The film is one of the few movies featuring Theda Bara still in existence today. It popularised the term “vamp” (short for vampire), referring to a femme fatale who causes the moral degradation of those she seduces, first fascinating and then exhausting her victims.
In 2015, the United States Library of Congress selected the film for preservation in the National Film Registry, finding it “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
John Schuyler (Edward José), a rich Wall Street lawyer and diplomat, is a husband and a devoted family man. He is sent to England on a diplomatic mission without his wife and daughter. On the ship he meets the “Vampire woman” (Theda Bara) who uses her charms to seduce men, only to leave after ruining their lives.
Completely under the influence of this woman, Schuyler loses his job and abandons his family. All attempts by his family to get him back on the right path fail and the “fool” plunges ever deeper into degradation.
Theda Bara as the Vampire
Edward José as the husband (the fool), John Schuyler
Mabel Frenyear as Kate Schuyler (the fool’s wife)
Runa Hodges as their daughter
May Allison as the wife’s sister
Clifford Bruce as the friend, Tom
Victor Benoit as one of her victims, Reginal Parmalee
Frank Powell as the doctor, as Frank Fowell
Minna Gale as the doctor’s fiancee
The film was based on a 1909 Broadway play titled A Fool There Was by Porter Emerson Browne, which in turn was based on Rudyard Kipling’s poem The Vampire. On the stage Bara’s part was played by actress Katharine Kaelred and was simply referred to as “The Woman”. The star of the play was actually a male, Victorian matinee idol Robert C. Hilliard, whose name featured prominently in some advertisements for the movie though he had no connection with the film.
Production and legacy:
The producers were keen to pay tribute to their literary source, having a real actor read the full poem to the audience before each initial showing, and presenting passages of the poem throughout the film in intertitles. Bara’s official credit is even “The Vampire”, and for this reason the film is sometimes cited as the first “vampire” movie. However, in the film as in Kipling’s poem, the term is used metaphorically as the character is not literally a vampire.
The film was also a watershed in early film publicity. At a press conference in January, the studio gave an elaborate fictional biography of Theda Bara, making her an exotic Arabian actress, and presented her in a flamboyant fur outfit. Then they made an intentional leak to the press that the whole thing was a hoax. This may have been one of Hollywood’s first publicity stunts.
The film marked the first on-screen appearance of the popular World War I-era film actress May Allison.
Although part of the film takes place in the United Kingdom, the film was not passed by the British Board of Film Censors under its policy of not passing films with illicit sexual relationships. Although A Fool There Was never received a public showing in Great Britain, later Theda Bara films were allowed.
Though the film contains scenes set in England and Italy, the entire movie was filmed in St. Augustine, Florida.
This is one of the few Theda Bara films in existence. The others are: The Unchastened Woman (1925), The Stain (1914), East Lynne (1916), and two short comedies she made for Hal Roach in the mid-1920s. This film showcases Bara’s status as the original screen “vamp” (so named for her portrayal of a female vampire).
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:
2002: AFI’s 100 Years…100 Passions – Nominated
2003: AFI’s 100 Years…100 Heroes & Villains:
The Vampire – Nominated Villain
By Frank Powell (YouTube) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons