The Unchastened Woman (1925) Poster

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Our best glimpse of Theda
Jamie-5812 May 1999
Whilst this attempted comeback did not reignite Theda Bara's career - she had been off the screen since 1919 following the termination of her contract with Fox - it does survive as our best glimpse of this most elusive of silent stars. The plot is not much to write about; some nonsense about a philandering husband and his wife's scam to win him back. But it has to be said that Theda is arresting. Very beautiful, far more so than in the often ludicrous stills taken at Fox, she plays with an easy grace and a surprising knack for light comedy. She is a most sympathetic actress, and if the film itself is forgettable, it at least makes us hungry to see more of her films. Will "Cleopatra" and "Salome" never turn up? The print I have is badly faded, but suggests that quite a bit of money was spent on the production. This is hardly a milestone of the silent cinema, and contemporary reports suggest that it was a comedown for Theda, but it kills an afternoon. (One minor point of interest; Theda Bara had a most captivating laugh. Why was she so seldom photographed smiling?)
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Bara's good, but the film sucks!
David-2409 June 1999
This is the first film I have seen starring the notorious Theda Bara, the screen's first vamp. Sadly it is one of only two of her films to survive (what did Fox do with all their silents?). And she's very good. Very attractive (at 40) and tastefully dressed, she plays with humour and strength a wronged woman who becomes a vamp to revenge her husband's infidelity.

But it's not as fun as it sounds - in fact it's all rather grim. And it is the worst possible type of silent film - a chatty one. Long conversations are held in drawing rooms - the actors mouthing the words and then titles revealing what was said. Very boring. After all this was based on a famous play. The only points of visual interest are an enormous peacock dress in a nightclub scene, a magnificent fantasy Venice by moonlight, and Bara herself.
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Vamps and Flappers
Cineanalyst12 October 2009
Warning: Spoilers
"The Unchastened Woman" is a rather oddly plotted and otherwise forgettable picture, but Theda Bara shines in it. Today, Bara is mostly a lost figure of the silent era; only a few of her films are known to survive, and, of them, I know of only two feature-length ones that have been so far made available on home video. One of those is this film, which was made at the end of Bara's career--or, in a way, after the end of her career; it was a failed comeback attempt. The other film, "A Fool There Was" (1915), is from the beginning of her career, when she first began to introduce her vamp to the screen.

From viewing these two films, it's evident that Bara evolved considerably as an actress during the decade's length (as did film technique). In "The Unchastened Woman", she demonstrates a fuller command and, thankfully, mostly relies upon subtle facial expression, which is enhanced by the standard use of close-ups and generally more intimate camera perspectives in 1925, as opposed to their comparative rarity and distance in 1915. As with "A Fool There Was" and as indicated by the publicity stills for her lost films, Bara wears a heavy white make-up and some extravagant outfits (there's a hat in this one that never stops moving) and, sometimes, is provocatively under dressed. In the film, I like the part where Bara's character gives a dress to her husband's mistress, as this underscores in the narrative the importance of Bara's costumes to her films' appeal.

In this film, Bara is, surprisingly, introduced as a modest and pregnant housewife--the antithesis to the vamp character she introduced to the screen in her Fox releases. That changes, however, when she discovers her husband's affair with his secretary. Rather than be the quietly suffering wife, Bara decides to hide her pregnancy from her husband and to go live in Venice for a while. The film's narrative, which involves Bara hiding their son from her husband for a considerable time and some other rather odd battles over marital infidelity, is rather unappealing, but it does at least seem to offer a rather novel twist on Bara's vamp persona. The film also appears to be a bit unpolished for 1925, although it was reportedly made by a small company, which explains the awkwardness of some of the angle shifts during scene dissection.

Especially interesting methinks is that the husband's mistress played by Eileen Percy is a flapper type of character. Like the vamp, the flapper was a sexually liberated and independent new woman, who were sometimes home wreckers and destructive of the men who fell victim to their allure. Later and in film noir in particular, this type was redone and called the femme fatale. Nevertheless, in the end of this picture, Bara returns to being a faithful wife and mother, which, come to think of it, is rather appropriately reflective of Bara's reported life: after leaving Fox and the movies, she married a film director, who supposedly saw it unfit for her to return to acting, and, shortly after this comeback attempt, she remained retired from the screen.
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Not one of Bara's best, but better than nothing!
JohnHowardReid2 January 2018
Warning: Spoilers
Copyright 16 November 1925 by Chadwick Pictures Corp. U.S. release: 15 November 1925. 7 reels. 6,800 feet. [DVD: 52 minutes].

NOTES: A re-make of the 1918 version staring Grace Valentine, Frank Mills, Mildred Manning and Edna Hunter in the Bara, Standing, Percy and Kelso roles respectively. The stage play opened on Broadway at the 39th Street Theatre on 9 October 1915 and ran a very successful 193 performances. The emphasis in the play is somewhat different than this movie version. The title character is not the dull heroine but the predatory female. James Young was a prolific director/writer/actor in the silent era. He did not make a single talkie in any capacity whatever.

COMMENT: Now I've finally seen a Theda Bara movie! That's something of an achievement since so few of her films survive. It was also a disappointment. This dumpy, matronly figure with the vapid, expressionless face was certainly no Cleopatra. She radiated no charisma at all. In fact she was no actress either. Every single one of the supporting players walked rings around her. The play was so old-hat, it barely managed to retain my interest. Only the sterling efforts of Eileen Percy and to a lesser extent Wyndham Standing and Harry Northrup saved the day. Young's direction was strictly from mediocre-land. Aside from an entertainer's startling nightclub costume, production values were minimal. But at least the print was cut to 5 reels and is tinted as well. Quality rating: 8 out of ten.
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