I first heard the name of Colleen Moore during the most recent TCM Film Festival. All over Twitter and the classic film blogosphere were rave reviews of a film called WHY BE GOOD? and the lead actress, Colleen Moore. While I do have a copy of WHY BE GOOD?, one which I am sorry to say that I haven’t watched yet, my first exposure to Colleen Moore’s talents has come from another film called ELLA CINDERS. Why how do you do, Miss Moore? I’m a big fan.
ELLA CINDERS is a retelling of the age old tale of Cinderella but which a bit more pep. Ella (Colleen Moore) is the unfortunate stepdaughter of Ma Cinders (Vera Lewis), who has apparently talked two husbands to death. From the first husband she received two pills in the form of her daughters. Prissy Pill (Emily Gerdes) is the eldest followed by Lotta Pill (Doris Baker) both daughters of Mr. Pill, Ma Cinder’s first victim. Ella spends her days running about the house, washing furnaces and dishes, making food, and running a rolling pin up and down Ma Cinder’s back. The only bright spot in her life is her friendship with the hunky ice man, Waite Lifter (Lloyd Hughes), who is the only one to treat her with any kindness or consideration.
Life seems as if it will continue on much the same until the news comes that a beauty contest is being held. The winner will receive an all-expenses paid trip to Hollywood to break into movies and become a big star. Naturally, Lotta and her family believe that she is the natural choice for such a prize. Ella wants to enter the contest too but her chances of winning seem unlikely as Lotta has a manual on acting to study and she does not. Luckily, Lotta is a heavy sleeper and Ella has nimble fingers. Her stolen prize safely in her arms, Ella runs off to her room to do some late night studying. She spends the next few days working overtime and babysitting the neighbor’s kids in order to get the extra money needed to have her headshots taken by a professional photographer.
The day dawns that Ella is due to have her picture taken. She arrives in a flurry of excitement all ready to blow the judges away with her practiced posing, but there is one small problem. There is a fly in the studio and it seems to have taken a shine to Ella. She tries her best to remain composed and smile like the starlet she hopes to be but to no avail. The photographer snaps away and then sends Ella on with promises that he will give her photographs to the judges.
A ball is being held to announce the winner of the beauty contest and everyone is going except Ella. She sadly sits at home until Waite arrives and convinces her that she deserves to go just as much as everyone. Ella agrees and takes one of her stepsister’s dresses to wear. At the ball Lotta has lined up with rest of the entrants, or the losers as she thinks of them, and is presenting herself to the judges. Ella and Waite show up with Ella too nervous to get in line. Some clever moves by Waite get Ella to the head of the queue and she is soon in front of the judges. Oddly though the judges all burst into laughter when looking at her photograph. When she takes a closer look, Ella is horrified to see that the photographer has submitted a picture of her with the fly! Needless to say it is not a beauty shot. Ma Cinders and her daughters descend on Ella and the judges, demanding to know just what she thinks she is doing her, and in the chaos Ella runs off leaving her shoe behind.
Will Ella make to Hollywood? Will Lotta spoil everything? Does Waite Lifter ever tell Ella how he feels? Can a simple housefly get his big break?
Based on the comic strip of the same name, which was written by Bill Consulman and drawn by Charles Plumb, Ella Cinders as a character was in the public eye from 1925 until 1961. The strip and character were so popular that they managed to secure a film adaptation one year after they first appeared making ELLA CINDERS one of the very first film adaptations of a comic. Directed by Alfred E. Green and produced by Colleen Moore’s then husband John McCormick, ELLA CINDERS is a delightful movie. In fact I would call it stinking adorable. It also happens to be completely funny and irreverent to boot.
One of the things that I enjoyed the most in ELLA CINDERS was how pretty much everyone in the film just goes 100% and hams it up with gleeful abandon. With the possible exception of Lloyd Hughes, who is very nice to look at but perhaps a wee bit stiffer than his co-stars, everyone jumps in with both feet to characters that are not deep and nuanced but extremely funny and entertaining. There are some great cameos most notably from Harry Langdon. I had never seen Harry Langdon before but after this small taste I want to see more! With a dour expression reminiscent of Buster Keaton (and we all know how I love Buster Keaton), Harry Langdon is hilarious as the very confused comic whose movie set Ella crashes. He and Colleen Moore riff off each other and the result is one of the funniest scenes in the film. Also keep an eye out for director Alfred E Green playing…a film director!
Let’s take a minute here and talk Colleen Moore. Having just seen a Louise Brooks film it seems only fitting to give Colleen Moore some credit for popularizing the bob. Starting her career in 1917 with THE BAD BOY, Colleen Moore’s career continued to grow and her popularity increase. She was one of the most fashionable stars of the 1920s and at the height of her career was earning $12,500 a week. She is also one of the most charming, wittiest, and physically able female comediennes I have seen. Without Colleen Moore this film would not be as wonderful as it is. She takes what would usually be a simple Cinderella retelling and turns it into an utterly charming and funny story. Her portrayal of Ella is funny, timid, resilient, clever, and adorable. Colleen Moore and Harry Langdon are in the running to be my favorite silent film comedian discoveries this month and ELLA CINDERS is definitely my favorite comedy of October!
I will leave you with some Colleen Moore to enjoy.