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Kino have done an excellent restoration job; the image and sound quality are quite good, considering.
The film itself is, frankly, pretty terrible. Fortunately it's only about an hour long, as I can't imagine many people today greatly enjoying a viewing. At the time though, it wasn't long since people had paid just to view a panorama or diorama, so it was no doubt a great experience.
The main interest now, I think, is for the film and the general historian. For a few short years, Theda Bara was one of the world's greatest stars, so it's a good thing to have seen at least one of her films. For this I am grateful to Amazon and Kino.
The best thing is the general sense of history. The cast of a 30s picture could walk into a modern office and the women's clothes arouse not much comment, the men's hardly any; that is not so here. The attitudes, too, are of another era: the man's friends who 'cut him dead' socially; the doctor's wife who won't stay in the same hotel as 'that woman'; the telegram dismissing the man on account of his 'disreputable conduct'; the wife who feels her place is at her husband's side, even after he has treated her so badly. It may have been made in 1914, but for me the sense is of having got in a time machine set for the Victorian age.
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Being a big fan of silent movies and femme fatales in particular I found this film to be very enjoyable.I've only known of Theda Bara through her classic black and white photo stills.This was the first time I was actually watching her in the flesh as it were. Considered cinemas first sex symbol does she stand the test of time? Yes she does the films no master piece but Theda Bara lights up the screen each time she appears. While she was never a conventional beauty she made up for that in animal magnetism. Its such a pity that Thedas best work was either lost or destroyed . Buy this to see what the fuss was about
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
45 of 48 people found the following review helpful
The Return Of "The Vampire"1 April 2002
- Published on Amazon.com
No, this does not refer to the 1944 thriller starring Bela Lugosi (a neat little thriller by the way) but rather to the original screen vampire Theda Bara. Her 1915 film A FOOL THERE WAS launched a revolution in the motion picture industry and introduced the word vamp (as noun and verb) into the American vocabulary where it referred to a predatory woman until the advent of Lugosi's DRACULA in 1931. Here was a woman who knew what she wanted, went out and got it, and suffered no consequences for it. The film made an overnight star of Bara and made William Fox's film outfit a major player in early Hollywood. They would later become 20th Century Fox and today's Fox TV network.
Theda Bara was born Theodosia Goodman in Cincinatti. Her screen name, cooked up by Fox's publicity department, is an anagram for Arab Death. She was the biggest early silent female star but her films have rarely been seen as most were destroyed in a Fox warehouse fire. While A FOOL THERE WAS is not her best film, it remains a fascinating glimpse of her and of the morality of early Hollywood. A poem by Rudyard Kipling which became a play was the basis for this film which portrays the decline and fall of a prosperous lawyer who leaves wife and child to be with a worldly woman who proceeds to literally drain him of everything he possesses (hence the term vampire) until he dies a broken man while she crushes flower petals over his lifeless body. Strong stuff for 1915 and the forerunner of every woman takes man away from wife scenario that would follow. While the stylised acting may seem silly and overblown remember that we're dealing with archetypes carried over from 19th century melodrama. What makes it so fascinating today is the unhappy ending and the lack of moral retribution. Although Bara dominates the screen, the charecter of John Schuyler as played by Edward Jose' manages to stick with you as you watch him slide (very quickly) into total degradation.
The print utilized for this DVD is from the Killiam Collection. It is tinted and toned with much greater picture clarity than the old VHS transfer once available although there are still a few rough spots. The piano score by Phil Carli is appropriately downbeat and effective helping to make the histrionics more believable. When a film is this old it literally becomes a window into a bygone era. That and the superb transfer make the DVD of A FOOL THERE WAS worth owning especially for silent film buffs. Now if Kino can just get Fox and the Killiam Collection to issue a restored version of SUNRISE.
