The opening segment of Lois Weber's "The Blot," featuring a professor doing his best while his wealthy students find a variety of ways to ignore him.
Tags: Lois Weber film history female film directors
Added: 8 months ago
An original story, written and directed by Lois Weber
Copyright 1921 by Lois Weber
Released by F.B. Warren Corporation
Professor Griggs ... Philip Hubbard
His Wife ... Margaret McWade
His Daughter ... Claire Windsor
His Pupil ... Louis Calhern
The Other Girl ... Marie Walcamp
"Men are only boys grown tall."
[scene opens with Professor Griggs teaching his class]
NARRATOR: Professor Andrew Theodore Griggs whose reward for long and faithful service was less than a bare living wage.
[he tries to give his lecture, as the camera focuses on one of the male students]
NARRATOR: As the son of the wealthiest college trustee Phil West "got by" with murder.
[the camera focuses on another male student]
NARRATOR: Bert Gareth's father was not a trustee but he was a member of Congress.
[the camera switches back to Phil, who (instead of taking notes in his notepad) is shown to be drawing a caricature of Professor Griggs, which he shows off to Bert (who laughs)]
[the camera switches to another male student]
NARRATOR: Walt Lucas, the third member of this famous trio, a bored rounder at twenty-three years of age, was compelled to finish college or forfeit his inheritance.
[he yawns, then cut to Bert taking a salamander tied to a string out of his pocket and putting it on Walt's shoe]
[cut to the salamander running up Walt's pants leg, causing him to jump up and shout, disrupting the class]
GRIGGS: I am giving you the best service in my power. May I not in the future expect at least the courtesy of your attention in return?
[class is dismissed, then cut to the three students standing around and talking]
BERT: Oh, forget it! Don't let's get soft just because the old fossil has a pretty daughter.
[they leave, but Phil hangs back and looks at his notepad, flipping to a page with a drawing of a pretty young woman]
NARRATOR: He was glad that the boys did not know how that same pretty daughter piqued and intrigued him.
[cut to a closeup of the drawing, as the image fades into an actual shot of Amelia in the same pose]
Weber, Lois (Director). The Blot. United States: F.B. Warren Corp., 1921.
Starring: Claire Windsor (Amelia Griggs, Librarian); Philip Hubbard (Andrew Theodore Griggs); Louis Calhern (Phil West); Margaret McWade (Mrs. Griggs)
This vintage silent film (now available on DVD) is interesting on many levels. When we first meet pretty college librarian Amelia Griggs, she is rubber-stamping a book and being sweet-talked by wealthy collegian Phil West (who looks ten years too old for college). He checks out books as an excuse to see her, but he's not fooling anyone -- back then pages had to be cut apart to be read and these books are returned intact. She is the daughter of a professor, and the family is noble but impoverished because they earn so little. (Their minister friend (another love interest for Amelia) likewise suffers from an inadequate livelihood.) They are shabbily dressed and hungry, and Amelia feeds her cat from the neighbors' garbage can. The Olsons, a shoemaker and his family (including a third lothario in the young son), wallow in food and happiness since Mr. Olson earns $100 more each week than the professor. In a fit of desperation Mrs. Griggs even steals their cooked chicken (but returns it). Eventually Amelia's weakened condition leads to illness and painful overacting. The "blot" is on a society that doesn't provide enough for its teachers, but the end of this ponderous morality play promises change. The message is about as subtle as a shovel in the face, but is a rare peek into how ordinary people lived back then. (And notice how the pitiful salaries for the professor and the minister are lamented but the librarian's low wages aren't even mentioned. She gets to pick a husband at the end so all is right with the world. Argh.) (Note: The director was America's first native-born female director of silent films, with a large body of work to her credit.)
The Blot specifically details the inadequacy of salaries for college professors, but its message is applicable to all public service occupations. Phil West (Louis Calhern), a wealthy student, clarifies the title of the film when stating to his father (a college trustee) that "it is a 'blot' on the present day civilization that we expect to engage the finest mental equipment for a less wage than we pay the commonest labor." Phil also confronts his father with the inevitable rhetorical question: "Why are we so niggardly with our teachers?"
The film focuses on the family of a college faculty member, Professor Griggs (Philip Hubbard), whose pitiful salary barely sustains his family. The profesosr's daughter, Amelia (Claire WIndsor), works in the local public library; her salary as librarian makes no discernible impact on the family's finances.
Amelia, the leading female character, is a striking young brunette (pincurls with finger waves) who wears the same long-sleeve white blouse, V-neckline, in all library scenes, indicating her minimal wardrobe and the stringent finances of the family. A second librarian (uncredited) at the public desk is a middle-aged brunette and (like Amelia) she repeatedly appears in the same dark high-neck long-sleeve blouse. The cinematic pattern of an attractive actress in major role working with nondescript actress in supporting role appears here as well.
Amelia and her coworker are occupied with a variety of tasks while working at the main desk - answering the telephone, checking out books, assisting patrons in the stacks, and providing reference service. A large SILENCE sign is prominently displayed at the main desk, but there are no indications that the maintenance of silence is a problem for the librarians. Both women appear extremely competent, undoubtedly the image that Weber wanted to project. Weber uses the library as a public institution where librarians have the opportunity to meet and exchange pleasantries with members of the opposite sex, encounters that may eventually lead to romantic involvement.
Phil is enamored with Amelia and visits the library almost daily to meet and speak with her. As a pretense for these subtle romantic overtures, he claims to be an avid reader, thereby necessitating frequent library visits to return and check out books. During one visit, Phil highly praises the book he is returning; Amelia opens the book and separates the pages that she had deliberately pasted together to determine if he was reading the books. Phil, whose advances are spurned by Amelia, realizes that he has been caught in her trap and remarks, "It's the only way I can get to talk to you. You never have time for a fellow unless it's on business."
Weber lightened the overall serious tone of the film by occasionally injecting such humorous touches. Using humor in a library scene is a technique that future screenwriters and directors would expand to heighten romantic tension between women, most often the librarians, and men. Such situations present the opportunity for both comedic physical stunts and sharp, witty verbal exchanges that entertain.
Dejected by Amelia's apparent lack of interest, Phil leaves the library, and an afternoon shower begins as he walks to his automobile. He puts the top on his convertible and then waits for Amelia to leave the library. Working in a cold draft in the library, a result of the doors opening and closing all day, Amelia is feeling ill. When she exits the building, Phil rushes to her and offers to take her home. She initially refuses but relents and joins him. During the ride, Phil notices Amelia's attempt to cover her gloves - they are worn out and open at the fingertips - and that her shoes are extremely worn and lacking proper soles. Weber incorporated these minute visual details, and many others throughout the film, to illustrate the monetary hardships confronting the Griggs family.
The film ends without clearly stating that Amelia will marry Phil and leave her library position, but as the last scene begins to fade, Amelia's facial expression is optimistic as she enters the family home, strongly suggesting that she and Phil will marry. The progression of events - single attractive woman works in a respectable occupation, meets handsome man and falls in love, and as the film ends, she marries and leaves her occupation - becomes a standard narrative for reel librarians, a simple storyline providing innumerable variations and complexities over the decades.