Exploitation and Performance

The Soap Suds Star
B: Lloyd F. Lonergan. D: Carey L. Hastings, Reginald Perry. P: Thanhouser Film Corporation. USA 1915

“Comedy about a down-and-out vaudeville team who attempt Shakespeare and destroy their career. Theater, particularly vaudeville, has been an endless source of material for movies. This energetic comedy features a down-and-out actor and a funny laundry proprietor who are hired as a vaudeville act. They become a big hit, but when they try Shakespeare, they destroy their showbiz career. The Soap Suds Star was released under the Falstaff banner, the comedy arm of Thanhouser.”

Edwin Thanhouser was a successful stage actor, director, and theatre manager when he decided to found a movie studio in 1909. The Thanhouser Company in New Rochelle, New York, produced over 1,000 films and became an important independent company, which had a specific meaning in that pre-Hollywood era. Thomas Edison tried to monopolize production and distribution through the Motion Picture Patents Company or Patents Trust, which charged high royalties and fees for the use of his equipment. The nine major studios of the era, the primary distributor, and the chief supplier of raw film stock were members of this Trust. In spurning this system, Thanhouser didn’t have access to Edison’s equipment, but made up for it by being prolific and attracting audiences and critics through the care taken with story and production values. Many independents fled from the New York/New Jersey axis to California not only for the climate but to escape the Edison Trust’s constant legal persecution. Thanhouser, too, extended his reach through auxiliary studios in California, Chicago, and Florida. The Trust finally collapsed in the face of competition and legal decisions. Founded at the end of 1908, it dissolved in 1915, and the viability of Thanhouser was one element in its fall. Most companies that didn’t go West closed by 1917 in the face of a changing industry, Thanhouser among them. Though still in the black, the company shut its doors that year as Thanhouser retired from film. (…)
The Soap Suds Star (1915) is a funny comedy that bases its slapstick on character development and the ambiguous concepts of exploitation and performance. An agent makes vaudeville stars of a bickering couple because the audience thinks they’re a riot even when they’re not pretending. This goes to their heads.”
Michael Barrett

449-Thanhouser and family-2

Edwin Thanhouser and family, 1912