Looking for something light and entertaining to watch on a quiet evening? Something in the realm of the “chick flick,” perhaps, but not too chick flicky? Allow me to suggest the charming Constance Talmadge comedy Her Sister From Paris (1925).
Constance is one of those silent era actresses whose name was once known from sea to shining sea but is–you guessed it–mostly forgotten today.
Nowadays there’s two kinds of people who’ll talk about Connie: A) hardcore silent film buffs who’ve forgotten more about Marguerite Clark and Reginald Denny than you’ll ever know, and B) Buster Keaton fans who know Constance as his sister-in-law (and often taint her with Don’t-Like-Natalie-Talmadge syndrome–perhaps unfairly, hmmmm?). But in the pre-talkie part of film history she was much-loved for her comedy skills and bubbly, spirited personality. She and her equally-loved sister Norma were practically princesses of US cinema.
Her Sister From Paris is a perfect vehicle to introduce people to the talented Constance (well, so is Intolerance but that’s purty ambitious). She’s not only funny, but she gets to show off her acting skills, too–because what better way than with a dual role?
Connie plays both housewife Helen Weyringer and her twin sister, a famous stage performer with the va-va-voom name of Lola “La Perry.” Lola is, of course, beautiful and very fashionable. Helen is dowdy and having problems with her husband Joseph (the equally va-va-voom Ronald Colman, if you ask me). They live in Vienna, although something about the sets still seem very American (err, this seems to happen with a lot of American silents that are supposedly set in Europe). The couple has a big blowup that results in Helen leaving to “go home to mother,” as was the era’s custom.
At the train station she reunites with her sister Lola, emerging from the building amid a cloud of photographers and eager swains. After Helen pours out her woes back at the star’s dressing room, sympathetic Lola hatches a plan and gives her sister a glamorous makeover, resulting in Helen looking like her carbon copy. Now to win back her husband through the fine art of “vamping”…!
It’s almost a screwball comedy. Silents managed to do this very well, I think–take a fairly silly plot and make us take it juuust seriously enough. I almost wonder if the rise of the actual 1930s screwball comedy was partly due to certain stories and lines sounding really goofy in sound. Some exaggeration and zaniness may have been in order to make it all work.
Of all the tough acting roles, one of the hardest to pull off is the coveted showcase known as the “dual role.” No less than Mary Pickford, Conrad Veidt, Douglas Fairbanks and Rudolph Valentino all took their tuns, and the sparkling Constance proves herself very much in their league (which she literally was at the time, of course). She’s relatable as the plain, easily frazzled Helen and stunning as the poised, elegant La Perry. In the split screen scenes where both of Constance’s characters appear at once her timing with, well, herself is flawless. Some dual roles never let you forget that this great actress is playing both parts, see, but in this case I find myself forgetting about it. Connie would be delighted by that, I’m sure.
I always have fun trying to spot the little tricks filmmakers and makeup people will use to create the illusion of an actor being two separate people. In Her Sister From Paris high collars play up Constance’s natural hint of a double chin so Helen seems more “dowdy,” while La Perry tends to have lower necklines as well as more flattering lighting.
Dashing Ronald Colman (who would conquer a dual role himself in 1937’s The Prisoner of Zenda) was one of the finest dark, small-mustachioed leading men of the 1920s. They work beautifully together, and unlike some “fed up husband” characters he doesn’t come across as just some jerk. He adds some touching moments to the ending, too.
Her Sister From Paris is available via Kino’s Constance Talmadge Collection, and can also be viewed on YouTube. I heartily recommend pairing it with a glass of zinfandel and some chocolate cake (with frosting). A double feature with DeMille’s Why Change Your Wife? would also make an exceptionally entertaining evening. Enjoy!
I am happy to be a part of the Dual Roles Blogathon, a fine event hosted by Christina Wehner and Silver Screenings! Many thanks to everyone who’s stopped by–if you’re new to Silent-ology, feel free to take a look around!
I like your theory about the development of screwball comedy as an adjustment to sound and how things we accept visually can seem so absurd when spoken. Very interesting!
