“Hearts and Flowers”
Directed by Eddie Cline
Cast: Louise Fazenda, Ford Sterling, Phyllis Haver, Jack Ackroyd, Edgar Kennedy, Kalla Pasha, Bert Roach, Heinie Conklin, Billy Armstrong
Released June 22, 1919. Released June 22, 1919
As we continue to explore the films on the three-disc Mack Sennett Collection, we discover further advancement in filmmaking, performance, and presentation.
“Hearts and Flowers” was produced after the Keystone Company began calling itself Mack Sennett productions and was releasing through the prestigious Paramount Pictures. The films not only became subtler (a trend that was noticed by more than one movie critic at the time), but they also became a bit more courageous in their approach to some subjects. Knockabout slapstick was not jettisoned completely, but it wasn’t responsible for the films’ edginess. Sennett now spent more time with cross-dressing and sexuality. During this period, the Keystone Kops were less evident and the Mack Sennett Bathing Beauties appeared more frequently.
Ford Sterling plays a stuffy orchestra conductor, Louise Fazenda a starry eyed fan. Sterling is completely dismissive of her until he discovers she has inherited a fortune. He then plays up to her, with the intention of securing the fortune and then returning to his actual girlfriend (Phyllis Haver). Meanwhile, he does not realize that the idea of Fazenda’s inheritance is merely a ruse concocted by her short punk boyfriend (Jack Ackroyd).
Perhaps a bit disjointed in all it wants to display, “Hearts and Flowers” is still brilliant enough to offer many layers beyond the superficial. There is a crossdressing scene where Phyllis disguises herself as a man, dances with Louise, and kisses her, repeatedly, full on the lips. Interestingly, Louise, believing this to be a man, wonders why these kisses are superior to that which she’s experienced before. The Mack Sennett bathing beauties frolic in the sand playing beach football. These scenes have a tangential connection to the core narrative, but are mostly included to explore cinema’s edge through sex.
Ford Sterling is without the garish makeup and florid gestures of his earlier Keystone work, expertly playing the foppish conductor with a minimal of amount of broad, sweeping movements and bug-eyed facial ticks. His acting is strong and grounded, while his physical comic skills remain intact. He remains one of the finest comedians to ever work in the Sennett productions. Louise Fazenda and Phyllis Haver both also exhibit real skill as physical comics.
While there is no chase sequence, the conclusion is still rowdy slapstick with Ford, before the justice of the peace, realizing Louise has no money and trying to get out of the marriage. Her three burly brothers (Edgar Kennedy, Bert Roach, Kalla Pasha) engage in a slapstick free-for-all with Ford, at one point throwing him from room to room. While all this is going on, Phyllis marries actual boyfriend Jack. The brothers protest, and her little husband knocks them all out.
The altering of the Keystone structure, the addition of sexual undertones, and the continued great performances of the best comedians from this time, all add up to a new and exciting period in Mack Sennett’s career. The Mack Sennett Collection continues to give examples as to how cinema was developing during what was still its infancy.
For more on the Sennett films, check out this book. For more on Ford Sterling, I recommend this one.