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.
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.