This sounds like the perfect place to start with Constance Talmadge. I saw Intolerance (loved her in that one!) and the Matrimaniac (which was more of a Douglas Fairbanks film), but not yet one of her starring films. And Ronald Colman…he is lovely!
Thanks so much for participating!
You’re welcome–thank you for hosting!!
Connie’s one of the best things about Intolerance–so much for the “all female silent film characters were helpless damsels” stereotype, eh?
And ah, Ronald Colman…! 😉
What a sparkling actress Constance Talmadge was! Her Sister From Paris still oozes class and is extremely funny, it’s also the sexiest movie I’ve seen from the 1920s. I’m not sure if my great-grandparents saw this at the pictures, but if they did it would have most assuredly, made them blush!.
I love that one line–“How that man can kiss!” 😉 Thanks for stopping by, Paul.
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Here’s another film I’ve long intended to see, and the next time I have chocolate cake (with frosting), I’m going to take the night off to enjoy it.
I like the tricks you pointed out to help us differentiate between the two characters. Subtle, but effective, no doubt.
And oh boy – Ronald Colman…!
Thanks for joining the blogathon, and for bringing Ms Talmadge with you!
Thank you for hosting, Silver Screenings! I was happy to contribute with Connie and Ron. 🙂
I was so lucky to see this in the theater with live music. Constance Talmadge was so vivacious and full of life and, well, as it has already been said – Ronald Colman – oh boy! Lovely post and an excellent choice for the blogathon.
Thank you! Constance is one of those stars (along with Norma) who could stand to be “rediscovered” by the classic movie crowd. Ronald might be a little better known since he had a long talkie career, but any Ronald is good Ronald as far as I’m concerned. 😀
I’m the hardcore fan who like Constance in Intolerance (she also has a dual role there! How cool!). I’ll look for Her Sister from Paris, because I haven’t seen Connie in anything else. Thanks for the tip!
Don’t forget to read my contribution to the blogathon! 🙂
Thanks for stopping by, Le! Looking forward to seeing what you wrote. 🙂
I’ve been bewitched by the Talmadge sisters since I was a teenager and read Margaret Talmadge’s book about her daughters and Anita Loos bio. Back then, the only silent films available for purchase were 16mm films from Blackhawk – films of Constance in Intolerance and Norma’s early Vitagraphs with Maurice Costello etal. I assumed the 20s features of both sisters were the victim of vault fires or nitrate disintegration and LOST forever. I knew the sisters and Peg put no value on their films and so had not saved them. They had no inkling that future fans – LIKE ME! – would be interested in seeing them in their glory days.
But what about their producer – Schenck – didn’t he save their films, if not for the profits to be had in rereleasing them, then for sentimental reasons, having been Norma’s husband? How could it be that the 2 big, BIG, BIGGEST stars – exceeding even Mary, whose Star was not shining as brightly in this decade – be forgotten, and all because their films were not available after the silent era ended?
And then, in 2010 – 10 years ago! – KINO released 2 of Constance’s 20s comedies, and 2 of Norma’s. The films of Constance, with Ronald Colman, are a joy forever. Norma’s are OK, but they are not the films that critics claimed made her THE dramatic actress of the 20s, films that were also her most popular – Smilin’ Thru, The Lady, and Secrets. These are the films on which her reputation as a great actress are built, and these films exist in the archives, but they have not been released to the public. Why? And why haven’t more of Constance’s 20s films been released? KINO has released nothing since 2010. Why? Didn’t the first sets sell well? The Library of Congress has MOST of their films! How to get them out of the vaults and available for purchase?
Ah yes, these are all eternal questions, Judy. A big reason why more of their films aren’t available is because of the double whammy of archived films needing (very expensive) restoration, and the Talmadges being obscure figures today, which means companies aren’t always willing to pour a lot of money into making their films available. However, that doesn’t mean we’ll never see more Talmadge films circulating out there–fortunately there’s more interest in “off the beaten path” silent films nowadays than there used to be, and Kickstarter helps fund a lot of restorations too. It just all takes time.
It’s great to hear from a Talmadge fan–I’m sure the sisters (all three of them!) would be happy to know they’re remembered.