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Film / Exit Smiling

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Exit Smiling is a 1926 comedy directed by Sam Taylor, starring Beatrice Lillie. Violet is a member of a theater troupe that criss-crosses the country performing a cheesy melodrama called "Flaming Women, Shattered Hearts". Violet is the servant of the troupe, left to do scut work like washing and ironing, allowed to play the maid in the play as she does in real life, but dreaming of playing a bigger part. One day Jimmy Marsh (Jack Pickford, Mary's brother), who had to leave his podunk town of East Farnham suddenly under mysterious circumstances, boards the train carrying Violet's troupe. Violet falls in love with Jimmy—and when the troupe happens to stop in East Farnham to perform their play, Violet gets a chance to prove her love for Jimmy.

Beatrice Lillie was a famous stage performer who made her feature film debut here. Reportedly she didn't care for movies, and only appeared in seven films over a period of fifty years. Sharp-eyed silent movie buffs will recognize Harry Myers, who played the Millionaire in City Lights, as Jesse Watson, the villain.


  • Blackmail: Another evil-doer threatens Watson, telling him that if Watson doesn't pay him money owed, he will reveal Watson's frame job that implicated Jimmy in embezzlement. Violet sets out to interrupt their rendezvous, hoping to cause the blackmailer to expose Watson and clear Jimmy's name.
  • Camp Gay: Cecil Lovelace, the effiminate, campy actor in the troupe. Franklin Pangborn, who made his film debut with this part, played Camp Gay characters like this for over a quarter-century.
  • Cross-Cast Role: In-universe. Jimmy panics when the troupe pulls into East Farnham, where he is still wanted for embezzlement. Violet says she'll play the part forhim. The results are disastrous.
  • Defictionalization: In-universe. The plot of "Flaming Women, Shattered Hearts" involves the heroine pretending to be The Vamp in order to delay the villain an hour and (somehow) save her lover. When Violet intercepts the note from the blackmailer, she realizes that if she can stop Watson from meeting the blackmailer, the blackmailer will reveal his secret and clear Jimmy's name. She then resolves to act out "Flaming Women, Shattered Hearts" in Real Life. It turns out Violet is really bad at being The Vamp, so she resorts to things like tackling the bad guy and ripping the cord out of his phone.
  • Did Not Get the Girl / Downer Ending / Sudden Downer Ending: Jimmy is cleared, thanks to Violet's intervention. He then tells Violet, who is desperately in love with him, that he is staying in East Farnham with the girl he had to leave behind when he skipped town. The movie ends with Violet alone on the train, weeping.
  • Dramatic Irony: "I sure hope you get a chance to play that vampire part some day", says Jimmy to Violet as he leaves. She did, for him.
  • Enforced Method Acting: In-Universe. Violet holds an onion under Jimmy's face to get him to cry, when Jimmy is auditioning for a part in the troupe.
  • I Have You Now, My Pretty: "I have you in my fiendish clutches", says the bad guy to the heroine in "Flaming Women, Shattered Hearts".
  • Large Ham: In-universe. Quite a bit from the members of the troupe, but Violet stands out when she horribly butchers the part of the villain in "Flaming Women, Shattered Hearts".
  • Meet Cute: Violet the aspiring actress is acting out a dramatic scene on the train, drawing the attention of Jimmy, who thinks something is wrong with her.
  • Melodrama: "Flaming Women, Shattered Hearts" is a ridiculous over-the-top melodrama.
  • Oblivious to Love: Jimmy never does figure it out.
  • Show Within a Show: "Flaming Women, Shattered Hearts"
  • Stealing from the Till: Watson stole $5000 from his bank. He framed Jimmy, which is why Jimmy suddenly left town.
  • Time Skip: The film opens with Violet the maid, frustrated with her menial job and wishing for a bigger part in the play. 10 years pass, and she is still frustrated with her menial job and wishing for a bigger part in the play.
  • The Vamp: See Defictionalization above.