Widely regarded as the screen’s first true sex symbol — a leading actress whose charm was built not upon quaint innocence but carnal desire — Theda Bara revolutionized the adolescent art of cinematic sensuality. One of the very few Bara films that exist today, A Fool There Was catapulted the actress to stardom in 1915 and introduced the term “vamp” (both as a noun and as a verb) to the American pop culture vocabulary.
Bara plays the “Vampire,” a cunning woman who uses her irresistible charms to seduce and abandon a series of influential men. When one lover commits suicide on the deck of a luxury liner, she merely turns her gaze to another passenger, John Schuyler (Edward José), and leads him down a path to moral degradation and public scorn. Schuyler’s wife (Mabel Frenyear) never gives up hope for her husband’s redemption but has severely underestimated the hypnotic power the Vampire has upon her victims.
One of the most remarkable aspects of A Fool There Was is its uncompromising ending. Rather than offering a syrupy resolution of eleventh-hour moral enlightenment, the film allows its characters to follow their downward trajectories toward less edifying fates.