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Film / Souls for Sale

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Souls for Sale is a 1923 film written and directed by Rupert Hughes. Eleanor Boardman stars as Remember "Mem" Steddon, a small-town girl who has just married Owen Scudder (Lew Cody) after a whirlwind courtship. However, while they are on the train headed for Los Angeles for their honeymoon, Mem suddenly has second thoughts about her mysterious new husband. She jumps off the train when it stops for water. Mem finds herself in desperate straits in the middle of the Mojave Desert, until she spies some wagon tracks and follows them to—a movie production that is filming an Arab sheik movie.

Eventually Mem gets hired in Hollywood and her fame grows. Two different actors in Mem's company fall in love with her. Meanwhile, it turns out she was right to trust her instincts about Scudder: he is a Serial Killer who marries women, takes out insurance policies on them, and then murders them. Scudder is caught by the cops but escapes. While on the lam in Egypt, he sees one of Mem's movies, and decides to find her in Los Angeles.


Souls for Sale combines an intentionally goofy, melodramatic plot with a backstage portrait of Hollywood moviemaking circa 1923. Roger Ebert put it on his Great Movies List.


  • The Bluebeard: How Owen makes a living, by marrying women and murdering them for insurance.
  • The Cameo: Lots of cameos from stars and directors. One memorable sequence comes when Mem arrives in Hollywood and starts looking for work, wandering onto four film sets where real movies were being filmed. Two of the films that Mem visit, The Eternal Three and The Famous Mrs. Fair, are lost, so the brief behind-the-scenes footage here all that survives of them. The other two film sets Mem visits are A Woman of Paris, in which Charlie Chaplin himself directs her in a scene where she struggles to ride a horse (not a real scene in Chaplin's movie), and Erich von Stroheim's masterpiece Greed. Von Stroheim is shown directing Jean Hersholt in a scene. Mem doesn't get a part.
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  • Casting Couch: Inverted. An actress at the casting office is very aggressive about getting on the couch, coming on strong to the casting director and saying she knows she must "pay the price" to get a part. The casting director, who is inundated with beautiful women who need work, is not interested.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Owen is pursuing a woman in Egypt, with an eye to making her his next victim—but it turns out she and her father are both con artists as well, who tricked him into sending his money to a fake insurance company.
  • Love Triangle: Mem is pursued by both the lead actor and the director.
  • Mean Character, Nice Actor: In universe. Leva Lemaire, whom Mem calls a "sweet Lady" and who encourages Mem to be an actress, is described as "the best hated vampire" in the movies.
  • Nice Character, Mean Actor: In universe. Robina Teele, who is described as playing all the sweetheart innocent heroine parts, gets mean and jealous when the men start paying attention to Mem.
  • No OSHA Compliance: Played hilariously straight. Truth in Television as far as filmmaking in that era is concerned.
    • Mem gets her big break when the lead actress in the company is injured. A spotlight is held up by a single rope. Said rope comes loose, and the spotlight crushes the actress's legs.
    • The big circus movie that Mem has a starring role in is filming its climax during a torrential thunderstorm. A bolt of lightning strikes, setting the tent on fire, injuring one of the actresses, and sending the rest of the crew running in panic. The director keeps filming.
  • Runaway Bride: Mem jumps off a train and runs away. It turned out to be a good decision.
  • Show Within a Show: Several, including the sheik movie, the circus movie that Mem gets a part in, and several real films (see The Cameo above).
  • Stunt Double: In-Universe. Mem's parents, visiting her on the set, are horrified to see her plunge from a broken trapeze. Mem's father sees her fall into a safety net, runs up, and gives her a hug, only to find that it's her male stunt double. Mem has climbed down on a ladder.
  • Thirsty Desert: Mem quickly finds out that the Mojave isn't a good place to be lost in. She is on the verge of collapse when she finds the film production.