Obscure Films: “Hearts and Flowers” (1919)

This is the final post for Forgotten Comedians Month. This past August was successful indeed–the heartiest of thanks to everyone who’s been following along these last few weeks! I’m sure Charlie Murray, Gale Henry, Musty Suffer, Charley Bowers, Louise Fazenda, and all the other forgotten folk appreciate it. (Oh, and Pimple. We mustn’t forget Pimple.) September’s looking mighty interesting, since in a matter of days a certain important film will be turning 100…

Are you in the mood for a short comedy?  Would you like to watch something that’s off the beaten track? Do you have a hankering to see pompous orchestra leaders, ladies in men’s clothing, bathing beauties playing ball, and flower girls rolling down hills? If so, Hearts and Flowers (1919) may be the short for you!

Hearts Flowers stars posed film fun '19

Film Fun, 1919.

It’s a cheery 21 minutes off Sennett-ness with a cute ending. Only silent comedy buffs will recognize the stars in this film–Ford Sterling, Louise Fazenda, Phyllis Haver, Billy Armstrong–but in my opinion it’s as worth your time as the usual work by Lloyd or Chaplin.

Ford Sterling (one of the very first actors at Mack Sennett’s Keystone studio and for a time one of the most popular screen comedians), is a orchestra leader in a plush hotel.  All the young ladies “go for him.” He’s the living embodiment of both a ham and a cad.

Hearts and Flowers still 29559

He’s interested in a pretty “prune grower’s daughter” in the audience (played by Phyllis Haver), who’s there with her jealous boyfriend (Billy Armstrong).  They dance and make eyes at each other, jealous boyfriend be darned. At the same time, the daffy hotel flower girl (Louise Fazenda, at the time Sennett’s most popular leading lady after Mabel Normand) develops a crush on the debonair orchestra leader even though she, too, has a boyfriend. (He’s a wimpy little man in a sad wrinkled suit.) She  giddily tries to flirt with the orchestra cad, but he rebuffs her advances: “You have the grace of a hippopotamus, but lack its charms.”

Hearts and Flowers still 29558

Jealous Boyfriend, hoping to get rid of the orchestra cad, tricks him into thinking that the flower girl is actually an heiress to $2,000,000. Cad obligingly ditches Phyllis for the supposedly-rich Louise. But Phyllis, upset at this turn of events, attempts to get rid of her rival by disguising herself as a man and trying to wile the flower girl away. Her disguise is so successful–Haver is an amazingly good male impersonator!–that the two even share a kiss. (Which I’m thinking is mainly meant to be taken as a joke about her talent at disguise, since none of the old reviews I’ve found bother to mention it. *Obligatory discussion of mildly risque material in early film comedies*)

But Phyllis can’t distract Louise for long, and soon the flower girl and the orchestra cad are about to get married. Unfortunately for him, she has three large brothers who are none too keen about their future brother-in-law. Knockabout ensues!

Hearts and Flowers still 29560

This is one of those shorts that’s often dismissed as “disjointed” or “slow in the beginning” or what have you. But really, I think that’s just another case of folks being too quick to dismiss anything that wasn’t made by one of the Big Four, God bless their irreplaceable masterpiece-making souls. Hearts and Flowers isn’t a candidate for the Criterion Collection, true, but like many Sennett products you sense that sincere effort went into it. There’s fun touches like the melodramatic character names given in the opening title card (Ford is “a leader of men”) and the way the audience reacts to the orchestra’s performance. Each main character is given a decent time to develop their characters and perform their “bits of business” for the camera, with the crazier slapstick saved to give the end a burst of energy.

Hearts and Flowers still 29563

Ford Sterling is inspired, as he usually is in so many goofy ways. He had long since abandoned his super-duper-broad Dutch character, and playing a debonair society type seems all too easy for him. Louise is also delightful, playing a type of character that she was known for–a naive girl who is “just keen” on a man, even though he has zero interest in her. And Phyllis steals the show with her male impersonation (although Louise does manage to hold her own with a guffaw-worthy reaction to her former sweetheart showing up).

