The Silent Years, Part 2
If you look at earlier films, you run into something of
a pattern. Take the 1926 production of Faust and
the 1925 production of Ben Hur.
Faust does have an apparition played
appear very scantily clad,
and there was an uncredited actress topless in a
The exposure of uncredited actresses also occurs in
two scenes of Ben Hur.
It seems D. W. Griffith started the whole thing in
1916’s Intolerance, in which a scene from
Ancient Babylon shows off several uncredited actresses
as a way to introduce some salacious content in some
suitable form (Babylonians were bad, 'mkay?)
The two problems with silent films are the scarcity of
surviving movies - age and a catastrophic fire mean many
are simply lost - and the poor quality of the prints
that did survive. So Lil Dagover’s topless scene
in Between Two Worlds is both brief and the dickens to
work with because of print quality.
Her surviving still pictures give us a good idea of how
attractive she was.
The real shame is with the movies made by Betty
Blythe. She was attractive and not the least bit
bashful both in posing topless
and in appearing in movies with very little on.
1925’s She is a wonderful example of how little she wore
on screen, which she acknowledged by saying only her
husband and her director could tell her what to
quality of the print for She is horrid, but at
least it survived.
The Queen of Sheba did not survive- at least no one has
found a print - and all we’re left with is a host of
production stills that show Betty under something we
would scarcely call a wardrobe. She was quoted as
saying she wore more than 40 outfits in that movie, but
had she worn them all at the same time, they would not
have kept her warm.
If we go back much farther we run into Angele Guys in
J’accuse, Gloria Swanson in Male and Female, and Julia
Faye in Don’t Change Your Husband, all in 1919.
both of which I believe are lost films, with only the
above production stills to hint at what they might have
Finally, there are two actresses in these years that
compete for the title of earliest sex goddess.
Audrey Munson ("America's first Supermodel") and Annette
Kellerman appear in movies where they play artist’s
models or some such stationary and partially clad
Munson in Heedless Moths (1921)
Munson in Inspiration (1915)
Munson in Purity (1916)
Kellerman in A Daughter of the Gods (1916)
But you have to go all the way back to 1900 to find an
uncredited actress wearing what looks to be a body suit
in The Temptation of St. Anthony to find perhaps the
first on-screen semi-nudity. Again, the problem of
lost films and of prints in really bad shape leave only
still photos to admire.
So, fine - even the earliest and best directors saw the
wisdom of filming attractive women in various states of
undress, all of which would lead to the revelations of
the Pre-Code Talkie Era. Then along came enforcement of
the Hays Code and what followed was a grim 30 years for
those of us in the Funhouse readership.