Heaven Will Protect a Woiking Goil (Vogue, 1916)
Directed by John Francis Dillon
Starring Priscilla Dean and Russ Powell
I cannot begin to describe how much I love this film, and given that I’m not usually much of a fan of short comedies, that must mean something.
Moviegoers of 1916 saw themselves as a quite sophisticated bunch well beyond the old “flickers” that once graced the screen only a few years before. Heaven Will Protect a Woiking Goil is a parody of those early film (and stage) melodramas. It’s hardly original – Goodness Gracious; or, Movies as They Shouldn’t Be (1914) covered much the same ground two years earlier – but whereas Goodness Gracious often veers a little far into the wacky for my taste, Woiking Goil is played mostly straight. Mostly.
The plot is cobbled together from elements and situations lifted from countless potboiler melodramas: Nell, a simple, good-hearted country girl (Priscilla Dean), travels alone to the heartless big city to find her drunken father and bring him back home to her poor, downtrodden mother. Meanwhile, the lecherous manager of a clothing store (Arthur Moon) fires a sales girl (Louise Owen) when she refuses his demand “Kiss me, proud beauty!” Needing a new clerk, he spots Nell and offers her the position… and his attentions. When Nell flees from his embrace, he and a crooked cop (Paddy McQuire) give chase and eventually catch her and her flamboyantly gay boyfriend (Russ Powell) and tie them to the railroad tracks as a train speedily approaches. As luck should have it, the drunken hobo loitering nearby is none other than Nell’s drunken father and he rescues the couple with less than a second to spare.
And that’s only the main plot – I’ve said nothing about the miserly landlord and the suicidal tenant, or the railroad officer and would-be train hopper, or the plight of street beggars. In the span of twelve minutes, this short manages to cram in every single cliché imaginable.
I’m not sure how well the film would play to someone less familiar with the tropes it’s spoofing or with the contemporary memes it constantly alludes to (I was crying from laughter when “And the villains still pursued her.” pops up), but I adore Heaven Will Protect a Woiking Goil and would heartily recommend it to anyone the least bit interested in silent parodies.
My rating: I like it.
Available from Harpodeon