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A Fool There Was: Liberated Female Destroys Weaker Sex

A Fool There Was Theda BaraA Fool There Was with Theda Bara. A top Fox star in the second half of the 1910s, Theda Bara retired from films in 1919; two years later, she married director Charles Brabin. Bara would be seen in only one more feature, The Unchastened Woman in 1925.
  • A Fool There Was (1915) movie review: Starring the vamp to end all vamps, Theda Bara, this creaky early silent also happens to be a cinematic landmark thanks to its – veiledly sympathetic – portrayal of a sexually liberated, ankle-displaying female.

A Fool There Was movie review: Vamp Theda Bara shows the power of a bare ankle while exposing the failings of a male-dominated world

A Fool There Was.

A 1915 release, actor-director Frank Powell’s creaky old relic introduced one of the earliest – and surely most momentous – screen image of a Vamp: Theda Bara, the dangerous femme fatale who could lead any respectable man astray just by dropping her handkerchief and revealing a glimpse of her ankle.

Theda the Destroyer

In her first few scenes, Bara – as “The Vampire” – has already lured at least three different men into her web of destruction and has her eyes set on another victim.

Thus, she arranges to meet a rich married man (Edward José) onboard a luxury liner to Europe. Back home, he has a wife (May Allison) and a precocious daughter (Runa Hodges) who likes to use the servants as her play toys.

Once you think about it, perhaps the girl’s behavior symbolizes how The Vampire treats her victims by using them and then discarding them when she is through.

Mystifying seductress

Now, what mystifies me the most in A Fool There Was is that this plain, dowdy, chubby creature – The Vampire herself – could have any kind of power over anybody. I mean, as seen in the film, Theda Bara is no Greta Garbo.

One particularly amusing seduction scene has The Vampire wearing a slip so big that the straps keep falling off her shoulders. Bara – the actress herself – looks truly annoyed at having to keep pulling them back up.

Ah, and those lips, those eyes…

Dated vamping

I’ve seen older movies than A Fool There Was, but this melodrama somehow seems more dated.

The pre-World War I costumes and setting (even though WWI was already raging) never seem to suggest anything the least bit sexual, despite the fact that is what the whole story is about.

In other words, A Fool There Was feels totally out of its own element. But that’s not to say it isn’t fun to watch.

The hammy performances, for instance, are captivating in their attempt to show how one woman can wreck the lives of so many men. One guy even shoots himself in the head while The Vampire laughs.

Victorian debauchery

It’s too bad there are only two or three surviving Theda Bara movies.

Born Theodosia Burr Goodman in Cincinnati, Ohio, she was a big, big star in the early days of cinema, and it would be fascinating to see how her other vehicles (Cleopatra, Madame Du Barry, The Tiger Woman, Salome, etc.) compared to this one.

But for pure Victorian debauchery – when skirts were long and one come-hither look could turn a married man into an alcoholic wreck, demolish his whole family, and drive him to self-destruction – A Fool There Was probably is the best.

Don’t miss the last scene when La Bara crumbles dead flowers all over the body of her victim, and then goes on to ruin the next man.

A Fool There Was (1915)

Director: Frank Powell.

Screenplay: Roy L. McCardell.
From Porter Emerson Browne’s 1909 play, itself inspired by Rudyard Kipling’s 1897 poem “The Vampire.”

Cast: Theda Bara. Edward José. May Allison. Frank Powell. Mabel Fremyear. Victor Benoit. Clifford Bruce. Runa Hodges. Creighton Hale (unconfirmed).

A Fool There Was: Liberated Female Destroys Weaker Sex” review text © Danny Fortune; excerpt, image captions, bullet point introduction, and notes/endnotes © Alt Film Guide.


A Fool There Was (1915) Movie Review” endnotes

The first movie vamp?

Theda Bara was the greatest vamp of the silent era, but she wasn’t the first one.

In 1913, Alice Hollister starred as a heartless siren in The Vampire for director Robert G. Vignola.

Later in 1915, Olga Petrova, playing a wronged woman out for revenge, starred in her own The Vampire, directed by Alice Guy.

A Fool There Was was remade – with way less of a furor – in 1922, with Estelle Taylor as the vamp, Lewis Stone as her victim, and Irene Rich as the wife. Emmett J. Flynn directed.


Theda Bara A Fool There Was movie image: Box Office Attractions Co.

A Fool There Was: Liberated Female Destroys Weaker Sex” last updated in October 2021.

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1 comment

Greta de Groat -

This is a pretty primitive film, but i have to admit i love it. I was surprised when i first saw it to find that she was not only just slinking around vamping the guys (though a lot less of this than i expected), but that she was so bitchy as well. She’s not only mean to her victims, she’s mean to servants and mean to kids. And she has atrocious fashion sense. And i loved the vamp dance party. She was a lot more fun than i had expected. And her victims are such losers it’s hard to generate any sympathy for them. Especially Edward Jose groveling at her feet when his family shows up. Maybe-dare i say it-that this film might be more enjoyable for women, kind of a guilty pleasure film. You go, Theda!

It’s such a shame that there isn’t much more surviving of her career than this. She looks great in Unchastened Woman, but it’s only a so-so film.

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