26 of 30 people found the following review helpful
One from the vaults2 May 2002
- Published on Amazon.com
It would be a major stretch to describe "A Fool There Was" as a good film, but for all sorts of reasons it remains full of interest. The plot is utter nonsense, some garbage about an evil woman who has nothing better to do than destroy the lives of wealthy men. Exactly how she achieves this is never made clear, but apparently arching the back and flaring the nostrils was carried some clout in 1915. We shouldn't get too superior about it though. The public for whom this movie was made was by no means as naive as we might like to think. The film was camp then, just as it is now, though they probably had a different word for it. It was clearly a less permissive society. What passed for "sin" isn't at all recognisable as such today. And in fact as a primary source you couldn't find a better social commentary than "A Fool There Was". For instance it is interesting that a conspicuous display of feminine ambition and sexuality had automatically to be branded "evil" - it would take decades for this perception to be reversed. Much of the focus will be on Theda Bara. With so little of her output available for viewing today its unfortunate to have to say that this is far from representative. What is clear is that she was a credible actor - not immediately apparent from her still photographs - capable of restraint as well as frenzy. Her fame is much easier to understand when she is actually seen in action. She has considerable poise and presence and when well lit and photographed is surprisingly beautiful. The DVD issue is exceptionally well presented - the menus are imaginative and atmospheric, the extras well chosen and interesting. The print is variable; here and there it is mottled and jittery, but more often the image is crisp and sharp and revelatory for those of us who know the film solely from pirated VHS copies. An appropriate music score is also a huge advantage. In all, an unexpectedly compelling and thought provoking film, if not always for the reasons that were intended. And if you are disposed towards silent movies, a compulsory addition to the collection.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
If you are a silent film fan, because of the rarity of Theda Bara films, this 1915 silent film is definitely recommended!17 Aug. 2010
Dennis A. Amith
- Published on Amazon.com
Theda Bara, the first onscreen sex symbol and the woman who defined the word "Vamp" in early cinema.
"A Fool There Was", the 1915 silent film launched Theda Bara's career and made enough money for William Fox to create the Fox Film Corporation and a film that would popularize the slang term "vamp" as a sexually driven female predator who preys on a man.
"A Fool There Was" is a film that is based on a play by Porter Emerson Brown, in which the play was based on Rudyard Kipling's poem titled "The Vampire". The poem was read to the audience before the screening and the intertitles are literally Kipling's poem. Because the film pays tribute to the poem, the main character played by Theda Bara is known as "The Vampire" and thus the film is cited as the first female "Vampire" movie.
Needless to say, with Theda Bara's role as "The Vampire" captured the viewer's attention, many started to pay attention to her name as rumors ran rampant that the Theda's name was a play on the word "death" and her last name is "Arab" backwards (the truth is that "Theda" is short for Theodosia and Bara is a shortened name for a relative's family name "Barranger"). But Bara would use the popularity of the film and the rumors to further stoke the mysterious side of her as her earlier photos would feature the sexy actress taking photos with a skeleton.
Unfortunately, because FOX lost nearly 90% of their silent films due to a nitrate fire, many of Theda Bara's films are lost but fortunately KINO VIDEO released "A Fool There Was" on DVD and giving silent film fans a chance to see Hollywood's first sex symbols in camera.
"A Fool There Was" is a film about a woman (played by Theda Bara) who uses wealthy men and manipulates them to get what she wants and literally sucks them dry (hence the name "The Vampire"). Having corrupted many men and leaving them with nothing or using them until she feels the need to move on to her next prey, she targets Wall Street lawyer John Schuyler (played by Edward Jose).
Schuyler has everything going for him. A good family, a loving wife and daughter, a great job and home and he was recently appointed by the President of the United States as a special envoy to settle claims with Great Britain.
Although with a wealthy man, the Vampire has decided that she needs a new prey and leaves her current man to go after a more wealthy man in power.
While Schuyler is unable to bring his family along with him, he takes off on the big ship "the Gigantic" and from that moment, The Vampire has her sights targeted on her prey and sure enough, using her sexual charm, she captures his attention.
Fast forward two months later and the two are now a couple. Schuyler's family does not know the true reason why he hasn't return back home but when family friends visiting Italy spot Schuyler together with the Vamp, they realize that the man that many looked up to is having an affair. To make things worse, the paparazzi has reported the affair in a newspaper and Mrs. Schuyler learns for her friends that the newspaper gossip was true.
While Mrs. Schuyler and a family friend do what they can to get close to Schuyler and bring him home, we start to see the change in the lawyer as the man that was full of energy has changed to a man whose hair has turned white, has been ostracized by his friends and his colleagues, lost his job, turned him to an alcoholic and for the most part, the Vampire is succeeding in sucking him dry.
