Kino International has a history of releasing rare and intriguing films on DVD and video, and A Fool There Was is a smart film. The film was based on a play that was based on the Rudyard Kipling poem entitled The Vampire, which Mr. Kipling in turn based on a famous painting.
The film depicts a licentious and connivingly wicked woman known as the vampire, depicted to dramatic effect by Theda Bara. The publicity leading up to the film’s release included rumors of Bara’s very name being the backward spelling of ‘Arab’, and Theda as an anagram for the word ‘death’. In actually, ‘Bara’ was derived from a family name, and ‘Theda’ is a shortened form of her real name ‘Theodosia’ Goodman.
Publicity photos showed Bara eerie and scandalous poses with a human skeleton (based upon the painting that inspired Kipling). These disturbing images well lived up to the final results of the film.
Bara’s character is known as the Vampire, although her devilish ways are not supernatural. She seduces prominent and successful men, strips them of all dignity, and eventually destroys them. Early in the film, an argument her character has with a previous lover causes the poor ‘fool’ to shoot himself. (The ‘Vampire’ says right before the suicide “Kiss me, my fool!”) The suicide has no ill-effect on the Vampire’, it rather causes her to laugh.
John Schuyler (portrayed by Edward Jose) soon becomes her next victim. Bara seduces Shuyler on a boat ride to Italy. After Schuyler’s improper behavior, he loses his important government position and separates with his wife and child. By this time entirely under the Vampire’s control, he is a broken and the shamed man who spends his time drinking and vying for Bara’s attention. When he returns to the United States, his wife attempts to reconcile, but she is thwarted by the Vampire.
The chemistry between Theda Bara and Edward Jose is palpable and engaging. Jose does an excellent job off having his character fall apart throughout the movie. For Bara’s part, she is every bit sensual and dangerous. This film coined the term ‘vamp’, still applied today to attractive and destructive women. Bara became a major sex symbol following the release of A Fool There Was and is today remembered in the annals of film history.
Kino international’s DVD package for A Fool There Was includes an excerpt from the original play, Theda Bara’s skeleton publicity photos, the original Rudyard Kipling poem, and a short history of the film. The restored print is very nice to watch for its age.
Fans of silent film are not to miss this historically fascinating film with its intriguing story, superb acting, and fantastic costuming. Unfortunately, few films of Theda Bara’s are known to exist today. Still, if any film of Theda’s deserves to have survived the ravages of time, A Fool There Was is likely that very film.