13 May 2013

Gloria Swanson's Subway Scene

A follow-up to Friday's post on Manhandled:

Time was you could see the classic silent film online. No more. At some point last week it was pulled from YouTube. The short segment above has somehow escaped notice. Here is Gloria Swanson's comedic genius in full flight under the direction of Toronto boy Allan Dwan.

Dwan is neglected in this country, but not in the United States. Next month – for the second time – the director will be recognized with an exhibition at New York's Museum of Modern Art. This year's retrospective, Allan Dwan and the Rise and Decline of the Hollywood Studios, draws its title from a new biography by Frederic Lombardi.

Manhandled will screen on June 15 and 16. Buy a ticket and you'll see Swanson's take on Chaplin's Little Tramp – a full quarter-century before she reprised the role in Sunset Boulevard.

For now, take a peek at the clip above. One of the funniest moments in the history of silent film begins at 1:06. You'll not find it in Arthur Stringer's original story, or in the photoplay novel; credit belongs entirely to Dwan and Swanson.

Lombardi provides a good amount of detail on how it came to be, but it would be spoiling things to share it here.

See the movie. Read the book.

Related post:


  1. On an unrelated note...at the end of your clip, more YouTube options popped up. One of them had Frank Zappa as the mystery guest on "What's My Line?" Soupy Sales was able to guess correctly. What this has to do with Gloria Swanson being manhandled on the subway, I'll never know!...And to think she was also in Airport 1975. It just proves how versatile an actress she truly was!

    Knuckles G.

    1. I haven't seen Airport 1975. Does she do Chaplin in that one, too?

      Suppose not.

      How about Lillian Gish?

  2. As the author of ALLAN DWAN AND THE RISE AND DECLINE OF THE HOLLYWOOD STUDIOS I would like to thank you for citing my book.

    However, I would like to point out that the print of MANHANDLED to be shown at the Museum of Modern Art may not include Swanson's impersonation of Chaplin. Most extant prints of MANHANDLED (if not all) do not have this sequence. (I seem to remember seeing a print that did include this scene many years ago but I'm not sure if my memory is playing tricks on me.)There is not doubt that the scene was originally in the film as it was cited by numerous reviewers. Swanson even had a photo in her autobiography of herself in her Chaplin getup standing next to Dwan on the set of MANHANDLED.
    While the reader can find an enormous amount of information about Dwan's colorful career as a director in my book I regret that there is a reference to Canada that was cut out. Dwan married his second wife in upstate New York in 1927 and this was because they had just returned from Canada as Dwan wanted his fiancee to see the land of his birth. Unfortunately, an editor chose to delete this sentence from the book.
    I have asked my publisher to send a copy of my book to the Toronto Star but, of course, I have no control over whether the book will be reviewed.
    (My apologies if this appears more than once but I have tried unsuccessively to post this on at least two previous occasions.)

    1. Thank you for this, Frederic. I'm now left wondering whether my memory of seeing the sequence is correct - or have I simply inserted something of Sunset Boulevard.

      I'm hoping that the Star will give the biography the attention it deserves. Here's hoping that the Toronto International Film Festival one day does something for Dwan. Very much overdue, in my opinion. It would be an appropriate follow-up to their current Mary Pickford exhibition.

  3. Brian, it's interesting that you also have a recollection of the Chaplin scene in MANHANDLED. While it's quite possible that we both may be mistaken it would seem to me that the odds are equal that we may both be right.

    I will check with some other sources and get back to you if I can confirm the existence of a MANHANDLED print with the Chaplin sequence.

    Beware: researching Allan Dwan's vast career can be a lifetime job.

    1. It would be good to know, Frederic. Dare I hope that the sequence survives on the Grapevine DVD?

      When I began work on my Glassco bio a friend told me that a biographer is never truly finished with his subject. The author of several biographies himself, he knew of what he spoke. Glassco remains with me. I imagine you're experiencing something similar with Allan Dwan.

  4. Brian, you are absolutely right. While my book is long and depicts Dwan's life and career with far more detail than anything preceding it, I know there may be more information out there that I would like to acquire. I hope to be interviewing someone soon who may have some more info about Dwan.

    As for Grapevine Video, I don't believe you'll find the Chaplin imiatation in their print of MANHANDLED. However, Grapevine has recently put out a DVD release of Dwan's 1919 GETTING MARY MARRIED starring Marion Davies. When I was working on the book the only print available of this film was at the Library of Congress and it was missing the last two reels. However, a private collector has stepped forward to give Grapevine a complete print of GETTING MARY MARRIED. Dave Kehr reviewed this DVD in the NY Times last month.

    1. After the bio was published I was contacted by several people with whom Glassco had crossed paths. No surprise, there - he died in 1981, the very same year as Dwan. Though there was nothing revelatory in what they shared, I did come away with an amusing anecdote or two. Always a bit of a treat as I never met the man myself.

      Must track down the new Getting Mary Married. Grapevine do such good work.