But Mrs. Schuyler and a family friend are determined in saving Mr. Schuyler...but will it be too late?
"A Fool There Was" is color tinted and presented in 1:33:1. Amazingly, for a 95-year-old film, "A Fool There Was" looks very good on DVD. I was expecting some major damage to the original negative but interestingly, aside from occasional scratches and dust, the film looks very good for its age. Granted, it's not super clear with a high amount of detail but compared to many other silents I have seen, the fact that there is no major nitrate warping or degradation.
AUDIO & INTERTITLES:
"A Fool There Was" features a piano score by Phil Carli which is a very well-done score that was appropriate for this silent film.
Intertitles were easy to read (Note: These were not the original intertitles from 1915 but utilizing a much easier to read intertitles which were probably based on the original version with the dust and scratches added afterward). It is important to note that the intertitles are from Rudyard Kipling's poem "The Vampire" and there are no dialogue-based intertitles. So, one will not be reading as much throughout this film.
"A Fool There Was" comes with the following special features:
* Complete Text of Rudyard Kipling's "The Vampire" - The complete text presentation of Kipling's "The Vampire" which the film is based on and read before the film was screened. * Excerpt from Terry Ramsaye's "A Million and One Nights" - An excerpt of the popularity of Theda Bara and how she was hired as the lead actress for the film and the popularity that ensued right after and what people thought her name was about. * 1915 Review - A review for "A Fool There Was". * Photo Gallery - Featuring a few of the surviving photos of actress Theda Bara.
An insert with the chapter listings and a Fox Film Corporation image (on the insert) of Theda Bara lying with a skeleton is included.
When "A Fool There Was" was screened in theaters, people were read the original poetry of "The Vampire" and knew immediately that if the film followed the poem closely, one was prepared for a film that may not have a happy ending.
The film was straight-forward to tell a story of a vamp and how she has hurt many men in the process by leaving them, taking their money and in some cases, leading these men to self-destruction. This is a woman who is literally amoral and all she cares about is dominating the man, getting her way with him, having him do what she says and even if it destroy his career or his life (making them an alcoholic), she could care less. If she gets bored, she can move on to another man (leaving them in a bad state) and destroy the next man she comes in contact with.
Because this is during the time when filmmakers were trying to find ways to tell a feature-length story, you're going to have some unusual pacing issues. But for "A Fool There Was", the pacing wasn't bad at all. If anything, what I found quite interesting is how they utilized Schuyler's young daughter as a way to make the film lighthearted (during her scenes) and happy, while the storyline is literally about a vamp destroying the man.
The storytelling is quite simplistic and were common for silent films during this period in time but the story is easy to follow and understand. But with that beings said, you're not going to see how far the vamp goes to seduce a man, there are no sexual scenes aside from a couple kissing and there is no "Fatal Attraction" style of storyline where you will see Mrs. Schuyler doing all she can to save her marriage away from the Vampire. Granted, that would have made a fantastic storyline but if anything, what viewers get is a direct adaptation of Rudyard Kipling's poem "The Vampire" for a feature length silent film.
But "A Fool There Was" is an important film for silent film fans. From what it did for Theda Bara and William Fox's career but the fact that there are not many Theda Bara films that have survived, this 1915 film is probably one of the earliest full-length silent films that looks good on DVD and its contribution to American pop culture by popularizing the slang word "Vamp" for that era and the film is the first depiction of a female vampire in film.
The DVD from Kino Video is worth it if you are a hardcore silent film fan but storywise, it's not the greatest nor is it the worst. It's just an average film at best. The fact that this surviving Theda Bara film looks good on DVD and we are provided with a few text-based special features is a plus. Personally, the fact that there aren't many Theda Bara films available, I'm just happy that Kino Video did release this on DVD for silent film fans and we can say that we have a Theda Bara film in our silent film collection.
