Comedy Drama Movie Romance

Souls for Sale (1923)

Remember “Mem” Steddon marries Owen Scudder after a whirlwind courtship. However, on their wedding night, she has a change of heart. When the train taking them to Los Angeles stops for water, she impulsively and secretly gets off in the middle of the desert. Strangely, when Scudder realizes she is gone, he does not have the train stopped.

Mem sets off in search of civilization. Severely dehydrated, she sees an unusual sight: an Arab on a camel. It turns out to be actor Tom Holby; she has stumbled upon a film being shot on location. When she recuperates, she is given a role as an extra. Both Holby and director Frank Claymore are attracted to her. However, when filming ends, she does not follow the troupe back to Hollywood, but rather gets a job at a desert inn.

Meanwhile, Scudder is recognized and arrested at the train station. He turns out to be a cold-blooded murderer who marries women, insures them, and then kills them for the payoff. He escapes and persuades a gullible Abigail Tweedy to file off his handcuffs. She becomes his next victim, though fortunately for her, he only robs her of her savings. He leaves the country and targets Englishwoman Lady Jane. To his profound embarrassment, she turns out to be the same sort of crook as he; she and her father “Lord Fryingham” rob him, but let him live.

When the inn closes for the season, Mem travels to Hollywood in search of work. Her actress friend from the desert shoot, Leva Lemaire, persuades Claymore to give her a screen test for the only uncast role in his next production: a comic part. Though she fails miserably, Claymore decides to train her anyway. She proves to be talented and steadily gets better and better parts.

Just as Mem is rising to fame, Scudder returns and sneaks into her bedroom. Holby and Claymore have become rivals for Mem’s affections. When Scudder sees their warmly autographed photographs, he flies into a jealous rage. Mem, aware of her husband’s past and fearful of a career-ending scandal, offers him money to leave her alone, but he wants her. Scudder leaves only when she threatens to kill herself. Claymore shows up, but when Scudder overhears the director propose marriage to his protegée, Scudder tries to shoot him. Claymore wrestles away his gun, but lets him go at Mem’s urging.

When star Robina Teele is seriously injured by a falling light, Claymore decides to have Mem take her place. Filming continues on an outdoor circus set, complete with a full-scale Big Top tent. In the climax, a lightning storm sets the huge tent on fire in the middle of filming. (Claymore orders his cameramen to keep shooting.) Scudder, who has snuck into the audience of extras, takes advantage of the panic and confusion to try to kill an unsuspecting Claymore by driving a wind machine (with a deadly propeller) at him. Holby spots Scudder and struggles with him. When Mem stumbles into the machine’s path, Scudder rushes to save her and loses his own life. He apologizes before dying, explaining that all his life there was something wrong with him, but he did at least one thing right. Afterward, Mem chooses Claymore over Holby.

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