Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Her Wild Oat

As I mentioned previously, I particularly enjoyed Her Wild Oat at the 2008 SF Silent Film Festival or (SF)^2 Festival as the announcer called it.

Her Wild Oat has a plot that has been reworked many times. It's basically a variation on the Cinderella fairy tale. Pretty Woman bares some resemblance as does many other films that I can't recall presently.

Colleen Moore plays Mary Lou Smith, a young woman that runs a lunch counter on wheels. She's a hard working and kind hearted woman with a Louise Brooks bob years before Louise Brooks bobbed her hair. She saves her money to take her dream vacation at a beach resort. One day Phillip Latour, a wealthy young man, is mugged. He borrows some dirty overalls and sits down for a cup of coffee at Mary Lou's counter. A hole in his pocket leave him without even a dime to pay his tab. Mary Lou lets him work it off by washing some dishes. A man of leisure, he ends up breaking more dishes than he cleans. Of course, he doesn't let on that he is wealthy.

He comes back later to pay off the damages, tells Mary Lou some story that he is a driver for the wealthy Phillip Latour and that he is driving him to the beach resort she dreams of. That information prompts Mary Lou to take the vacation of her dreams. With the help of a chorus girl that dines at her counter, Mary Lou buys some new clothes for her vacation. The outfit she wears when walking into hotel is garish to say the least. It's perfectly accessorized with a purse that looks like a poodle and a tall plumed hat. The beach resort exterior shot is Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego which has been the setting of many films, most famously Some Like it Hot with Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, and Marilyn Monroe.

After checking in, Mary Lou is ready to enjoy herself. Sadly, she is treated rudely by the other guests because she is not high society. The hotel detective thinks she is a prostitute and warns her off. Saddened and disillusioned, she begins crying but is spotted by an expense padding newspaper reporter that knows her from the lunch counter. He comes up with the idea creating a new persona for her and the Duchesse de Granville is born (named after a soup on the lunch menu). Mary Lou gets a new wadrobe, a wig, and a bigger suite.

The Duchesse is treated much better the Mary Lou by the people that snubbed her before. While dining with the reporter, the Duchesse is spotted by Latour. He is informed by the waiter that she is the Duchesse de Granville. Here, the plot become too contrived for even a screwball comedy like this. It just so happens that Latour's widowed father is marrying the real Duchesse de Granville and scheduled to honeymoon the hotel. Recognizing Mary from the diner, Latour still insists on addressing the Duchesse as his new step mother and pretending not to recognize her.

At this point, Mary Lou takes various and increasing measures to maintain her false identity with hilarious results if you can suspend disbelief. Finally revealed for the fraud she is, she hightails it out of town and back to her diner. While commiserating with her chorus girl friend, the diner begins to move. You guessed it - Latour is driving the car and towing her diner to his mansion where she is warmly greeted by the household staff. Presumably, they marry & live happily ever after.

Colleen Moore was definitely a major screen presence. She combined the distinctive haircut with an innocent persona and down-to-earth manner. She was girl-next-door cute and it's easy for me to see how she could have been a top box office draw. As the jazz age wound down, Moore felt she was too closely associated with the flapper image and this didn't play well during the Depression era. She retired from acting and is now largely forgotten. Certainly, silent era names such Pickford, Gish, Swanson, etc. are better known today. It's a shame that she didn't (hasn't) gotten the credit she deserves. At least from my one experience, she deserves more acknowledgment.

Upon seeing this film, I truly felt as though I had discovered a hidden gem. The synopsis didn't really appeal to me but I had a festival pass and needed to see films to make it worthwhile. I would really like to see more Moore film. It's sad to think that many of her films are probably lost due to nitrate film stock deterioration.

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