This sounds like great campy fun. Thanks for the post.

Elizabeth Boyde said...

How fun! Need to check this one out.

I love that Art Deco pic with Ms. LaMarr.

And the new Blogger background is great. :)

Elizabeth Boyde said...

In the pic with Barbara La Marr -- is she sitting down, or is she supposed to be a ghost? Looks like she disappears into the stairway.

said...

Nobody deserves to be named "Remember"...
I was browsing through Movies, Silently and realized I haven't watch a silent film in a couple of weeks. I think I'm having an abstinence crisis! Thanks for the tip, I will look for this film.
Kisses!

The Lady Eve said...

I don't watch a ton of silents, but his one sounds like a lot of fun (not to mention an opportunity to see so many famous faces back in the day).

By the way, I like your blog's newest new look mucho.

Patti said...

How awesome that a film believed lost was found. I wish that would happen more often.

Yes, Remember is quite the name. But you know what, I've been working on an ancestry project, and while I have my share of Anna's and Elizabeth's in my line, I also have a Bertha, a Beryl, and a Patience. And I see a lot of those names on 1800's and early 1900's census records. Names that we think hideous now were all the rage back then. While I haven't discovered a Remember in my lineage, I'm willing to bet it was a fairly common name to that generation.

By the way, your year of Hollywood sounds exciting. I'm looking forward to the posts.

Have a great weekend,
Patti

Silver Screenings said...

I'm loving this new look on your site! Two thumbs up!

Great post! I've never seen or heard of this movie, but it sounds like an absolute must-see. And the way you've reviewed it is so much fun. I loved it.

Christian Esquevin said...

FlickChick I love that photo of Barbara LaMarr. Louis B. Mayer thought she was so beautiful that he named Hedy Lamarr after her.Very interesting post.

ClassicBecky said...

I too thought of Lina when I saw LaMarr's name. This looks like a picture I have to see. I have always been a big Richard Dix fan. Those bedroom eyes ...

FlickChick said...

Kelly - it was fun above all.

FlickChick said...

Elizabeth - thanks for the comment on the new look! And La Marr is standing on the steps, but her train blends perfectly with the carpet on the stair. Arresting, isn't it?

FlickChick said...

Le - this one is great fun and really does zip along.

FlickChick said...

Lady Eve - thank you for liking the new look - it's still a bit of a work in progress. As for the film - the cameos really seal the deal here - that and Barbara la Marr.

FlickChick said...

Patti - it is awesome that this "lost" film was found! The scene with Chaplin is worth a ton and it is nicely restored.

FlickChick said...

Silver Screenings - thanks for the thumbs up!

FlickChick said...

Christian - I am starting to get all over La Marr - a new obsession is being born!

FlickChick said...

Becky - Richard Dix was a favorite of my mom's when she was young - he was a manly man, wasn't he??

Inge Gregusch said...

Great post of a fascinating film. Also love the new look of "A Person in the Dark".