There is one action-movie genre which I absolutely despise: the one in which motorists drive irresponsibly and recklessly, at maximum speed with minimum brains, and the audience are expected to cheer them on. In real life, plenty of innocent people have been killed because some idiot with too much testosterone and not enough brain cells got behind a steering wheel. The last thing we need is movies which glorify this behaviour. I collectively call such films 'Scumball Rally' movies.
Having encountered too many movies like this in the 1980s and '90s, I was mortified to discover that the genre was already firmly in place in silent films. "The Drivin' Fool" is one example.
Henry Locke is a businessman in San Francisco, who has signed a contract requiring that he deliver a cheque for a large sum to a Wall Street broker by noontime a few days hence. If the cheque is not there to schedule, Locke will lose his business to his rival Howard Grayson. Locke thought he had sufficient time to post the cheque, but one of his assistants (Richard Browley) is secretly in Grayson's employ, and delays posting the cheque. Conveniently, there's a nationwide rail stoppage, so the cheque can't be couriered by train.
This is the cue for Locke's son Hal to grab the cheque and zoom off cross-country in his racing car, gleefully ignoring petty details like speed limits and stoplights. I find this sort of storytelling hugely irresponsible. We're meant to admire Hal because he's trying to save his father's business, but it's obvious that the character is aroused by speeding (the movie's titles identify him as 'speed-mad'), and it's also obvious that the people who made this film expect the audience to admire Hal for his speedy habits.
As if this weren't bad enough, the movie is also racist. Early in his cross-country motor trip, Hal acquires a Negro sidekick who rejoices in the name Horatio Jackson Lee, whom Hal promptly dubs 'Cupid'. Horatio -- played by a black man named Jesse Aldrich, who is clearly no actor -- indulges in plenty of 'yassuh' dialogue (supplied by the title cards), and some racial humour based on stereotypes of black people as cowardly or stupid.
The actress Patsy Ruth Miller never greatly appealed to me. She was pretty and had some talent, but neither her looks nor her acting abilities were above the usual. She made precisely one major film -- 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame' -- but that film's successes owe very little to her performance. However, I met Ms Miller at Film Forum in NYC on the night of a screening of 'So This Is Paris', one of her movies. She generously consented to an interview, and spoke warmly to me of many people with whom she worked in silent-era Hollywood. My fond memories of that evening have prompted me to seek out as many of Patsy Ruth Miller's films as possible: regrettably, few of them seem to be very good. In "The Drivin' Fool", Patsy Ruth Miller plays the feminine love interest, but most of her scenes are at the beginning and the end of the film. After the contrived set-up to explain why the cheque can't be sent by post or by rail, the bulk of the movie is occupied with Wally Van's reckless driving and Jesse Aldrich's minstrel-show behaviour. The film's direction is weak, with some poor shot-matching. Sadly, I rate this movie only 2 points in 10, and I'm being generous.
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