Old 08-08-2009, 02:32 PM
Rupert Hughes's Souls for Sale

Souls for Sale (1923)

I usually hate to use the term "dated" when it comes to a film, but for Rupert Hughes's "Souls for Sale," it continually popped into my mind. Even while the opening credits were rolling, I had a feeling it would be. When the cast list was displayed on screen, it mentions that it stars 35 famous celebrities, which made me be on the lookout for cameos throughout the film. After the film was over, I had recognized one face, and four names (two of which were not mentioned in the movie, but on IMDB).

"Souls for Sale" tells the story of Remember Steddon (Eleanor Boardman) who has recently gotten married to Owen Scudder (Lew Cody). On board a train, on the way to their honeymoon, Remember suddenly feels repulsed by her husband and jumps off the back of the train while it is stopped. As she stumbles through the desert she suddenly comes upon a crew filming a movie starring Tom Holby (Frank Mayo) and directed by Frank Claymore (Richard Dix). This leads to her becoming an extra in their troupe, and eventually to larger roles.

Meanwhile, we learn that her husband is actually a murderer who has been married multiple times and kills the women for their insurance money. He eventually learns of Remember's success and makes his way to Hollywood. Both Tom and Frank have fallen in love with her during her rise to the top, but she can't let anyone know of her marriage to Cody because it would probably cause a scandal that could destroy her career. Remember's big chance comes when one of the leading actresses is injured by a fallen stage light, causing the director to bump her up into the lead role, which is only complicated when Owen arrives.

The cameos that were recognizable were interesting, including Charlie Chaplin, who was in the middle of directing a scene with Remember on horseback, and Erich von Stroheim, directing a scene from his famous silent film "Greed." The other two names that I recognized form the cast list, but not by face, were King Vidor and Jean Hersholt. It must have been that the rest of the so-called "famous stars" were well-known at the time, but not so much now.

Remember's story is remarkable, but hardly seems possible. She wanders onto the set of a movie and is given a part as an extra very soon which leads her to some of the other roles she eventually plays. She gets the chance at a screen test and fails, yet when she cries, the director does everything he can to get her a role. Then she is bumped up to the leading role of a big circus film without having shown much talent at all, or it could have just been that the writer/director, Rupert Hughes, chose not to show us much of her work.

Another thing that seemed really strange was that anyone could walk onto the set at any time, or into Remember's house. Remember walks right into the set when she meets Tom, her parents walk right onto the set of the circus film, as does Owen, who sneaks right into Remember's house. I guess the notion of "closed sets" hadn't been created yet, nor had the idea of security.

Speaking of security, when Owen does make his presence known, brandishing a gun in one of Remember's lover's faces, there is a scuffle that ends with a gun being held in Owen's face. However, due to Remember being so worried about a possible scandal, she demands that Owen be let go, despite the fact that he is a murderer, has threatened peoples' lives, and will do so again in the last few minutes of the film.

The last few sequences of the circus movie being filmed were somewhat well-done. These sequences involve the crew preparing to fake a storm for the last few scenes of their film, but a real storm occurs with lightning striking the generator and setting fire to the big top. However, a lot of it was choppily edited and thrown together, making it hard to tell what was going on and what was happening to the characters. It doesn't really have a conclusion, and instead, left me thinking something not very nice about Remember.

If you want to take this as a kind of snapshot of what Hollywood was like in 1923, perhaps it would work that way, but it still seems very inconceivable that this kind of rags-to-riches story would happen. We're suppose to believe that from the hundreds of women trying to get parts, that this woman comes in out of nowhere, with no experience, and becomes a star. This seems even less likely to happen today, especially with the number of people trying to "sell their souls," as the film calls it, for roles reaching up in the hundreds of thousands, even millions. 2.5/4 stars.
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