The Sunday Intertitle: Harem Scarem

THE SULTAN’S WIFE is another Keystone comedy with Gloria Swanson and Bobby Vernon and Teddy the Wonder Dog, also directed by Clarence Badger — so why did I watch it? Possibly for the same reason I watched TEDDY AT THE THROTTLE — the need for something to write about: when time is tight, save time by watching shorts. I believe it was Lacan who said that.

This little movie was actually an improvement on the previous one: Gloria gets more chance to register emotion amid the pratfalling, even if what she mainly registers is outrage at the indignity of making this piece of junk. Teddy the Great Dane befriends a monkey in a sailor suit who rides on his back, and the “plot” eschews complex legal machinations and concentrates on the time-honoured comedy potential of white slavery — as the intertitles make clear, the original release title was CAUGHT IN A HAREM.

Presenting: possibly the internet’s first Phyllis Haver butt shot.

The scenario allows for plenty of gratuitous walk-ons for the Mack Sennett Bathing Beauties, in surprisingly translucent costumes, and delivers some rather baffling title cards and the occasional arresting image ~

That’s Gloria in drag, attempting to escape execution (the headsman’s small son hopes to follow in daddy’s footsteps) while elsewhere, Bobby entertains the rajah with a belly dance. Bobby went on to shed the harem pants and become Robert Vernon, comedy supervisor at Paramount, proving Sennett’s ability to discover talent, and his inability to hang onto it or exploit it properly. Swanson, of course, became a screen legend, harem girl Phyllis Haver donned less see-through clothing to play Roxie Hart in the silent CHICAGO, while Teddy the Wonder Dog was briefly head of production at Columbia.

Lost Silent Classics Collection: The Danger Girl (1916) / A Hash House Fraud (1915) / Teddy at the Throttle (1917)

The Gloria Swanson Collection

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8 Responses to “The Sunday Intertitle: Harem Scarem”

  1. Why did they change the title I wonder? And that image is certainly more arresting on closer examination.

    Gloria aside, I wonder how much fun they had making it. In the case of the Marx Bros. for example, you get the feeling they were having a great time, at least earlier on.

  2. Oh, the Marx Brothers had fun, it’s their directors who were having nervous breakdowns. I expect there was some fun in these things — the pace of work would mitigate against agonies of artistic creativity. But Gloria Swanson did not look back at her Keystone days with much fondness.

    I’m guessing maybe Caught in a Harem was considered too racy somewhere. But the replacement title is weak, and there’s no sultan anyway!

  3. Time “Shadowplay” turned its Thousand-Eyed gaze towards Lost in Harem — one of Abbot and Costello’s best, hailed by Marty for offering the most thrilling rendition of “slowly I turned.”

  4. Haven’t seen that in YEARS. “Thrilling” is a good word for that routine, which has truly the quality of nightmare. The Monty Python bed shop sketch is practically a remake.

    OK, I can see revisiting that… some time after… JULIEN DUVIVIER WEEK!

  5. La Faustin Says:

    JULIEN DUVIVIER WEEK?! Voici le temps des assassins …? La fête à Henriette? Be still my heart!

  6. Yes, I think both of those would feature. I have a small stack that just got translated and which are either still to be watched, or watched but still to be written about.

  7. Christopher Says:

    possibly the most surreal Niagra Falls sketch

  8. Wow — that’s pretty crazed.

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