Image result for hearts and flowers 1919

One of the best things about Hearts and Flowers is the quintessential Bathing Beauties scene, which serves no purpose beyond showing off some feminine eye candy. We see the ladies run along the beach in their modest 1920s suits and play ball. Eye candy they may have been, but I always find it refreshing to see the Beauties doing things, being healthy, rather than just lounging around in provocative poses (well, most of the time). Buster fans will want to pay extra close attention because three of his leading ladies are in this scene: Phyllis (in a very cute bathing suit), Virginia Fox, and even his finest leading lady, Sybil Seely. Not only is there a brief closeup of Sybil, but we see her tackle another girl during the ball game, kick a ball and even do the splits! (She’s the one in the striped turban.)

Bathing beauties hearts and flower seated

Promo shot for the film. Virginia is fourth from the left, then Phyllis, then Sybil.

All in all, Hearts and Flowers is a bubbly little classic and one that I’m always happy to pop into my Blu-ray player. It can be watched on The Mack Sennett Collection Vol. 1, as well as Fandor (the Netflix for the indie/arthouse crowd). Here’s the Bathing Beauties scene–watch for  Virginia and Sybil’s closeups right in the beginning!

My top source was The Mack Sennett Collection Vol. 1. The black and white screenshots are from Fandor’s page for this film. My other sources for this article, as well as all the articles for Forgotten Comedians Month, are:

Massa, Steve. Lame Brains & Lunatics: The Good, the Bad, and the Forgotten of Silent Comedy. Albany, Georgia: BearManor Media, 2013.
Walker, Brent E. Mack Sennett’s Fun Factory. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2010.
Lahue, Kalton C. and Gill, Sam. Clown Princes and Court Jesters. South Brunswick: A.S. Barnes and Co., Inc., 1970.

16 thoughts on “Obscure Films: “Hearts and Flowers” (1919)

  1. Thanks for highlighting this delightful little film. I need to go back and see it again—it’s been a long time ago that I watched it (on the old Slapstick Encyclopedia dvd set). Ford Sterling and Louise Fazenda are very funny in this one.

    I really should get hold of that Sennett Blu-ray set. I did record a lot of these shorts when they were broadcast on TCM as part of the September month-long Keystone festival back about 3 (?) years ago—but the quality isn’t so good, and also the Blu-ray may have some that weren’t aired.

    • The Sennett set is fantastic–it has all the early “essentials” (like BANGVILLE POLICE) and bonus films too. Which are excellent–my favorite is the Sennett episode of This Is Your Life. It’s so touching to see all those Keystone veterans together again! (Louise is one of them, too.)

  2. I love this film! BTW, I came across a couple of photos of Sybil during her bathing beauty days when I was at the Herrick Library yesterday. One I don’t think I had seen before.

    • :-O That is very cool, will you be posting them on your site at all? I know I got to use a couple of her Bathing Beauties photos from the Herrick for my Sybil article. I heart that place.

      • Unfortunately, it wasn’t an Evans, so I didn’t order a copy. Overall, the visit was a bit of a disappointment, but I knew going in that I may not find much. Did find several Evans photos in the ‘Mickey’ folders, most which I had never seen before. Someone should do a book about the making of the film; it would be very interesting reading.

        • At least the trip was somewhat fruitful for you! Q: I haven’t tried ordering copies of photos from them, is the fee reasonable? And are you free to use the photos in a book project, or is there some kind of fee?

      • I’m not too clear about their policy for use, but I think if you order a copy of a photo, you can use it as long as you can get the permission of the rights holder. Since I’m dealing with pre-1923 photos, they should be public domain. As for their fee, its $40 per copy. I ordered a photo of Mabel Normand and should get a digital copy by next week. I’ll let you know if it was worth the price.

  3. Hi Lea, I had seen this film before but after reading your article I watched it again last night and I was amazed at how much I enjoyed it more. I think Sybil is great with Buster Keaton so it was fascinating to know that it was her doing the splits etc. My favourite bit in the film was when Louise’s hat kept springing up from her head! Ford Sterling was great too, a lot calmer than his earlier shorts. Chicago is one of my all-time favourites so I love Phyllis anyway! Thanks for putting the spotlight on this brilliant little film!

  4. I’m so glad to see a Louise Fazenda short! I think from your posts, I will forever after be able to recognize her! I liked the hat part, and this is also the first thing I’ve ever seen the bathing beauties in, I had only seen them in photos before. I enjoyed Hearts and Flowers and am forever grateful for everything you highlight! Very educational. 🙂 I think that forgotten comedians month was extremely successful.

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