Slapstick Festival 2021: A Pair of Silk Stockings (USA, 1918)

One of the only great things about the pandemic is that I can now digitally go to all the film festivals I can normally never go to, including the Slapstick Festival in the UK. A very accessible festival with a bunch of modern and non-silent stuff as well.

This movie took me completely by surprise. I picked it out of the schedule because of Constance Talmadge but it’s a good movie overall.

It’s a fun bedroom farce- or as Wikipedia primly puts it, “marital comedy”- with a bonus little kinky or transgender edge to it, which I truly was not expecting even though I know early film is like that.

Sam Thornhill (Harrison Ford, no not that one) is a terrible husband who feels neglected by his wife Molly (Constance Talmadge) for no reason and tests her loyalty with a bunch of idiotic tests in which he expects a certain reaction which he doesn’t get. She (rightly) divorces him for one of the tests, and because of circumstances he doesn’t get to tell her it was a stupid test (that in my opinion she should still have divorced him for).

They accidentally meet at Lord and Lady Gower’s house party. Misunderstandings ensue, and at one point Sam gets tied up with Molly’s silk stockings, and then later he WEARS the silk stockings in order to try to reconcile with her for plot reasons. He could just as well have put them in his pocket or something, but then we all know why they made this choice and it’s not for practicality. In fact they could easily have tied him up with men’s ties and not with stockings, and he could even have worn one of those ties if you really want the same plot.

This doesn’t feel like 1918 at all, it’s paced like something from 1928. It’s quick and has snappy dialogue and fun slapstick setpieces. And then it has the stocking thing, which just proves there’s always something you haven’t seen in silent film.

Most of the actors are fine, Constance Talmadge is a bit better, and Lady Gower (Sylvia Ashton) is great. And the clothes are great.  Aside from the extremely beautiful stockings, late 1910s women’s fashion is just the most lovely and comfortable looking style.

Fun for jaded silent movie viewers, extremely accessible for anyone new to them, a useful reminder that while the past had strict norms of (gendered) sexual behaviour, it also had whatever is going on here.

6 thoughts on “Slapstick Festival 2021: A Pair of Silk Stockings (USA, 1918)

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  1. I have never watched anything from before the 20s – at least as far as foreign cinema is concerned (I’ve seen what bits and pieces remain of Raja Harishchandra. This one sounds interesting; I’ll see if I can find it anywhere.

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