Exit Smiling (1926)
Directed by Sam Taylor with a Marc Connelly (Captains Courageous (1937)) story this silent marks the screen debut of comedienne Beatrice Lillie who made barely a handful of pictures in her career. In this film her character Violet is a wannabe leading actress in a train traveling troupe of players which stops in a small town and picks up fugitive Jimmy Marsh played by Mary Pickford’s brother Jack. Violet who plays a small role in their play “Flaming Women” does most of the mundane chores for the group until she meets and falls for Jimmy. She then has an opportunity to play the lead actress’s role for real to save him. This film features a brand new score provided by Linda Martinez winner of TCM’s 4th Annual Young Composers Competition.
Violet (Lillie) is ready to fill in for the lead actress who fails to show up on time for the play’s opening in a small town. After convincing Wainwright (DeWitt Jennings) the troupe’s leader that she knows all the lines he gives her a chance until Olga (Doris Lloyd) shows up with a beer bottle in hand. So Violet must play the maid. The play’s plot includes a scene where Dolores Du Barry the leading female role must dress up as a vamp(ire) to save her lover played by a very young Franklin Pangborn (acting in his third film). After packing up the troupe leaves by train for their next destination stopping temporarily in East Farnham where Jimmy Marsh (Pickford) boards it. Jimmy meets Violet when she’s acting out the leading role on the back of the train. She lets him believe she’s the lead actress and he’s happy to have met her. The next day he learns the truth but smitten she helps him get a job with the group and then helps him rehearse his role. He does well enough to earn a position. The film’s funniest scene involves Violet cooking and then serving breakfast to the cast of characters on the train one morning. D’Arcy Corrigan plays an old actor that bores everyone to leave the table with tales of his past roles.
Later when Jimmy is thinking wistfully of his girl back in East Farnham he squeezes Violet’s hand and she thinks that he loves her too. He actually loves Phyllis (Louise Lorraine) whom he was going to marry before there was trouble at the bank where he was working. Another bank employee Jesse Watson (Harry Myers) had embezzled $5000 to pay off a gambling debt to Tod Powell (Tenen Holtz) and pinned the crime on Jimmy when he’d left town saying that it proved his guilt. The train eventually returns to East Farnham where Jimmy tells Violet that he can’t be seen on the stage there. She informs the stage manager that Jimmy is sick and convinces him to let her play his part wearing a mustache. Once the performance is underway Violet hears the authorities offstage discussing Jimmy’s predicament & pending arrest. She also learns of the real perpetrator’s plans to suppress the evidence which would clear Jimmy and decides to intervene. All the while Violet is overhearing this information she is on-stage playing Jimmy’s role and doing it badly with the distractions. I’m sure this was supposed to be one of the funniest scenes in the film but it barely registered for me.
*** SPOILERS ***
One of the last scenes has Violet dressing in the vamp’s clothes to foil Watson’s plans which leads to a sequence that parallels Du Barry’s in “Flaming Women” the role that she’s been desperate to play. This creative segment is fairly well done but the film closes with a downbeat “Chaplin-esque” ending with Jimmy unaware of Violet’s deeds and staying in East Farnham to be with Phyllis.