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"Kiss me, my Fool!"
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A Fool There Was is a 1915 silent film directed by Frank Powell, starring Theda Bara and Edward José. José is John Schuyler, a wealthy businessman who has an ideal family with his loving wife and super-cute little daughter. Unfortunately for him, he runs across "The Vampire", played by Bara, who has exhausted her last victim and is looking for fresh meat. The Vampire reads in the paper that Schuyler has gotten a special diplomatic posting to the UK. She books passage on the same ship, arranges a Meet Cute, seduces Schuyler, and proceeds to completely ruin his life.

The film takes its title from a poem called "The Vampire" by Rudyard Kipling, and uses quotes from the poem throughout the movie. Although The Vamp as a concept is Older Than Dirt, this movie was responsible for taking the word "vampire", soon shortened to "vamp", and popularizing it as a word for a sexually predatory, manipulative woman.

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A Fool There Was was the Star-Making Role for Theda Bara, who would soon become very famous for portraying vamps like she does here. Bara, in fact, is regarded as the first sex symbol in the history of motion pictures. This is also one of only a few Theda Bara films to survive, since most of her film career was lost forever in a 1937 studio fire that burned up all the negatives.


Tropes:

  • The Alcoholic: Parmalee is a drunk. By the time the Vampire is finished with him, Schuyler is also a stumbling wreck of an alcoholic.
  • Book-Ends: In the opener, the Vampire is shown crushing a flower. In the chilling last shot, she is shown sprinkling flower petals over Schuyler's prone body.
  • Dark Is Evil: This is a black-and-white film so it's hard to tell which color is intended but in the opening scene all the other women—Schuyler's wife, daughter, and sister-in-law—are dressed in pure white dresses, while the Vampire wears a dark dress.
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  • Disease Bleach: Being with the Vampire turns Schuyler from a vigorous man to a pale, hollow-eyed wreck. Specifically, his hair, which formerly was a little gray around the sides, is white by the time they come back to the United States.
  • Double Standard: Discussed when one of Mrs. Schuyler's friends tries to find out from Schuyler's acquaintances what's going on.
    "You men shield each other's shameful sins. But were it a woman at fault, how quick you'd be to expose and condemn her."
  • Downer Ending: Schuyler has nothing, has been reduced to poverty, has lost his family forever, might even be dead (although the quoted poem line "some of him lived but the most of him died" suggests not). The Vampire gets away clean.
  • Driven to Suicide: Parmalee, the Vampire's previous lover, shoots himself right in front of her. The Vampire reacts to this by having a ship's steward put her lounge chair directly over the spot where her lover died.
  • Empathic Environment / A Storm Is Coming: Right after Schuyler leaves the house for his fateful trip, the sky darkens and a thunderstorm breaks out.
  • Erotic Eating: Schuyler is about to eat—something, maybe a chocolate, maybe a fruit. The Vampire takes it out of his hand, puts it between her teeth, and gestures for him to take it out of her mouth. The film cuts away before he does.
  • Establishing Character Moment: The film opens with Schuyler, posed against a stage curtain, smelling a flower. Then it shows the Vampire, taking a flower out of its vase, smelling the flower, then crushing the flower's petals in her hand.
  • Femme Fatale: The Vampire doesn't even seem to make much of an effort to be nice to Schuyler; she manipulates and exploits him purely with her sexuality.
  • For the Evulz: Seemingly the only reason why the Vampire intervenes and wrecks possible reconciliations between Schuyler and his family, even after she's bled him dry and found another lover.
  • Karma Houdini: The Vampire faces no comeuppance for utterly destroying Schuyler. By the end she's moved on to another lover.
  • Literary Allusion Title: From the Kipling poem.
  • Love Is a Drug: This comparison is not stated anywhere in the film, but onscreen, it plays out much like this. By the end Schuyler is a physical wreck, much as a drug addict might be. He loses everything, much as a drug addict might. He is powerless to turn away from the Vampire even when his wife and child are there pleading, much as a drug addict might not be able to pull away from his fix.
  • Match Cut: The Vampire pulls away from Schuyler's embrace—cut to one of the Schuyler family servants pulling away from a hug from the little daughter.
  • No Name Given for Bara's character, other than the Vampire.
  • Time Skip: The Vampire introduces herself to Schuyler on the boat to England. A title card indicates that two months go by. Boom, they are lovers in Italy.
  • The Vamp: This film is the Trope Codifier.
  • Your Cheating Heart: Schuyler throws away his marriage (and everything else) for the Vampire.
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