Friday, October 12, 2012

Teddy at the Throttle (1917)

  A villain strokes his mustache, a girl is screaming tied to train tracks, and a dog runs to the rescue, while a piano plays in the background.  This is what most people think of about silent movies (if they ever think about them).  However it was passe enough by 1917 to have a short parody made of the genre.
   "Teddy at the Throttle" is a Keystone comedy and stars Bobby Vernon,Wallace Beery, Keystone Teddy and the fabulous Gloria Swanson.  "Teddy at the Throttle" has a fairly simple story, appropriate for a short. A girl [Swanson] is scorned by her clueless boyfriend [Vernon] in favor of another woman. However the only way Bobbie can get his inheritance is by marrying Gloria.  Enter Henry, Bobbie's lawyer [Wallace Beery] who tries to marry Gloria so he can get the money.  Eventually Henry [Beery] ties Gloria to the track to be run over by a train.  Teddy runs and gets Bobbie.  Bobbie comes and all ends happily for the young and short couple (although Teddy is the one who actually stops the train).
Gloria sings with Teddy
If you'd rather marry an old, overweight, tall woman than me, be my guest.

Henry tries to woo Gloria
  Off screen things weren't so great.  Wallace Beery and Gloria Swanson had been married for a few months.  Theirs was a very unhappy marriage.  They had been married on Gloria's 17th birthday and at least according to "Swanson on Swanson" Wally raped Gloria on their wedding night and abused her for a couple of months until she finally left.  [From what I have read about Beery this seems likely as pretty much everyone in Hollywood found him an extremely unpleasant person.]  Gloria Swanson came to the studio one day and was told about the project.  After telling the director that she had left Wally, she said that she would still do this one last picture with her husband.

A Happy Marriage?
  Wallace Beery was extremely angry with Gloria, having wanted to set up a husband and wife team and it showed on the set.  He was furious that she kept away from him.  In one scene of "Teddy at the Throttle" he takes Swanson to the railroad tracks, he was literally dragging her and Gloria was literally hitting him trying to get away because she was terrified.
  In one of the last scenes a train drives over Swanson.  They had had a male double all set to do the stunt, but Gloria insisted she do it herself.  (Silent stars and stuntmen, for that matter, were extremely tough, but more on that in future blog posts.)  Of note watching this short is that Swanson doesn't have her screen persona set up that was later fully established by "Don't Change Your Husband" or "Why Change Your Wife?"
   Often if there is a parody of a genre it signals the end of that fad.  If a girl tied to a train track was old hat by 1917, well.  This is an excellent movie and helps show that silent movies especially later ones (1920s) were not the simplistic things they have since become labeled as.


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