Lost films! The idea is heart-breaking; the original six-hour version of Greed,the director’s cut of The Magnificent Ambersons. Amazing works of art that have slipped through our fingers. Some silent stars have been nearly wiped out, their entire careers lost in warehouse fires and general neglect.
So we bring you some reviews of The Mysterious Mrs. M., a film with a beautiful poster; happily, the poster does survive. The film was released in 1917, and it starred a young woman named Mary MacLaren who loved pumpkin pie (or so the fan magazines would have you believe!) and a young movie star at the beginning of his career named Harrison Ford. A different Harrison Ford, of course, the one you never heard of. Lois Weber wrote the screenplay, during the brief golden era of women in silent-screen Hollywood, and the long-forgotten Bluebird company produced and distributed.
Here is what the critics said about The Mysterious Mrs. M., 125 years ago.
“The Mysterious Mrs. M., this week’s new photoplay at the Rialto, is a better picture than its title and the attempt to surround it with mystery before it was exhibited would indicate. It presents a variation of the theme, previously used in various forms to good effect, of the person who changes his mode of living when he thinks his days are numbered. A rich, blasé young man is the protagonist of this story. He gets the idea that he is about to die from a psychic, and thereupon life becomes sweet to him. His faith in her prophecy takes root when certain other predictions come to pass, and he puts his house in order. When the appointed midnight comes and he is not snuffed out he begins to hope that perhaps the fortune teller was wrong, and this hope is changed to certainty when, a few moments later, his pals swoop in on him, and he realizes that he has been the victim of a plot invented to make him appreciate his opportunities. Harrison Ford and Mary MacLaren were the agreeable young persons in the principal roles. Unusually pretty landscapes and interiors indicative of refinement made the picture attractive to the eye.”
— The New York Times, Jan. 22, 1917
“Like the other screenplays with which the name of Lois Weber has been connected, the five-reel Bluebird, The Mysterious Mrs. M., involves in its making a commendable display of brains. Adapted by the director from a magazine story by Thomas Edgelow, the photoplay depends largely upon the enigmatic character of the plot. This is sufficiently baffling to defy solution by the average spectator in advance of the proper moment, and is an interesting theme in itself. A wealthy young fellow, who has become morbid from much wrong living, is prevailed upon by his club friends to visit a mysterious fortune teller. The seeress foretells of an accident to the young man, which takes place, according to schedule. When he returns for further evidence of her ability, she obliges him by stating the exact day and hour when he will cease to live. Thoroughly convinced of the woman’s occult powers, and now, deeply in love with a charming young girl. The poor chap is in a bad way, as he awaits the moment of his taking off. The solution of the difficulty is in the nature of a ‘surprise finish,’ and comes at the very end. Such a story has the advantage of a somewhat different plot, but labors under the handicap of having but one course of action. To sustain the interest at undiminished tension through five reels, under this condition, is no easy matter. Director Weber has nearly accomplished the feat. There is a slight slacking up at a few points, but the movement generally carries the story forward at a rate of speed that rivets the attention. The manner in which The Mysterious Mrs. M. has been prepared for screening, by Lois Weber, is a fine achievement. The care, good taste and artistic perception shown all through the five reels was to be expected from so capable a director. The selection of the cast is another example of her ripe judgment. Harrison Ford as Raymond Van Seer, the young millionaire, gives a flawless performance of the part. He looks and acts the type of man demanded by the author with notable ease and convincing skill. Mary MacLaren makes a winsome figure of young Von Seer’s sweetheart, and Evelyn Selbie, Willis Marks, Frank Brownlee, Bertram Grassby, and Charles Mailies assist in the success of the drama.”
— The Moving Picture World, February 3, 1917
“I have been using BLUEBIRDS about five months. I am showing Fine Arts, Fox, Vitagraph, K. L. E. S. Gold Roosters, and special features. I am more than pleased with your BLUEBIRDS. The stories, acting, settings and photography are excellent. I consider BLUEBIRDS among the best of my features. My patrons are very much pleased with them, and I find them an excellent box-office attraction. Give us more good stories like The Mysterious Mrs. M., Mutiny, Polly Redhead, The Clock, Bringing Home Father and A Doll’s House. Such stories are clean, and are sure to please the whole family. You have my permission to use this letter in any way you may desire.
— G. A. Loveland, Mgr. Odeon Theatre, Colorado Theatre, Colo. (in Moving Picture Weekly)