Saturday, July 28, 2012
Earlier this year, the modern-made silent comedy The Artist swept the Academy Awards, and rightfully garnered wide critical acclaim. As an amateur film buff, I loved the movie, but that’s for another review. The Artist, in part, deals with a young woman who makes her way to Hollywood and gradually makes it big. It’s a film for classic film lovers, and Hollywood historians will find much to love. However, The Artist was not the first silent film to address such themes.
Souls for Sale, from 1923, explores (to a limited extent) similar territory. Of course, there is a lot more at play in The Artist, but both films show a girl with a dream to make it big in Hollywood in the 1920s. In Souls for Sale, silent film star Eleanor Boardman plays that girl. I won’t go too much into the plot, but I will say that this film is a real treasure. It not only tells an entertaining story, but also serves as a valuable time capsule. The film shows the early studio system, and contains several great shots of 1920s Hollywood and Los Angeles. We also get the privilege of seeing several famous faces appear in cameo roles, including behind-the-scenes footage of Charlie Chaplin filming A Woman of Paris (a rare drama film from the famed comedian).
And while the film is just shy of ninety years old (!), the humor has held up remarkably well. Many silent comedies relied on slapstick, because audiences obviously couldn’t hear dialogue. However, Souls for Sale foregoes this and contains some very funny lines presented through the intertitles. An example of the film’s humor is a scene in which Boardman is upset because she realizes she has failed a comedic screen test miserably, and most likely will not see her dreams fulfilled. The director, not wanting her to be sad, realizes she might have a chance with dramas and exclaims, “I will make you a star if I have to break your heart and every bone in your body to do it!” At this, Boardman becomes joyful, hugging the director and thanking him profusely. Classic movie lovers will also catch a few digs at the then immensely popular Rudolph Valentino. The film possesses a sarcastic wit, and has no problem poking fun at Hollywood.
For decades Souls for Sale was thought to be among the many lost films of Hollywood’s early days, until prints resurfaced in several private collections. Thanks to Turner Classic Movies and the Warner Brother Archives, this rare film is now restored and available on DVD. Souls for Sale is one of the most obscure films I have in my collection, and I realize that an eighty-nine year old silent film won’t appeal to everyone. But, if you’re a history lover, or a film lover, there is a lot to appreciate in this forgotten tale.