Overall, "A Fool There Was" is a film that showcased one of America's earliest and popular sex symbol Theda Bara, a film which would feature the first female "vampire" and a successful film that gave William Fox the opportunity to create the Fox Film Corporation. If you are a silent film fan, because of the rarity of Theda Bara films, this 1915 silent film is definitely recommended to have in your silent film collection but if you are a casual silent film fan, "A Fool There Was" is an average silent film at best.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
"Some of him lived but the most of him died..."11 Aug. 2008
- Published on Amazon.com
Theda Bara was not the first femme fatale in the movies, but as "The Vampire" in A FOOL THERE WAS she was the first to portray a seductress modeled explicitly on the bloodsucking vampires of story and legend. (Coincidentally, Louis Feuillade's LES VAMPIRES came out the same year. Though Musidora, in a skintight black leotard, imbued the fiendish Irma Vep with a provocative sensuality, the title of the French serial referred not to seductive women but to a Parisian gang of criminal masterminds.) The vamp would devolve into parody before the end of the silent era, but in 1915, with audiences transfixed by Theda Bara, she could do no wrong by doing men wrong.
Certain facts must be accepted without question, of course, for audiences to remain transfixed. These facts are no more or less believable than the standard issue assumptions about garlic and crosses and bats that govern movies about "real" vampires. One such fact is that all women can spot a vamp a mile off, but few men can. The primary victim, John Schuyler (Edward Jose), is not obtuse; he's simply male--in other words, made to order.
He's also wealthy, which helps. But it isn't only money that the vamp is after, or she wouldn't work so diligently at destroying the source of the golden eggs. Nor is it solely sex: she renders her victims impotent, after all. It is power she desires, the power to seduce, to enthrall, to possess, to empty, and to discard. She is the ultimate consumer.
Dated as its trappings are, A FOOL THERE WAS is startlingly modern in its avoidance of sentimentality. It teaches no lessons. The vamp does not develop into a vamp; she's what she is when the story begins. John Schuyler likewise does not choose to have an affair with her; he can't resist her charms. Once under her spell, the victim has no will of his own. Families and friends appeal to his humanity (the abandoned wife and daughter are trotted out) but in their presence the vamp draws Schuyler to her breast with the greatest of ease. Unlike Victorian melodramas in which decent men are snared by drink (Timothy Shay Arthur's "Ten Nights in a Bar Room," for instance), one cannot defeat the vamp by reformist means. Only a stake through the heart would do it, and that's another movie.
If you've watched NOSFERATU, DRACULA, or VAMPYR, you'll certainly recognize the telltale signs of Schuyler's grim decline: a hollow-eyed decrepitude brought on (presumably) by the vamp's insatiable desire for sex. His moral decay is accompanied by the same physical decay that we associate with involuntary blood donations and pinholes in the neck. Audiences expected it. And loved it.
Not many extras on the disc, but there is a nice slideshow of photos of Theda Bara, both with and without her trademark mascara. Philip Carli provides a lively piano score with little vamping. Recommended.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
A 1915 "Psychological Drama" as good as any!26 May 2004
- Published on Amazon.com
This film's own introduction as a psychological drama says it all as far as I'm concerned. It depicts very powerfully how some men easily fall victim to being manipulated and dominated by emotionally disturbed women to the point of committing suicide or becoming alcoholic, and anyone with some life and people experience will recognize these things which happen around us all too often. I found that the frequent scenes of the "fool's" wife and playful small child (which some think were superfluous) showed poignantly what he had sacrificed and lost, and the ending was equally heart-wrenching. For anyone who appreciates true psychological drama about real-life situations and understands them well, this old film will not disappoint, despite some poor picture quality at times. I felt that Theda Bara played her part extremely well: more than just a 'vamp' who leads men astray, but also the cold-hearted, angry, bossy woman who typically has control over certain types of men and is so emotionally detached that she doesn't care what happens to them later. Another interesting aspect is this window into the past showing people's manner and behaviour nearly a century ago, and also showing that psychological problems were perhaps better understood in the past than we realize. Being a 1915 production, it isn't as smooth and sophisticated as films of the 1920s, and it might require a little extra effort to read and understand the texts, and keep up with the somewhat rough editing, but for the story, its content and message, I think it rates highly overall. Add to that the special features on this DVD which explain how Theda Bara's image was 'created' in order to attract viewers and put the focus on her - something that hasn't changed in Hollywood over the century! So whether you like the psychological angle or the allurement of Theda Bara, this movie is still well worth watching.