DENNIS SCHWARTZ Movie Reviews

A FOOL THERE WAS (director: Frank Powell; screenwriters: Porter Emerson Browne/from the Rudyard Kipling poem The Vampire; cinematographer: Roy L. McCardell;  cast: Theda Bara (The Vampire), Edward Jose (John Schuyler, The Husband), Runa Hodges (The Child), Mabel Frenyear (Kate, The Wife), May Allison (The Wife's Sister), Clifford Bruce (The Friend), Victor Benoit (One of Her Victims), Frank Powell (The Doctor), Minna Gale (The Doctor's Fiancee); Runtime: 67; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Frank Powell; Alpha Home Entertainment; 1915-silent)

"The old fashioned drama is creaky and if judged just in modern terms, it doesn't pass the giggle test."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Frank Powell ("The Forfeit"/"You Never Know Your Luck"/"The Unbroken Promise") directs this overwrought moralist drama inspired by the Rudyard Kipling poem The Vampire and based on the Broadway play from 1909. It was adapted to the screen by Porter Emerson Browne. It stars the unknown Jewish actress from Cincinnati Theodosia Goodman, who took the stage name Theda Bara--an anagram supposedly for Arab death, as spread by her publicist, and became known as Hollywood's first sex goddess.

The film was popular during its day, as there's no accounting for the public's taste then and now. The old fashioned drama is creaky and if judged just in modern terms, it doesn't pass the giggle test.

Wealthy Larchmont, NY, lawyer, John Schuyler (Edward Jose), upon the president's request serves as his special envoy in England to settle a diplomatic dispute, but his wife Kate (Mabel Frenyear) informs him she cannot sail with him and leave for a month her ailing sister (May Allison) alone and she also keeps behind their young daughter (Runa Hodges). On the ship the family man lawyer is seduced by a sociopath known as the Vampire (Theda Bara), and ends up her sex slave in Italy two months later. Schuyler is spotted by his hometown doctor (Frank Powell, director) in a hotel in Italy, and when a gossip columnist blabs, he returns home a crushed man with much of his wealth stolen and the life sucked out of him by the Vampire. The once brilliant lawyer is now on an uncontrollable downward spiral, self-destructing without a means of halting his decline and his wife has him over a barrel. In the last scene, Bara vindictively crumbles rose petals over the body of her vic, and confidentially goes on to meet the next man vic.

The fool in the title is supposedly the husband, but a case could be made that it's the wife. The rigid Victorian wife maybe couldn't keep hubby happy at home and when he met a modern-day exotic looking liberated woman couldn't resist some hanky-panky. No matter, this relic left me feeling cold. 

For those interested in the Kipling poem The Vampire:

A fool there was and he made his prayer
(Even as you and I!)
To a rag and a bone and a hank of hair
(We called her the woman who did not care),
But the fool he called her his lady fair
(Even as you and I!)

Oh the years we waste and the tears we waste
And the work of our head and hand,
Belong to the woman who did not know
(And now we know that she never could know)
And did not understand.

A fool there was and his goods he spent
(Even as you and I!)
Honor and faith and a sure intent
But a fool must follow his natural bent
(And it wasn’t the least what the lady meant),
(Even as you and I!)

Oh the toil we lost and the spoil we lost
And the excellent things we planned,
Belong to the woman who didn’t know why
(And now we know she never knew why)
And did not understand.

The fool we stripped to his foolish hide
(Even as you and I!)
Which she might have seen when she threw him aside—
(But it isn’t on record the lady tried)
So some of him lived but the most of him died—
(Even as you and I!)

And it isn’t the shame and it isn’t the blame
That stings like a white hot brand.

It’s coming to know that she never knew why
(Seeing at last she could never know why)
And never could understand.

REVIEWED ON 6/14/2014       GRADE: C+

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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