A young man can only get the woman he loves if he becomes famous and manages to get his picture in the newspapers. He determines to let nothing stand in the way of his doing exactly that, ... See full summary »
A young man can only get the woman he loves if he becomes famous and manages to get his picture in the newspapers. He determines to let nothing stand in the way of his doing exactly that, and in the process winds up getting involved with a gang of criminals and a locomotive chase. Written by
Douglas Fairbanks, ironically playing a guy who can't attract publicity
Considering that this movie was made 90 years ago it's remarkably modern in several respects. The character Doug plays is the son of a highly successful businessman, a processed food magnate (possibly based on John Harvey Kellogg of breakfast cereal fame) whose products are widely advertised and touted for their healthy ingredients. The early scenes poke fun at the advertising campaign and at the father, Proteus Prindle --what a name!-- and suggest that he's a bit pompous and takes himself and his business too seriously. His son Pete, meanwhile, is presented as something of a good-hearted slacker. He works for Dad but shows up late at the office, and yet it's clear that he's no lazy slob, either: this is a young man who performs his morning exercise by leaping OVER his bed. He's played by Doug Fairbanks, after all. Pete rolls in late because he isn't as dedicated to the business as his old man, and perhaps because he was out sowing some wild oats the night before, but he's not a bad sort, he just needs to find a project he cares about.
Pete becomes interested in a young woman whose own father is another rich businessman who admires Proteus Prindle and obviously thinks the son doesn't measure up to his old man. The prospective father-in-law insists that he won't allow his daughter to marry Prindle Jr. unless he demonstrates his worthiness in business. Prindle Sr. sets a goal: Pete must generate positive publicity for the company by getting his picture in the papers. So our hero launches various schemes to attract attention, and finds it surprisingly difficult: he stages a fake accident, but is ignored; he takes part in a boxing match, but it's broken up by the authorities; and finally he runs up against a gang of extortionist crooks who have been after his girlfriend's father. I don't think it's telling too much to note that Pete ultimately saves the day, gets the publicity and wins the girlagain, this is Doug Fairbanks we're talking about. How can he lose?
It may seem strange to speak of a silent comedy of this vintage as "modern" but the satirical elements in this film, i.e. the jabs at advertising and publicity-seeking, were certainly fresh in 1916 and give the film an engagingly sassy quality today. Doug's performance as a gentleman slacker-turned-action hero is still satisfying for modern viewers attuned to this sort of entertainment, although the slightly battered condition of the film (or the print I saw, anyway) makes it a challenge to follow everything that's happening. Silent cinema buffs will get a kick out of Erich Von Stroheim's brief bit as a thug who sports an eye-patch and attacks the father of the leading lady. She's played by an actress named Loretta Blake who is rather more mature and sophisticated-looking than Doug's usual heroines; his leading ladies sometimes appear to be teenagers (and they sometimes were) but this time he's dealing with a grown-up woman. Miss Blake is fine in the role, but perhaps those wide-eyed girls were better suited to play opposite a grown-up boy like Doug.
HIS PICTURE IN THE PAPERS was among the first of Fairbanks' star vehicles, and it marked his very first collaboration with director John Emerson and his wife, screenwriter Anita Loos. It's a little restrained compared to later entries but an enjoyable comedy that set the standard for a lot of great work ahead, before Doug switched to swashbucklers.
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