Married minor diplomat, the pasty-faced John Schuyler (Edward Jose), is the titular Fool of A Fool There Was (1915), falls in love with a vamp (Theda Bera) who couldn't care any less about him. His femme fatale is introduced tearing the petals off flowers he had given her, like a child ripping the wings off a fly.
She's actually called "a woman of the vampire species" rather than a Vamp per se. Nevertheless, it was due to this film that the word Vamp arose, & Theda Bera was the world's first to be so-labeled.
This usage of "vampire" was taken from Rudyard Kipling's 1897 poem "The Vampire," a jolly jingle about a man ruined by a woman, quoted in the silent film's intercards. But the film was actually based on a stage play by Porter Emerson Browne, who was in turn inspired by the painting "The Vampire" (1897) by Philip Burne-Jones, depicting a beautiful woman hovering over a man in his bed, apparently dead.
In a sequence that isn't supposed to be funny but kind of is, the philanderer's sister-in-law (May Allison) falls out of a car while standing up in the back seat & is carried into the house to recover.
Her sister Kate (Mabel Frenyear) decides to remain home to care for the only slightly injured young woman, so her husband, the Fool, has to go on his business trip to London without Kate, though they'd originally meant to go together.
On his own during the voyage to England, he falls for the above-mentioned vamp, who sets out specifically to ruin the fellow because his wife had once been rude to her.
Likely to have been a predictable morality tale even in 1915, there are no surprises in the plot. The Fool has sinned against the greatness of the sacredness of his duties as a father & husband, so he'll pay.
Abandoning his wife & child, he descends into the gutter & dies there as inevitably as any other great sinner. There's no irony, complexity, or redemption, there's just a warning to men not to be tempted by heavily made-up tarts with fancy clothes.
The mimed story is sometimes confusing & the melodramatically treated domestic situations not particularly interesting. A Fool There Was skyrocketed Theda out of obscurity, though nothing about the film quite conveys why it would've been so popular.
It's unfortunate so few of Theda's films survive, as she was a huge star in her day, yet little that we can see today conveys why she would be so successful.
Though she at least has more character in this tepid tale than anyone else on the screen, that character is not so much Vamp as she is dumpy money-grubbing prostitute, & that alone must've been shocking for film goers in 1915.
The commercial success of the Theda Bara film was early enough in the silent era that it could be remade before the silent era ended.
It was again titled A Fool There Was (1922) after the 1909 play. The remake had nowhere near the same boxoffice success.
Directed by Emmett J. Flynn, it starred Estelle Taylor (shown in the photo at left, & in the same pose on the poster at right) as the vamp Gilda. Even in this toned down version, Gilda is still dooming men to dissolution & suicide.
I've not been able to find that this version exists for viewing, or exists at all; but from stills it appears to have been comparatively lavish, & Taylor (who married heavyweight boxing champ Jack Dempsey) was certainly beautiful.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl