Chip Kaufmann | Asheville, N.C. United States | 04/01/2002
(4 out of 5 stars)
"No, this does not refer to the 1944 thriller starring Bela Lugosi (a neat little thriller by the way) but rather to the original screen vampire Theda Bara. Her 1915 film A FOOL THERE WAS launched a revolution in the motion picture industry and introduced the word vamp (as noun and verb) into the American vocabulary where it referred to a predatory woman until the advent of Lugosi's DRACULA in 1931. Here was a woman who knew what she wanted, went out and got it, and suffered no consequences for it. The film made an overnight star of Bara and made William Fox's film outfit a major player in early Hollywood. They would later become 20th Century Fox and today's Fox TV network.
Theda Bara was born Theodosia Goodman in Cincinatti. Her screen name, cooked up by Fox's publicity department, is an anagram for Arab Death. She was the biggest early silent female star but her films have rarely been seen as most were destroyed in a Fox warehouse fire. While A FOOL THERE WAS is not her best film, it remains a fascinating glimpse of her and of the morality of early Hollywood. A poem by Rudyard Kipling which became a play was the basis for this film which portrays the decline and fall of a prosperous lawyer who leaves wife and child to be with a worldly woman who proceeds to literally drain him of everything he possesses (hence the term vampire) until he dies a broken man while she crushes flower petals over his lifeless body. Strong stuff for 1915 and the forerunner of every woman takes man away from wife scenario that would follow. While the stylised acting may seem silly and overblown remember that we're dealing with archetypes carried over from 19th century melodrama. What makes it so fascinating today is the unhappy ending and the lack of moral retribution. Although Bara dominates the screen, the charecter of John Schuyler as played by Edward Jose' manages to stick with you as you watch him slide (very quickly) into total degradation.
The print utilized for this DVD is from the Killiam Collection. It is tinted and toned with much greater picture clarity than the old VHS transfer once available although there are still a few rough spots. The piano score by Phil Carli is appropriately downbeat and effective helping to make the histrionics more believable. When a film is this old it literally becomes a window into a bygone era. That and the superb transfer make the DVD of A FOOL THERE WAS worth owning especially for silent film buffs. Now if Kino can just get Fox and the Killiam Collection to issue a restored version of SUNRISE."
One from the vaults
James Moffat | Rosebud, Victoria Australia | 05/02/2002
(4 out of 5 stars)
"It would be a major stretch to describe "A Fool There Was" as a good film, but for all sorts of reasons it remains full of interest. The plot is utter nonsense, some garbage about an evil woman who has nothing better to do than destroy the lives of wealthy men. Exactly how she achieves this is never made clear, but apparently arching the back and flaring the nostrils was carried some clout in 1915.We shouldn't get too superior about it though. The public for whom this movie was made was by no means as naive as we might like to think. The film was camp then, just as it is now, though they probably had a different word for it. It was clearly a less permissive society. What passed for "sin" isn't at all recognisable as such today. And in fact as a primary source you couldn't find a better social commentary than "A Fool There Was". For instance it is interesting that a conspicuous display of feminine ambition and sexuality had automatically to be branded "evil" - it would take decades for this perception to be reversed.Much of the focus will be on Theda Bara. With so little of her output available for viewing today its unfortunate to have to say that this is far from representative. What is clear is that she was a credible actor - not immediately apparent from her still photographs - capable of restraint as well as frenzy. Her fame is much easier to understand when she is actually seen in action. She has considerable poise and presence and when well lit and photographed is surprisingly beautiful.The DVD issue is exceptionally well presented - the menus are imaginative and atmospheric, the extras well chosen and interesting. The print is variable; here and there it is mottled and jittery, but more often the image is crisp and sharp and revelatory for those of us who know the film solely from pirated VHS copies. An appropriate music score is also a huge advantage.In all, an unexpectedly compelling and thought provoking film, if not always for the reasons that were intended. And if you are disposed towards silent movies, a compulsory addition to the collection."
A 1915 "Psychological Drama" as good as any!
Barbara (Burkowsky) Underwood | Manly, NSW Australia | 05/26/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This film's own introduction as a psychological drama says it all as far as I'm concerned. It depicts very powerfully how some men easily fall victim to being manipulated and dominated by emotionally disturbed women to the point of committing suicide or becoming alcoholic, and anyone with some life and people experience will recognize these things which happen around us all too often. I found that the frequent scenes of the "fool's" wife and playful small child (which some think were superfluous) showed poignantly what he had sacrificed and lost, and the ending was equally heart-wrenching. For anyone who appreciates true psychological drama about real-life situations and understands them well, this old film will not disappoint, despite some poor picture quality at times. I felt that Theda Bara played her part extremely well: more than just a 'vamp' who leads men astray, but also the cold-hearted, angry, bossy woman who typically has control over certain types of men and is so emotionally detached that she doesn't care what happens to them later. Another interesting aspect is this window into the past showing people's manner and behaviour nearly a century ago, and also showing that psychological problems were perhaps better understood in the past than we realize. Being a 1915 production, it isn't as smooth and sophisticated as films of the 1920s, and it might require a little extra effort to read and understand the texts, and keep up with the somewhat rough editing, but for the story, its content and message, I think it rates highly overall. Add to that the special features on this DVD which explain how Theda Bara's image was 'created' in order to attract viewers and put the focus on her - something that hasn't changed in Hollywood over the century! So whether you like the psychological angle or the allurement of Theda Bara, this movie is still well worth watching."
The Original Vampire
D. A Wend | Buffalo Grove, IL USA | 05/01/2002
(4 out of 5 stars)
""A Fool There Was" is based upon a stage play dealing with the subject of forbidden desires. I agree with the other reviews that Theda Bara (in her film debut) is the reason to watch this film. The film has been lovingly restored (having some cracking in places) with original tints and the overall quality is excellent. The piano score is perfect for the film.As one would expect, the acting in this 1915 feature is old-fashioned. People endlessly shake hands on meeting and parting. Perhaps this is a reflection of the polite manners of the time but after several scenes with this kind of repetition it was laughable. "A Fool There Was" has the flavor of a social commentary with overtones of forbidden sex. Lust is something to be avoided; else you fall into the snares of female vampires. By our standards today, the film stretches credulity. John Schuyler, Theda Bara's principle victim, presents quite a contrast. First, he is an upright family man and is selected as an ambassador to Great Britain. On meeting the vamp, he descends into a drunken ruin. How the vamp gains control over Schuyler is not told (missing footage?) and is a done deal. John Schyler's wife is a martyr, who suffers from her husband's fall but is powerless to do anything. Theda Bara's vampire character exudes a hypnotic influence over everyone. The men under her power are utterly helpless in her presence, lending her a supernatural aspect. Even when the wife and a family friend come to reclaim the errant husband and father, they cower in the presence of the vamp and Schuyler becomes a jelly. One might expect the vamp to get her just deserts but she remains victorious. Perhaps this serves as a further warning that the vamp remains on the loose.The film is fun as a social history and for Bara's performance, one of the few remaining. Anyone who loves the silent cinema will want a copy."
THEDA BARA IS A REVELATION
Marcco99 | Los Angeles CA USA | 01/24/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
for any fan of classic hollywood , this is a must for your dvd collection.
theda bara was the first-ever sex symbol of the cinema. with almost all of her films now lost, we mostly have photos of her. those iconic photos of her-- the bulging eyes rimmed all-around in black mascara, her hands pulling on her long black hair, the wild expressions on her face, the cleopatra circular breast plates!! one gets the impression of a plump 'lily munster'. from our modern viewpoint it's hard to take her seriously in these images.
when most film historians talk of her, they relate the incredible hype that surrounded bara and her films from 1915 to 1919, mostly dreamt up by her studio,fox pictures. a female vampire that sucks men dry. her name an anagram for 'arab death'. her belief in past lives. a famous story bara relates herself concerns her giving an apple to a young child who then recognizes her, screams 'it's the vampire!!', and runs away in horror.
she has been written about humorously, a bygone, repressed era's quaint way of dealing with sex.
so to now finally see bara on the screen in her first film is quite a revelation. in her first appearance in the film, she takes a long stem rose, breaks it off the stem, and drops the petals on the floor smiling at its destruction. bara has a shocking and commanding presence.
she is also quite pretty and natural in front of the camera. bara resembles elizabeth montgomery with black hair (for anyone who remembers montgomery's look in that "twilight zone" episode she did with charles bronson). there are a few scenes that take place in bara's bedroom, and she's quite lovely with her long, glossy black hair cascading down her back, and a nightgown that constantly slips off her shoulder as she moves about.
bara is a suprisingly powerful actress as well, as good as any modern actress of today. this is the biggest surprise of the film. no overacting or hair-pulling in this one. she gives a perfectly controlled, mezmerizing, detailed performance, with a couple of displays of fury that will make you jump!!
the film itself looks good for almost being 100 years old. my only complaint being there are no closeups of bara in the film. the closest we get to one is a head and shoulder shot of her. i believe dw griffith invented the closeup shot in his film "birth of a nation", which was released about the same time as this film.
all in all this is a very good film, and if this is the kernel on which the mighty bara myth grew, now i understand why. the hype and hysteria that surrounded bara in 1915 must have been similar to the buzz and hysteria madonna caused in the eighties and nineties. and like madonna, i now see that theda bara had the talent to back up all the hype."