Monday, June 26, 2017

FILMBAY 2000 Greatest Films of All-Time (1888-2014) by Year # 0121 - FOOL THERE WAS, A (Frank Powell, 1915, USA, 67m, BW)


FOOL THERE WAS, A (Frank Powell, 1915, USA, 67m, BW)


FOOL THERE WAS, A (Frank Powell, 1915, USA, 67m, BW)

Directed by Frank Powell
Produced by William Fox
Written by Roy L. McCardell (scenario)
Frank Powell (adaptation)
Based on A Fool There Was
by Porter Emerson Browne
Starring Theda Bara
Edward José
Cinematography George Schneiderman
Distributed by Box Office Attractions Company
Fox Film Corporation (1918 re-release)
Release date
January 12, 1915
June 1918 (5-reels version)
Running time
67 minutes (1915 release)
Country United States
Language Silent film
English intertitles

A Fool There Was (1915) is an American silent film drama, produced by William Fox, and starring Theda Bara. The film was long considered controversial for such risqué intertitle cards as "Kiss me, my fool!" The film is one of the few movies with Theda Bara that still exist today. It popularised the term "vamp" (short for vampire), referring to a femme fatale who causes the moral loss of those she seduced, and about how a vampire fascinates then exhausts its victims.


John Schuyler (Edward José), a rich Wall Street lawyer and diplomat, is a husband and a devoted family man. He is sent to England on a diplomatic mission without his wife and daughter. On the ship he meets the "Vampire woman" (Theda Bara) who uses her charms to seduce men and leave after ruining their lives. Completely under the influence of this woman, he loses his job and abandons his family. All attempts by his family to get him back on the right path fail. And the life of the "fool" degrades more.


The producers were keen to pay tribute to their literary source, having a real actor read the full poem to the audience before each initial showing, and presenting passages of the poem throughout the film in intertitles. Bara's official credit is even "The Vampire", and for this reason the film is sometimes cited as the first "vampire" movie. However, in the film as in Kipling's poem, the term is used metaphorically as the character is not literally a vampire.

The film was also a watershed in early film publicity. At a press conference in January, the studio gave an elaborate fictional biography of Theda Bara, making her an exotic Arabian actress, and presented her in a flamboyant fur outfit. Then they made an intentional leak to the press that the whole thing was a hoax. This may have been one of Hollywood's first publicity stunts.

The film marked the first on-screen appearance of the popular World War I-era film actress May Allison. Although part of the film takes place in the United Kingdom, the film was not passed by the British Board of Film Censors under its policy of not passing films with illicit romantic relationships. Although A Fool There Was never received a public showing in Great Britain, later Theda Bara films were allowed.

Though the film contains scenes set in England and Italy, the entire movie was filmed in St. Augustine, Florida. This is one of the few Theda Bara films in existence. The others are: The Unchastened Woman (1925), The Stain (1914), East Lynne (1916), and two short comedies she made for Hal Roach in the mid-1920s. This film showcases Bara's status as the original screen "vamp" (so named for her portrayal of a female vampire).


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 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.

There is no denying that audiences at the time found Theda Bara exciting, and she shot to fame almost overnight when this film was released. The reviewer in the “New York Daily Mirror” expressed considerable enthusiasm for the movie, and was especially pleased that the producers had not tacked a happy ending on to it (people were already bothered by that 100 years ago). I’ve also seen a good deal of discussion in “Moving Picture World” of the harmful moral effect that the popularity of “Vampire” films had on the industry as a whole, although no one ever called out this picture as a bad example.

Bara’s career, as important as it was at the time, remains something of a mystery to us today, because almost all of her other major films are lost, while what we have a great deal of studio hype, much of which was blatantly phony. Fritzi Kramer, at Movies Silently, discussed this recently, in connection with a recipe Bara ostensibly devised. She did wind up typecast as the “Vampire,” of course, and in reality was apparently a fairly shy, demure woman. Later stills from her turn as “Cleopatra” show that as the Teens continued, she at least got out of those heavy shapeless dresses.

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 he couldn't resist.


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