Clara Bow in Black Oxen

Smoking, drinking, carousing, and chasing men! The crimes of the flappers were almost as bad as their successors the bobby soxers , and Clara Bow’s character Janet Oglethorpe commits most of them in five minutes of incendiary screen flapperdom from the 1924 silent movie Black Oxen.

The pay-off is a spanking threat delivered by Lee Clavering (Conway Tearle) via the medium of a speech panel.

Watch from the beginning to 4.40; Clara Bow lights up the screen as the naughty flapper. Then read on for the full story and the novel extracts which include more than a threat.

Intriguingly, the George Eastman House film museum  retains a print of the film which is incomplete, comprising the first seven reels, but not the eighth. A 60-minute version  is available on DVD. No complete version of the film is currently commercially available.

Janet and Lee do get married in the end and in the novel on which the film is based, she also gets the spanking she deserves, not from Lee, but from her father, Jim.

Which leads us to the inevitable question: could the spanking be in the later part of the movie that is now missing?  The parts we do have follow the book closely. And there would have to be some kind of comeuppance for Janet for the story to resolve itself properly.

In the book it is a reported spanking that is talked about  but still described in some detail. How the film handles it remains a mystery.

Janet was a child when she got the other spankings referred to by Lee so her reply to to the idea of him spanking her now, as a grown woman, is nonchalant and even a little risqué (for 1924).

“Can I depend on that?”

This is the dialogue as it was written in the original novel by Gertrude Atherton . The threat is delivered again, not by Lee, but by the father Jim Oglethorpe.

I see that you are even sillier than I thought. You need nothing so much as a sound spanking.”

“My dear Jim,” said Clavering drily. “You’ve just pronounced yourself a man of consummate experience. Need I remind you that when a man has held a girl on his lap as a child, she is generally the last girl he wants on his lap later on? Man loves the shock of novelty, the spice of surprise. It’s hard to get that out of a girl you have spanked—as I did Janet on two different occasions. She was a fascinating youngster, but a little devil if there ever was one.”

Intoxicated - Clara Bow in Black Oxen

In Janet’s next scene we see her partying the night away (13 mins 45 secs into the clip). Later she is involved in a car crash and is taken home, intoxicated, by Lee. In the novel, he has to explain to Jim what happened.

I suppose I know what you mean. But it turned out all right. She happened to meet me, not some man who might have annoyed her. Of course she shouldn’t have taken such a risk, but; what can you do with these flappers? They’re all in league together and you might as well let them go their little pace. It won’t last. They’ll soon be older, and I don’t suppose you intend to play the heavy father and lock her up.”

“No, but I’d like damn well to get her married. Mother told me a pretty tale. It seems she made a row at Sherry’s last night, making you and some lady you had with you as conspicuous as herself. Mrs. Vane was there and carried it straight to mother. Mother’s no fool and had already got on to this younger generation business and given Janny one or two tongue lashings, but she never dreamed it had gone as far as it looks. Roaming the streets alone at one in the morning! She’d undoubtedly been drinking last night—God! I’ve a notion to take a switch to her. And I suppose she was pretty well lit the night you picked her up. I’ve never seen a hint of it. Janny’s spoilt enough. Her mother never had the slightest control over her and she could always get round me. But she won’t in the future. I’ll get top-hand somehow. God! My daughter!

Little Miss Mischief - Clara Bow In Black Oxen

Clavering did not express his doubts on this point aloud. He was in truth horribly embarrassed and hardly knew what to say. Not for a moment did he believe that the minx was in love with him, nor would he have taken the trouble to find out, even to please Jim Oglethorpe and his mother, had Mary Zattiany never crossed his horizon. But he felt sorry for his friend and would have liked to banish his brooding distress.

“Look here!” he exclaimed. “You’ll have to buck up and take her in hand. After all, you’re her father and she respects you. No girl respects her mother these days, apparently, but the father has the advantage of being male. Give her a talking to. Tell her how cut up you are. She’s too young to be as hard as she likes to think. Don’t preach. That would make matters worse. Appeal to her. Tell her she’s making you miserable. If that doesn’t work—well, your idea of taking a switch to her isn’t bad. A sound spanking is what they all need, and it certainly would take the starch out of them. Make them feel so damned young they’d forget just how blasé they’re trying to be.

This talk is all very promising and in the end the father takes Lee’s advice and DOES give Janet the adult spanking that she has been asking for – otk with a hair-brush (not a switch)!

Disrespecting her elders - Clara Bow in Black Oxen

We find out about this in a conversation between Lee and the fearsome matriarch Jane Oglethorpe (in the centre of the picture above) – think of Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey and then double it!.

She certainly looked imposing tonight in spite of her old-fashioned corsets and her iron-gray hair arranged in flat rolls and puffs on the precise top of her head, for although flesh had accumulated lumpily on her back, her shoulders were still unbowed, her head as haughtily poised as in her youth, and the long black velvet gown with yellow old point about the square neck (the neck itself covered, like the throat, with net), and falling over her hands, became her style if not the times.

“Well, Lee!” she said drily. “I suppose when you got my note you thought I had gone bug-house, as my fastidious granddaughter Janet would express it. But that is the way I felt and that is the way I feel at the present moment.”

“Dear Lady Jane! Whatever it is, here I am to command, as you see. There is no engagement I wouldn’t have broken——”

“You are a perfect dear, and if I were forty years younger I should marry you. However, we’ll come to that later. I want to talk to you about that damnable little Janet first—we’ll have to go in now.”

When they were seated at a small table at one end of the immense dining-room she turned to the butler and said sharply:

“Get out, Hawkins, and stay out except when we can’t get on without you.” And Hawkins, whom a cataclysm would not have ruffled after forty-five years in Mrs. Oglethorpe’s service, vanished.

“Jim said he had a talk with you about Janet, and that you advised him to spank her,” she said. “Well, he did.”

“What?” Clavering gave a delighted grin. “I never believed he’d do it.”

“Nor I. Thought his will had grown as flabby as his body. But when she stood up to him and with a cool insolence, which she may or may not have inherited from me, or which may be merely part and parcel of the new manner, and flung in his face a good deal more than he knew already, and asked him what he was going to do about it, he turned her over his knee and took a hair-brush to her.”

“It must have been a tussle. I suppose she kicked and scratched?”

“She was so astonished that at first she merely ejaculated: ‘Oh, by Jimminy!’ Then she fought to get away and when she found she couldn’t she began to blubber, exactly as she did when she was not so very much younger and was spanked about once a day. That hurt his feelings, for he’s as soft as mush, and he let her go; but he locked her up in her room and there she stays until she promises to behave herself as girls did in his time. I’m afraid it won’t work. She hasn’t promised yet, but merely hisses at him through the keyhole. D’you understand this new breed? I’m afraid none of the rest of us do.”

Thanks to Michael for telling me about this scene . 


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