Thursday, September 29, 2016

Feel My Pulse

Its been awhile since I have done a silent movie synopsis and it just so happens that I saw one about two weeks ago at the Old Town Music Hall. And it was one I hadn't heard of before either! 

I saw the film at a book release party for my friend, the editor of the Silent Film Quarterly, Charles Epting. Charles has just released his book entitled, Bebe Daniels: Hollywood's Good Little Bad Girl. In honor of the book and of Bebe, there was a viewing of a Harold Lloyd and Bebe short entitled, Bumping into Broadway (1919), which marked one of the first appearances of Harold's famous "Glasses Character," and then the feature which was Feel My Pulse (1928).

Feel My Pulse really was what I love about silent films. Yes, the epic dramas like Intolerance and Hunchback of Notre Dame are great, but sometimes you just want to watch something light and indicative of the Roaring Twenties and that is exactly what this film was. Bebe Daniels is dressed in her flapper best even while playing a sheltered and innocent young woman. Gotta love Hollywood!

The basic plot of the film is that Barbara Manning (Bebe) has a weak heart, the "Manning Heart," as most of the family also has it. She is kept under constant care by her uncle and a team of nurses to administer everything from smelling salts to "larynx lubricator." Any slight excitement could cause her heart to fail! Talk about hypochondriac! One crazy scene involves a visiting uncle coming in and opening fire in the house to try and prove that his niece will not in fact die due to being overly excited. No family visit is complete without gun fire!

Barbara decides that she needs a proper rest away from home and she just happens to have inherited a sanitarium! What luck! However, while Barbara is preparing for her trip, we are shown scenes of what exactly goes on in this sanitarium. It is in fact the headquarters for bootleggers and low life criminals, including the dashing William Powell and Richard Arlen. You can really see why Powell was cast in a lot of villain roles during the silent era. With the help of silent film make up, lighting, and lack of speaking, he really does look like an evil character. No hint of Nick Charles here! Richard Arlen on the other hand always seems to have that dark, sexy quality about him and I am not complaining. 

William Powell and Richard Arlen

Miss Manning shows up to the sanitarium, after having been driven there by Arlen who Barbara mistakes for her taxi driver (Arlen, having a laugh, doesn't correct her.) Their trip to the sanitarium is filled with a very bumpy car ride and the harrowing crossing of a seemingly tame stream. When they arrive, Barbara assumes that William Powell's character (credited as "Her Nemesis") is the doctor, probably due to his all white attire. Powell too goes along with this, having been tipped off that the Manning heiress is loaded! After she is shown to her room, Powell tells his fellow cronies that they all need to act like hospital patients to help keep up the act that they are running a legitimate sanitarium. Some of the criminals need persuading with a few threats and punches, but they soon don their hospital gowns and crutches. 

Richard Arlen and Bebe Daniels
There are a few cute scenes with Barbara playing nurse by administering various medications to the "patients" and one where a drunken man gives her a taste of liquor and they both end up drunk and singing. It's shortly after this that Barbara sees men walking into the building with barrels of liquor and figures out what is going on. 

William Powell (right)

Arlen plays an anti-hero in this film. He starts off as a lowly character, but throughout the film this veneer melts away until it is finally revealed that he is in fact an undercover reporter writing a story about bootlegging criminals. It is with his help that Barbara manages to escape the sanitarium unharmed, which is made into quite a dramatic scene during a raid by "hijackers" on the sanitarium. She puts up a good fight I will say, hauling barrels of liquor down the stairs to keep the men away from her. 

Richard Arlen

One of the weirder scenes of the film is when Barbara is throwing the barrels down the stairs and she grabs one marked "CHLOROFORM." Now, what I know about chloroform is that if inhaled, you go night-night. In the film, however, once the barrel bursts, the men have an acid trip of sorts, assisted by a slow motion effect with the camera. I was feeling a little buzzed just watching the scene. 

Once the baddies are defeated, Arlen's character and Barbara fall in love and live happily ever after. Of course!

Bebe Daniels
I definitely recommend seeing this film. It is available on Youtube, but it truly is a silent film because there is no soundtrack to accompany it, which is annoying. On a personal note, I related to this film because I have dealt with heart problems my whole life and felt a connection to Barbara in that people were always treating her with kid gloves. I am lucky in that it wasn't my own family doing it, however. The end of the film has her finally coming to the realization that she may have been born with the "Manning Heart," but that she is just as strong and able bodied as anyone else. 

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