Erotic Intertitle of the Week: Fool Frontal

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Even though Theda Bara was a vamp rather than a vampire proper, a picture of her still adorns Denis Gifford’s Pictorial History of Horror Movies, which meant I had to watch it. And indeed I’d always wanted to, lured by that famous pic of a wispily-robed Theda looming over a prone skeleton. As a child, that was probably my prime image of sex. Gifford’s line that silent movie vamps “sucked their men dry, but not of blood,” got my unformed mind working overtime, like a Victorian urchin up a dirty chimney. What did he mean? Had Theda Bara just sucked that man literally bone dry, so that all that remained was his calcium underpinnings? She must be the best vampire ever!

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Her most famous movie (one of relatively few Bara vehicles to survive) isn’t the best movie ever, though, and of course she’s just a cold-hearted vixen who ruins men financially and emotionally and then moves on to her next conquest. Did I say “just”? Anyhow, the kohl-smeared seductress looks quite fetching in some shots and downright burly in others, suggesting that she needed a Pabst or Sternberg to style her photographically so she always looked her best. All too often the Theda Bara veneer crumbles away and we’re in no doubt that we ‘re looking at Theodosia Burr Goodman, a nice Jewish girl from Ohio, rather than the anagrammatic incarnation of Arab Death.

The plot is your basic seduction = ruination yarn, with the pleasing twist that the vamp gets away with it. Kipling’s titular poem barks at as from the intertitles, but there’s little doubt we’re meant to relish the depravity, such as it is.

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Languid languishing between bouts of anguishing.

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7 Responses to “Erotic Intertitle of the Week: Fool Frontal”

  1. david wingrove Says:

    Have you actually seen this movie? Didn’t know it was possible to still do so. I’ve always longed to see a Theda Bara film, even though one rather unkind critic (can’t remember who) remarked that she was “hayseed America’s notion of an exotic femme fatale’. Ouch!

  2. S.J. Perelman wrote the best piece on Bara. I can’t recall the title at the moment, but it’s a deconstruction avant la lettre of A Fool There Was, and can be found in collections of his writings including “The Road to Miltown.”

    And yes, she’s as camp as a row of tents.

  3. I’ve got a big Perelman collection so I’ll be sure to look for that piece. I do indeed have a copy of the movie and will gladly share it with curious parties. The camp appeal is obvious, although the hayseed aspect perhaps comes through in the extremely plodding pace and approving shots of normal family life, which are powerfully boring.

    Meanwhile, how pleasant to meet Mr Kirby Dick!

  4. Christopher Says:

    She’d a made a good Mrs. Hardy..kinda reminds me of Mae Busch sometimes..lol..big burly gals!…
    Careful Hubert!..she comin’ off on you

  5. Ah, Mae Busch was truly splendid. And Thelma Todd was a goddess. A special corner of heaven is reserved for piefights with those gals.

  6. Kirby’s a teriffic fellow, with very original ideas for documentary filmmaking. Don’t miss This Film is Not Yet Rated and his portrait of Jacques Derrida.

  7. Derrida’s one I haven’t seen, as well as Sick and Twist of Faith, which sound fascinating.

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