By Angie Schneider
Silents Under the Stars Blog Edition
Lobby Card with Blanche Sweet & Boris Karloff
1920 The Deadlier Sex
Director: Robert Thornby
Writers: Fred Myton and Bayard Veiller (play)
Starring: Blanche Sweet, Winter Hall, Mahlon Hamilton, and Boris Karloff
The Silents Under the Stars movie choice acknowledges the centennial of the Women’s Suffrage of 1920. On August 18, 1920, the 19thAmendment for the constitution was ratified giving women all the rights and responsibilities of citizenship with the right to vote. This is a movie, with a touch of humor, a play written by Bayard Veiller (author of “The Thirteenth Chair”) has Blanche Sweet playing the role of a modern business girl, Mary Willard, to prove that she is deadlier than the male counterpart after taking over her father’s railroad. When the railroad is threatened by the character Harvey Judson (Mahlon Hamilton), a young capitalist; Mary Willard (Sweet) arranges him to be abducted and taken to a shack in the North woods. It is a well told story in which a big businessman is pitted against an intelligent woman.
Following Blanche Sweet’s first two movies with PathéExchange, Blanche was declared a favorite actress of over 6,000 theatres in the United States. When the announcement was made for the March 28, 1920 release of The Deadlier Sex Pathé began recording heavy advanced bookings at the big theaters.
The premiere and pre-release of The Deadlier Sex took place at the Broadway Theatre in New York City beginning March 14, 1920 for one week.
This movie has northern scenery which forms the backdrop for the better part of the movie which is attractive and excellently photographed. To accomplish this, director Robert Thornby, filmed the movie in Truckee, California.
The Filming of The Deadlier Sex
“Train Wreck, storm, auto smashup, all in the day’s work” is Blanche Sweet’s description of filming The Deadlier Sex for the Montana Great Falls Tribune (March 7, 1920).
“Never in my whole screen existence,” said Miss Sweet, “have I
ever appeared in serial photoplays but during the filming of The Deadlier Sex.” (There were a series of unexpected occurrences
which should rank with many of the well-planned episodes in serial thrillers). “I don’t mean the action of the play,” explained the star, “although heaven knows, there is action aplenty in it for me, but little things which cropped up most unexpectedly—such as train wrecks.”
Steer Upsets Things
“This was one of the most sudden train wrecks I ever met, although, I suppose all train wrecks are sudden, or there wouldn’t be any. It was really quite serious. We were enroute to Truckee, which abounds in beautiful scenery, and a steer got on the track and baggage cars were thrown into a ditch near Mojave. Both engines and two engineers were killed. I came out quite safely myself, but I did get a severe shaking up.”
“We went to Truckee to take the summer scenes and we arrived right in the middle of a snowstorm. It lasted for two days. Now if we wanted a winter scene, I am sure the birds would have been singing, the flowers in bloom and the sun shining.”
“I also discovered that the Truckee river at this season of the year, is no place to take a bath. You see we have some canoes and you have to be most skillfully managed going over the rapids. I never had any trouble before with a canoe and always prided myself that I could handle the most elusive, but these particular rapids were not the best-behaved ones I have met.”
Planks Were Loose
“When we finished up the filming, Mr. Thornby (my director), informed me to get ready for an automobile wreck. ‘Delightful,’ I thought, ‘the man has a sense of humor.’ But woe was me when he showed it to me in the scenario.”
“So, we filmed the auto wreck. It happened in this way—I was in a high-powered car—I think it was a Ford, and we were trying to beat another car to the railroad station. On the way, we crossed a small bridge over a creek. Several of the planks were loose, thanks to Mr. Thornby, and over we go in a heap, with the other car crashing into us.”
“I really think the author overlooked something here as it should have been taken in the rain. Then we would have skidded in a thrilling manner and been all covered with water and mud. Things would have been more complicated anyway.”
“And yet they say film stars are overpaid! But look at the fun we have! We have our thrills made to order while you, Mr. Blasé Millionaire, appear to be bored to death with life. Try a fling at the movies and after you are put through a few stunts, the subway in rush hours will be but a meek reminder. But how us little ‘hot house plants’ do enjoy it!”
The introduction of a Modest, Man-Made Monster
The Deadlier Sex was Boris Karloff’s first featured role, 11 years prior to becoming Frankenstein. In 1941, Boris said of The Deadlier Sex:
“The only time I was ever so frightened was in a silent little effort called The Deadlier Sex, featuring Blanche Sweet and Mahlon Hamilton. In that movie I played a French Canadian. I had appeared in many movies previously, but none in which I could see myself. This time the camera picked me up a long way off—in a wood as it happened. I came walking slowly toward the camera and was for a long time nothing more than a figure in a forest. ‘Yes, yes, there I am,’ I thought. I had time to recognize and get used to my shape before seeing my face for the first time, and I settled back to enjoy my face. Then I sat up suddenly. ‘My goodness,’ I thought, ‘is that really my face?’ It was a terrible shock. Seeing my face as others saw it, seeing the back of my head, that sort of thing. You know, sometimes, I still feel a little shaken after viewing it.”
The Deadlier Sex restored print is rarely seen and will be shown virtually with donated proceeds going to both Hollywood Heritage and the Santa Monica Fund. Showing dates will be July 19thand July 26th.
Pennants and photographs from the collection of Angie & Chris Schneider