It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
In the 1920s, the golden age of silent films, millions of Americans bought tickets every week to see movies like "Souls for Sale." It isn't on any list of great movies I've ever seen, possibly because hardly anyone had seen it for more than 75 years. When it has played over the last few years on Turner Classic Movies, it's possible more people saw it than in all the decades since it was released in 1923.
This is a prime example of the mid-range entertainment Hollywood was producing so skillfully at the time. Filled with actors who were then stars, fast-moving, entertaining, with a spectacular circus action sequence at the climax, it is drama, melodrama, romance and satire all at once -- wrapped up in a behind-the-scenes look at how a desperate young woman fell into the movie business by accident and became a star.
The story involves the memorably named Remember Steddon, played by Eleanor Boardman as a wide-eyed girl from a rural town who literally leaps off the train on her honeymoon to escape her new husband (Lew Cody). He swept her off her feet in a whirlwind courtship, we learn, but now he fills her with loathing; and no wonder, because he's a snaky operator with a skinny mustache and a history of marrying women and killing them for their insurance money.
Produced by Samuel Goldwyn, obviously not on a limited budget, it's also an exploitation of the national fascination with Hollywood and its transgressions. The Fatty Arbuckle scandal of 1921 would have been in audience minds as they saw the milk-fed maiden venturing into the den of iniquity. Remember's father is a preacher who lectures on the sins of the movies, and she believes what she hears.