Film 6: Souls For Sale


Souls for Sale (1923) dir. Rupert Hughes.  USA.

‘This is a prime example of the mid-range entertainment Hollywood was producing so skillfully at the time. Filled with actors who were then stars, fast-moving, entertaining, with a spectacular circus action sequence at the climax, it is drama, melodrama, romance and satire all at once — wrapped up in a behind-the-scenes look at how a desperate young woman fell into the movie business by accident and became a star.

…The movie was written and directed by Rupert Hughes, who was the uncle Howard Hughes so fatefully decided to visit in Hollywood. He adapted it from his own novel, which was serialized in Redbook magazine, and judging by his title cards, he was well aware of how absurd his plot was. After the treacherous husband discovers his wife has disappeared from the train, he returns to his seat and — goes to sleep. “Why didn’t he tell the conductor and stop the train?” a title card asks, not unreasonably. Indeed, there are times when the titles seem to be doing the work of “MST 3000,” providing a sardonic commentary on the action. One card observes: “That seasick camel is a regular osteopath.”‘

–Roger Ebert

Abigail:  This is not a Great Film, but it was enjoyable, and a good glimpse into what audiences were excited to see in 1923.  It was also fun to see that Hollywood was as self-referential and self-aware (and just as in love with itself) in the early 1920s as it is now.  The dynamics between actors, directors and studios hasn’t changed, at least in popular perception, since the mediums inception.  This was an enjoyable way to spend some time, if not terribly illuminating.   Though there was this horrible trend of listing the actors’ name at the bottom of their introductory title card.  I am very ready for that to be done, as we move forward in time.

Forrest:  “Souls for Sale” isn’t a great film, but it is a good and an interesting one.  It’s neat to see that Hollywood has been making movies about Hollywood basically from the beginning.  The story isn’t especially compelling — a young woman goes to Hollywood, gets a series of lucky breaks, becomes a star, and falls in love — but it’s well handled and told adeptly enough.  This is the sort of movie that’s basically enjoyable to watch and is useful as a historical document, but that you don’t tell your friends to rush out and see.

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