Neptune’s Daughter, dir. Herbert Brenon
100 years ago today, Neptune’s Daughter premiered at the Globe Theater in New York City. It was the first moving picture to get a substantial screening in this theater previously reserved for “legitimate” productions. The fantasy feature starring Australian swimmer and vaudeville star Annette Kellerman enjoyed great success, breaking a record with its 24-week run at the Fine Arts Theater in Chicago and “delighting nobility” at Shaftesbury Pavilion in England.
The film, featuring a nearly-nude Kellerman, stirred some controversy in Malden MA, when it played at the Mystic Theater.
According to this article in the Moving Picture World, the Mystic theater’s proprietor invited the city’s prominent citizens to view the film and weigh in on its merits. Mrs. George M. Chisholm was not pleased with what she saw: “The high dive in which Miss Kellerman is in fleshlings [sic], by swimming to cover when people approach, gives the impression that she is nude, is suggestive and not a good thing for high school boys and girls to see” She also objected to the part of the film in which “the mermaid is turned to an earth maiden and comes out of the woods seemingly clothed only in her flowing hair.”
Judge Bruce of the Malden District Court objected to Mrs. Chisolsm’s objections stating that “There is such a thing as being so pure that you are impure. Not only that, but Miss Kellerman’s figure is very beautiful–in fact, beautiful enough to lead other women to envy and jealousy. A moral is taught in that love and purity triumph throughout the picture. The entire film is beautiful and not at all suggestive to a wholesome mind.”
I have no idea what he’s talking about with all this “being so pure that you are impure” business. I imagine that his wife, who was in attendance with him at the screening, gave him a good smack upside the head when they got home.
According to Mary Ann Cade, this film is held in two archives: http://www.silentsaregolden.com/articles/lostfilmsarticle.html
Excerpts from the film are included as extras in Grapevine Video’s DVD of a later Kellerman film, Venus of the South Seas (1924)