Theda Bara, the vamp

Theda Bara, the original female vampire or “vamp,” manslayer extraordinaire — well, I finally watched the only movie of hers on Netflix, A Fool There Was, from 1915. (Only a few of her films still exist.) For a brief time in Hollywood there was a run of vamp movies, with the star of that moment being Theda Bara. I found this pretty bad movie to be fascinating in the way it depicts women and in what I found to be a hilarious performance by Theda. She is just the ultimate in evil woman camp. The video clip I’ve inserted (which I didn’t make) shows some great scenes from that film combined with some nice shots of Theda in various costumes.

As a quick critique, the movie is sheer post-Victorian melodrama, with women divided between the perfect, forgiving, somewhat frumpy wife with an adorable angelic blond headed child who always says her prayers (and believe me, in this movie they were so boring!) and the eternally watchable, fun, blackhaired woman playing poker and then lounging on a chaise Theda Bara. She and the script are absolutely over the top, even by early film standards. She causes one man to blow his brains out on the boat that she has taken in order to lure a diplomat away from his mission and into her clutches. Of course, she then leads said wealthy politician to drink and dissipation, and he eventually goes mad. And she laughs — hahaha! She traps them with a flower, then throws the flower on their graves. Theda throws in some interesting nuances, too, that make the character almost (well, not quite) believable — she owns it. The woman is cranky. She’s demanding. She’s bored. She has nothing to do but trap men and lure them to their doom. Even then, she looks annoyed about the whole thing. This makes her more than just a slink-around vampire.

This movie is a hoot. Yet I think at the time it was probably seen as a straight up cautionary tale. — It’s worth watching just to see Theda roll her eyes at the silliness of it all and wear some really cool costumes.


4 thoughts on “Theda Bara, the vamp

  1. Paige

    So in one of the billion-and-one Gender Studies Meets ____ classes I had to take at DePaul (which, as I’m sure you’ll remember me complaining about, required you to study diversity at least twice a semester) they talked a ton about movies at the turn of the century really milking this whole vamp-vs-virgin thing. I’m still not entirely sure how big of a deal this was (the thing about a Feminist Study class is that everything in the class is seen through the lens of it being a Feminist Study class). But she did bring out plenty of examples, and they were pretty hilarious in the sheer repetitiveness of them. That polar opposite way of looking at chicks in pop culture…thank goodness the modern world has movies like Suckerpunch to blow those stereotypes out of the water.

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