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Film / The Blot

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She's hungry.
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The Blot is a 1921 film directed by Lois Weber.

Andrew Griggs is a professor at what appears to be a pretty fancy college, but nevertheless he is still paid only starvation wages—literally starvation wages, as his family often doesn't have enough to eat, and Mrs. Griggs feeds the family cat by letting it scavenge from the neighbors' trash can. Mrs. Griggs feels keenly the poverty suffered by the Griggs family, which is only made worse by their neighbors, the Olsens. Mr. Olsen is making a handsome living as a maker of luxury shoes, and the Olsens enjoy rich sumptuous dinners and drive a car, while the Griggses suffer hunger, and daughter Amelia (Claire Windsor) has to walk to her job at the library in threadbare shoes that she is constantly mending.

One of Prof. Griggs' students is callow rich boy Phil West, who goofs off and doesn't pay attention during lectures, but has taken a fancy to lovely Amelia. One day Phil gives Amelia a ride home, and after he sees how down-at-the-heels the Griggs family is, he starts to grow a social conscience. The situation grows worse when lack of regular food causes Amelia to have dizzy spells which have her committed to bed. Mrs. Griggs, desperate to get the nourishing food her daughter needs, starts to cast envious glances at the plump chicken sitting on the Olsen dinner table across the way.

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Lois Weber was one of the first women directors in Hollywood—her 1914 adaptation of The Merchant of Venice is believed to be the first feature film ever directed by a woman. Louis Calhern, who plays Phil, would go on to a long and highly successful career as a character actor.


Tropes:

  • As You Know: "Don't let's get soft because the old fossil has a pretty daughter" is how the audience learns that Prof. Griggs has a pretty daughter.
  • Author Tract: The whole film is Lois Weber's jeremiad against inadequate pay for college teachers. The movie even goes so far as to quote magazine editorials.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Mostly a Happy Ending, actually, as Amelia has found love with Phil, the professor is making more money from Phil and his buddies coming for after-school tutoring, and the Griggses and Olsens getting along much better. But in the very last scene, Rev. Gates talks with Amelia, wishing her happiness with Phil. The last shot shows Rev. Gates walking home alone in the dark.
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  • The Flapper: Several at the parties and fancy dinners that Phil attends, most notably his hard-drinking, hard-partying, cloche hat-wearing girlfriend Juanita. Juanita is presented unfavorably with demure Amelia, with a disgruntled Phil noting that Juanita is "rather loud".
  • Have a Gay Old Time: The word "niggardly", used to describe teacher salaries, means "stingy", and in fact it still means "stingy". Nevertheless, it's a word rarely heard in the 21st century, because it sounds so much like another word.
  • Kitchen Sink Drama: A professor and his poor family struggling to get by. Almost literally a kitchen sink drama, actually, as several scenes show Mrs. Griggs struggling to make tea for visitors while Mrs. Olson prepares rich dinners.
  • Love Dodecahedron: Amelia has three admirers: Phil, Rev. Gates, and the Olsen's eldest son. Then there's Phil's old girlfriend Juanita.
  • Match Cut: There's a dissolve from Phil's drawing of Amelia's face in profile to a shot of Amelia's actual face in profile.
  • Nouveau Riche: The Olsens have a lot of money, and are rather tasteless in how they display it. Their youngest, a toddler, stomps around the yard in luxury ladies' shoes that could feed the Griggs for days.
  • Preacher Man: Rev. Gates is rather poor himself, but he is shown distributing alms to help the poorer members of his community.
  • Shown Their Work: The Blot was filmed in actual houses using special lighting. This was very unusual for the time period, in which such scenes were almost always filmed on sets, often outdoors.
  • Title Drop: In a letter, Phil's dad quotes Phil as calling low teacher pay a "blot" on society.
  • Uptown Girl: Rich, spoiled Phil West romancing dirt-poor Amelia.
  • Wacky Fratboy Hijinx: One of Phil's buddies carries a lizard on a string into the professor's lecture, and uses it to freak out other students.
  • When It Rains, It Pours: Phil is leaving the library when a thunderstorm comes pretty much out of nowhere. This demonstrates the inconvenience of 1920s convertibles as Louis has to manually put the top up, but it's also a plot point as he winds up giving Amelia a lift home.
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