Monday, March 15, 2010

Constance Talmadge "The Primitive Lover" (1922)

"The Primitive Lover" (1922) is a silent romantic comedy starring Constance Talmadge, Harrison Ford, and Kenneth Harlan. Directed by Sidney Franklin, this film is about a young woman who finds life with her husband dull in comparison to the romance novels she reads. The novel Phyllis Tomley, played by Constance Talmadge, is presently reading is "The Primitive Lover," which inspires her idea of what a real man should be like. The novel's author, Donald Wales, is a former beau of Phyllis who has disappeared in the South American jungle and is presumed to be dead. While Phyllis and her husband Hector, played by Harrison Ford, are at her parent's home, Donald, played by Kenneth Harlan, shows up and tells her that his disappearance was only a publicity stunt for his latest book and that he and Hector had planned the whole thing. When Donald learns that Hector married his sweetheart, he rightfully feels betrayed. Phyllis also feels betrayed because Hector married her while continuing to let her think Donald was dead. At this point, Hector admits he has failed to win Phyllis' heart and is willing to step aside. Phyllis believes that Hector's willingness to give her up is proof that he does not love her. Phyllis is convinced that she wants Donald instead of her tame husband. She craves the caveman style of lover and goes to Reno for a divorce. Phyllis and Hector move to Nevada to expedite their divorce. On the night the divorce is granted, Hector becomes so disgusted with Donald and his novels that he picks up one of the books and throws it out the window accidentally hitting an Indian squaw in the head. Hector goes outside to apologize but she begins hitting him. Her husband, Chief Bluebottle, comes along and shoves her out of the way and tells Hector he already has twenty-two wives. With the help of the Chief, Hector fakes a holdup and kidnapping of Phyllis and Donald and takes them into the mountain wilderness. When they arrive on horseback at a cabin high in the mountains, Hector tells Donald that when he is convinced that he is the right man for Phyllis, he will let him go. Hector decides that if Phyllis wants a primitive lover, then he will show her. Which one of the two men will ultimately win Phyllis' heart?

Constance Talmadge was one of Hollywood's most popular comediennes. She achieved film immortality as the Mountain Girl of ancient Babylon in D.W. Griffith's "Intolerance" (1916). Her older sister, Norma Talmadge, had become a star several years before her as a dramatic actress while Constance's specialty was sharp, witty comedies. When Norma married producer Joseph Schenck, he was persuaded to take control of both his wife's and his sister-in-law's career. He set up the Constance Talmadge Film Company in 1917, solely to produce bubbly, light comedies with her. She was given full control regarding scripts and costars, and her films were enormously popular. Schenck continued to supervise Constance Talmadge's career into the 1920's, when there were fewer films but with higher production values than ever before. He had worked out a lucrative production deal with First National, by which Talmadge received a little over $93,000 for each film. With the coming of sound, the First National agreement was terminated in 1927. She made one last silent film, "Venus" (1929), for United Artists release and happily retired. Constance Talmadge made a total of 84 films from 1914 to 1929.

"The Primitive Lover" was made right around the peak of Talmadge's stardom, and it really
shows off the personality and talent that made her an audience favorite in the silent era. The
film is light and silly and has its roots in typical bedroom farce. Harrison Ford, who was Talmadge's leading man in twelve films, gives a delightful performance as the somewhat dull husband who is determined to win Phyllis' heart. Kenneth Harlan, who was Talmadge's leading man in seven films, is excellent as the conceited novelist. Constance Talmadge gives the best performance as the rather silly, discontented wife who craves for the romance of the novels she reads. Talmadge was clearly a natural comedienne, and it's a shame that so few of her films are available today. "The Primitive Lover" is worth watching just to take a glimpse at a true icon of the silent screen whose comedies are as modern today as they were ninety years ago.

*It is interesting to note that Constance Talmadge was one of the few women in Hollywood who could drive a chariot.


  1. Silent, This silent movie sounds like is loads of fun to watch and has a message that is topical even today. Loved the pictures you added to your review.

  2. Dawn, this film is so fun to watch. I had such a great time writing the review. I was giggling while I was writing it. It's such a fun and silly film. I had never seen Constance Talmadge in any film even though I had read about her, and I'm glad I was able to find this film on dvd. I would like to write a review on a Norma Talmadge film in the future.


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