Back in November of 2016, I plugged a Kickstarter project instituted by author/silent film collector Edward Lorusso to restore the 1922 Marion Davies film Beauty’s Worth…and while I would have loved to throw a few coins into Ed’s guitar case to help with this worthy goal, I found myself woefully short of funds at the time. (A condition I often describe here at Rancho Yesteryear as “weekly.”) I was heartened to learn, however, that the DVD of Worth will eventually be made available via Ben Model’s Undercrank Productions, so maybe I’ll be “healthy” (to channel my inner Damon Runyon) by that time to grab a copy. (If you happen to be flush with cash, you might be interested in Lorusso’s latest campaign to bring life to Davies’ April Folly —which will conclude tomorrow at 12:58pm EDT.)
The Lorusso project that I was able to contribute to, The Bride’s Play (1922), recently made its debut on The Greatest Cable Channel Known to Mankind™…along with an earlier film Ed applied paddles to—the 1921 Bebe Daniels romp Ducks and Drakes. The review of Play is here, but I DVR’d Drakes to be viewed at a more convenient time…and found it a diverting romantic comedy that gets by largely on the charm of its star. Ducks and Drakes is one of Bebe’s earliest feature films as a leading lady, after appearing in nearly 150 shorts opposite Harold Lloyd and roles in Cecil B. DeMille films like Male and Female (1919) and Why Change Your Wife? (1920).
Ducks and Drakes (1921) is the story of Teddy Simpson (Bebe), a vivacious if flaky young flapper whose disapproving “Aunty Weeks” (Mayme Kelso) is pressuring her to become lawfully wed to her fiancé, Rob Winslow (Jack Holt). Teddy has little tolerance for that foolishness, and to relieve the suffocating boredom of her existence, indulges in playing telephone pranks on unsuspecting doofuses (doofi?) like Dick Chiltern (Edward Martindel), a man old enough to be her father, and Tom Hazzard (W.E. Lawrence), amusingly posing as an “anarchist.” With the kind of coincidences found only in movies, Rob, Dick, and Tom all belong to the same gentlemen’s club…and learn that they’ve all been dealing with the same girl. The trio—along with a fourth member, Colonel Tweed (Wade Boteler)—decide to mother-hen a plan that will teach young Teddy a well-deserved lesson.
Because Teddy’s shenanigans really don’t do any long-term harm to anyone, you sort of have to prepare yourself for the wincing “taming of the wild gal” plot in Ducks and Drakes. However, Daniels is so mesmerizing onscreen that I was a little lenient with the “battle of the sexes” direction the movie eventually heads towards. The title of the feature is a tip-off; it originally was a quaint colloquialism used to describe a squandering of money or resources, but in this particular instance it’s used to describe Teddy’s wild lifestyle. (The “ducks and drakes” is also reinforced in the title cards accompanying Elmer Harris’ screenplay; Harris is perhaps best known as the author of the stage hit Johnny Belinda, whose 1948 film adaptation scored a Best Actress Oscar for Jane Wyman.)
Director Maurice Campbell had previously directed star Daniels in Oh, Lady, Lady (1920) and She Couldn’t Help It (1920), and his comfort level with Bebe would continue with five additional films: Two Weeks with Pay (1921), One Wild Week (1921), The March Hare (1921), The Speed Girl (1921), and The Exciters (1923). Campbell acquits himself nicely with the staging of the various comedy set pieces—the highlight being a sequence (filmed at California’s Big Bear Lake) in which Bebe’s Teddy is trapped in a houseboat/water cabin and at the mercy of an escaped convict. Jack Holt, a one-time stuntman best known as Columbia’s top he-man star in the late 1920s/early 1930s (he’s also the father of Tim and Jennifer), is serviceable as fiancé Winslow (even if he does seem a bit too old for his twenty-year-old leading lady). I was also amused by the presence of character thespian Boteler; I kept muttering “Sufferin’ snakes, Reid!” throughout the action (a reference to Wade’s role as “Michael Axford” in the 1940 serial The Green Hornet).
Ducks and Drakes wraps up its antics in less than an hour, and it’s made me more curious to check out more of Bebe Daniels’s available silent film output (I know her from the Lloyd comedies, 1925’s Miss Bluebeard, and her BBC radio work with husband Ben Lyon). Kudos to Ed Lorusso for bringing this one out of the mothballs, a most engaging and energetic vehicle with a fine musical score from David Drazin.