A FLORIDA ENCHANTMENT (1914)
Article 5382 by Dave Sindelar
Directed by Sidney Drew
Featuring Sidney Drew, Edith Storey, Charles Kent
What it is: Gender bending comedy
A woman comes to Florida to visit friends and visit her fiance. She discovers a casket with four seeds that can change the sex of the people who consume them. When she feels neglected by her fiance, she decides to take one herself…
What most impresses me about this unusual silent fantasy is that it often goes for the subtle rather than the obvious, and its greatest strength is the performance of Edith Storey. After her character takes one of the seeds, she may never quite end up looking convincing as a man, but she sells the transformation through the use of body language, gesture and acting. I also like the fact that it mostly avoids the slapstick route; instead the main character realizes the problems the sex change would cause, and to that end, sets up a situation where she fakes her own death and takes on a new identity. The slapstick antics are largely confined to the black characters; she changes her black maid to a black valet, and that character goes wild. Because of the gender-bending, it flirts with homosexuality and lesbianism in a way that is pretty rare for films of this era, which makes it pretty sophisticated in some ways. However, it’s not so sophisticated that it allows the black characters to be played by blacks; they’re all white actors in blackface. And I’m also not surprised by the cop-out ending; I would have liked to see the situations resolved in a way that doesn’t happen here. All in all, this is one of those movies that is very interesting, but not entirely effective.