US Release Date: 08-25-1916
Directed by: Clarence G. Badger
- Gloria Swanson, as
- Reggie's madcap sister
- Bobby Vernon, as
- Bobbie, a young gentleman
- Helen Bray, as
- flirtatious girl
- Myrtle Lind as
- Bobby's first girl
Gloria Swanson in drag cuddles with a woman.
Gloria Swanson was just 18 years old and had appeared in only a handful of two-reelers when she made The Danger Girl for producer Mack Sennett. Swanson started her career as a madcap comedienne before teaming with Cecil B. DeMille in several bedroom dramas that would make her a household name. She is not given enough credit for being the first truly versatile female movie star. When every other leading lady in Hollywood (with the exception of Mabel Normand who never broke out from slapstick comedies) was playing either a Mary Pickford type virgin or a Theda Bara type vamp, she was playing well rounded young women.
The Danger Girl has a rather difficult plot to follow due to the absence of introductory titles. Just who is who is nearly impossible to determine. It is such a fast-paced silly little romp that this hardly matters. The main gist of the plot is that Swanson impersonates a man to woo another woman away from her boyfriend. She wears a man’s tuxedo and top hat, smokes cigarettes, and does some lesbian cuddling. The climax includes her fist-fighting a guy and a car being driven into a building.
Gloria makes her entrance behind the wheel of a fancy car, driving recklessly. According to her autobiography “Swanson on Swanson” this movie was inspired by her arrival at the studio with then husband Wallace Beery, “One morning when I was driving to work I found myself answering some command from deep inside me and started putting on speed until I had Wally screaming in the seat beside me. I tore past the Keystone gates and almost missed the turn into our lot across the street. I roared up to the bungalow, jumped on the brake, and stopped on a dime.” She even had a stuntman give her racing lessons.
Swanson enjoyed dressing as a man, even going so far as trying to fool some guests at the Beverly Hills Hotel where several scenes were shot. The Danger Girl is historically important. I believe it is the earliest surviving Swanson movie. She shows her incredible screen charisma and uniqueness as a movie personality on her way to superstardom.
Gloria Swanson, Helen Bray and Bobby Vernon in The Danger Girl
The fun in The Danger Girl is watching a group of wealthy young people court each other from one hundred years ago. They flirt and change partners constantly. It shows that fashion and cars have changed, while hormones have not.
I agree with Patrick that it could use a few more title cards for clarity. In the cast we have Swanson and her brother, as well as a girl who flirts with every young man she sees, including Swanson in drag. We also have a Bobby, who likes her as well as Swanson. His first girlfriend gets upset with the flirtatious girl for stealing Bobby's attention. Last is the flirtatious girl's boyfriend from the previous season.
They all run after each other, vying for attention and a stolen hug or kiss. As Patrick wrote, Swanson dresses as a man to help Bobby's first girlfriend, by separating Bobby from the flirtatious girl. Meanwhile, the men continue to fight over flirtatious girl.
The pace is faster than a runaway roadster. No one stands still as everyone keeps trying to get the attention of someone else. In a way, this film perfectly defines what it is to be young and horny. The women flirt and act jealous of each other. The men fight and get led around by a pretty face, in hopes of a little personal contact.
The Danger Girl may be one of Swanson's first notable films. She looks good at the end with her hair down. It is the most down to earth moment I have ever seen Swanson act on screen. It may be one of the earliest known films with two girls cuddling. She is not actually convincing as a man, but since this is a silent film, her lack of a voice helps to maintain the disguise.
For me though, The Danger Girl is first and foremost a really fun film. These young people are energetic and packed with hormones. Their only concern seems to be garnishing the attention of someone they are attracted to. They act irrational and spontaneous. Awww, youth.
The Beverly Hills Hotel, where a good portion of this film was shot, as it looks today.
I completely agree about the need for more title cards. It's difficult to tell the players without a scorecard. Not that it really matters because all you really need to know is that basically everyone is lusting after everyone else. The fun is in the chase rather than who is doing the chasing.
Swanson makes a very unconvincing man indeed. Didn't anyone notice her breasts? Or is everyone supposed to think this young man is smuggling oranges in his tuxedo? Hollywood has often made movies featuring unconvincing cross-dressing. I just didn't know that it extended this far back in its history.
Part of the fun of watching these old shorts is observing the locations and behavior of the past. While most of the time it's difficult to discern where they were shot or even if you can then the location has changed so much that the original buildings have been destroyed. Here though, a good portion of the film takes place at the historic Beverly Hills Hotel, which still stands today. If we can assume that the rest of the short was shot nearby then it's amazing to see how much the surrounding area has changed. I'm certain you won't find anyone riding a horse down a dirt road anywhere in Beverly Hills today.
With silent movies in general, but particularly in ones made in the teens, the acting technique varies greatly from film to film. Some of them use the wildly theatrical technique of over-emotion and gesticulating to get their point across, while others employ more natural, subtle acting. This short, despite the farce that is being acted out, actually employs a much more subtle style, which allows it to hold up much better today.
The average two-reeler of the day ran for around 20 minutes. Some of them, with their dated humor and acting, feel much longer. This one is so fast paced, it actually feels shorter. And from me, that's the ultimate compliment.
Photos © Copyright Keystone Film Company (1916)