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Frank J. Coleman
I viewed the Eastman House print of this film, which unfortunately is missing the original opening credits and inter-titles from the first reel. From the second reel onwards, there are some clever visual gimmicks in the titles -- at one point, part of a caption is replaced by footage of a boy riding a hobby-horse while the rest of the caption remains in place; at another point, a title flips over on its vertical axis when the villains enter the room, turn round, and go out again -- so I wonder what pleasures I might have missed in those first-reel inter-titles.
The title of 'The Flapper' is ironic, as this movie's heroine is an innocent ingenue who merely pretends to be a jazz-baby flapper. The beautiful Olive Thomas (age 25) plays 16-year-old Genevieve King, and in nearly every sequence she is believable as a teenager. Genevieve (nicknamed 'Ginger' for her high spirits) is sent off to the girls' seminary run by strict disciplinarian Mrs Paddles (hmm...), where the students wear Peter Thompson sailor uniforms. Two of Ginger's schoolmates are played by Norma Shearer and her sister Athole, but they have no dialogue or specific business.
Distinguished older man Richard Channing rides past the seminary every day, prompting romantic fantasies among the schoolgirls. When 16-year-old Ginger connives a sleigh ride with Channing, she tells him she's 'almost twenty'. To Channing's credit, he dumps her toot-sweet when he learns the truth.
This is one of those ladies' seminaries that has a safe full of jewellery. A student named Hortense (who definitely looks to be in her mid-20s) heists the swag and runs off with her henchman Thomas Morran, played by Arthur Housman. This actor had a long career playing funny drunks, so I was pleased to see him in a dramatic role that let him stay sober. Director Alan Crosland stages one scene cleverly, with Housman on-camera aiming a revolver at Olive Thomas, who is seen only as a reflection in the mirror. Our little Ginger has got herself involved in the jewel heist. She behaves very implausibly.
Among this film's pleasures are some beautiful wintry exteriors (filmed near Ithaca, NY) and some shots of Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. There are a few continuity errors. Among others: Olive Thomas boards an omnibus as it travels south in Fifth Avenue's west carriageway below 42nd Street. A moment later, as she steps off the 'bus, it's now travelling north in Fifth Avenue's east carriageway above 42nd Street.
African-Americans are seen quite prominently in this film, but only as musicians and waiters with no dialogue. I was very impressed by a dramatic device at nearly the very end of this movie, when events in the lives of Ginger King and another character are presented as incidents in a (non-fiction) newsreel. This same device was later used in 'Citizen Kane', but I doubt that Orson Welles ever saw 'The Flapper': he was only five years old when this movie was released.
Despite some implausible motivations, 'The Flapper' is mostly a realistic comedy, so I was annoyed by an 'impossible' gag in which a stuffed elk's head winks its eye at Olive Thomas. Even more distressing were two sequences with Ginger King in drama-queen mode: in the first, she attempts suicide; in the second, she vows to become 'a dope fiend'. The beautiful and talented actress Olive Thomas died shortly after this film was released, from what appears to have been an intentional drugs overdose. (It was ruled an accident ... but the facts indicate that it was a suicide, hushed up to avoid scandal.) Because these sequences foreshadow Olive Thomas's tragic death, they manage to cast a sombre tone over the entire film. I'll rate 'The Flapper' 6 out of 10.
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