Cast & Crew
William A. Seiter
Pert Kelly, a wild but virtuous young girl, meets Peabody, Jr., at a roadhouse, and they make a date for the following evening. The next day Pert is late for work and is called in to see the personnel manager, who turns out to be her acquaintance of the night before. At the insistence of Peabody, Sr., who owns the store, Pert is fired; Peabody, Jr., however, is still taken with the girl and invites her to one of his parents' swank parties. The elder Peabody remarks to his son that he does not think that Pert is quite nice, and Junior decides to test her virtue. He takes her to a disreputable roadhouse, and she protests long and loud. They are married that same night, and Peabody, Jr., assures his father that Pert is all right.
William A. Seiter
Why Be Good?
Why Be Good? opens with a boisterous party at the penthouse apartment of the wealthy Peabodys. Winthrop Peabody, Jr. is celebrating his last night of freedom before going to work at the family department store the next morning. After the party, two friends drag Junior to a nightclub called The Boiler Room to continue the drinking and dancing. In the meantime, flapper Pert Kelly has won another Charleston contest, which attracts the attention of playboy Jimmy Alexander. Jimmy asks Pert to paint the town with him, and the pair end up dancing at the Boiler Room. After Jimmy passes out from drink, Pert asks Winthrop to take her home. Sparks fly between the attractive couple, and the two make plans to go on a date the following evening. The next morning, Pert is late for work at her job as a sales clerk at the very department store where Winthrop is head of personnel. Both are shocked to see each other when she reports to his office for her tardiness. The budding relationship is complicated by this workplace coincidence as well as their parents who insist on interfering.
. Moore's aptly named Pert Kelly epitomizes the actress's star image. Energetic, with an expressive face, Moore was a highly physical actress who could change directions with her emotions in the blink of an eye or the turn of her mouth. On the dance floor, she looked like a whirling dervish as she danced the Charleston or the shimmy. Her performance contrasts with Neil Hamilton's controlled approach to playing Winthrop. Contained and restrained, Hamilton is the opposite of the animated Moore, though this acting strategy emphasizes the characters' complementary temperaments.
Like most flappers, Pert considers herself emancipated, announcing to her disapproving father that she will wear and do what she likes because she contributes to the household finances. However, Colleen Moore specialized in a version of the archetype dubbed the virgin flapper. Unlike rivals Clara Bow or Joan Crawford, Moore looked and talked the part of a "modern" but she remained a good girl at heart. Pert reassures her worried mother that she only acts the part of a flapper, noting she would be disgraced if her friends found out that she was really a good girl when the lights went down.
. Pert's contradictory persona allows the film some interesting commentary on gender politics that are still relevant today. Based on her flapper lifestyle, Winthrop is influenced by his father to think that Pert is too loose with her affections. Winthrop brings her to a country hideaway where unmarried patrons often spend the night. He wants to find out if she has been there before with other men. Pert is insulted at his attempt to test her morality, and she rails at the double standard between men and women regarding sex. "It's men who demand the kissing and spooning," she says. "You wouldn't like me if I wore long skirts and mittens and sat at home . . . .You men! You insist a girl being just what you want--and then you bawl her out for being it . . . .What I do and what I wear is because you fool men demand it." Pert's character reflected the confusion over gender roles created by the emancipation of women.
In addition to evolving sexual politics, Why Be Good? is a snapshot of the Roaring 20s in other ways. The extensive party and nightclub sequences illustrated the prevalence of bootlegged liquor during Prohibition, the petting parties that popular magazines warned parents about, and the predominance of jazz music. Popular jazz musicians Phil Napoleon, Jimmy Dorsey, Joe Venuti, and Eddie Lang are shown performing some of the 41 contemporary songs that make up the synchronized soundtrack. The music and sound effects are synchronized to the action, but the dialogue is conveyed through intertitles. The synchronized soundtrack combined with intertitles represents a hybrid of sound and silent conventions, which was not uncommon in the early sound era.
The number-one box-office draw in 1926, Moore could not have anticipated the rapid decline of her career after Why Be Good? In her new contract with First National in 1928, she had been granted the right to select scripts, directors, and leading men. She even had an early version of "final cut" in that she had a say in the final round of her films' editing. Synthetic Sin and Why Be Good? were produced under this contract, but the industry was in a state of flux because of the arrival of synch sound. It was obvious that the entire industry would have to quickly convert to talking films. Shortly after Warner Bros. bought out the majority of First National, they renegotiated her contract in January 1929 and demanded that her two remaining films be talkies. Her two talkies featured lavish production values, large-scale musical numbers, and Technicolor scenes, but neither did well at the box office.
Unlike the fates of other silent-film stars, Moore's voice was considered suitable for talkies. However, the stock market crash and subsequent depression made the Roaring 20s seem like the distant past, and Moore's star image as the virgin flapper was a relic of that past. She may have passed her sound test, but she would have to change her star image to retain her popularity. After a short break from making films, in which she divorced her producer husband, John McCormick, she appeared in four movies for four different studios, with mediocre results. Moore discovered she did not care for the strict regimentation of synch-sound film production, with its focus on capturing spoken dialogue at the expense of the performances. She began to devote more time to assembling her massive, hand-crafted doll house, which she called the Fairy Castle; later, she toured with it to raise money for charity. When she re-married in 1937, she opted to concentrate on her home and family.
In 1944, Moore gave nitrate prints of 15 of her silent films to the Museum of Modern Art. Unbelievably, some of those films were allowed to disintegrate due to employee negligence. Despite her enormous popularity during the 1920s, Moore is relatively unknown compared to her rival, Clara Bow, largely because few of her films have survived. For decades, Synthetic Sin and Why Be Good? were thought to be lost, but during the late 1990s, prints of both films were found in an archives in Bologna, Italy. The prints had been donated by actor Antonio Moreno, Moore's costar in Synthetic Sin. The Vitaphone Project, which collects and preserves the shellac soundtrack discs that accompanied early talkie shorts and features, owned the discs for both films. Over the next decade, they partnered with other groups to secure the money and negotiate the rights for restoration and re-release. In 2014, a restored version of Why Be Good? premiered at a silent film festival before being released for the home-viewing market.
By Susan Doll
Producer: John McCormick for First National
Director: William A. Seiter
Screenplay: Carey Wilson, with dialogue by Paul Perez
Cinematography: Sidney Hickox
Editor: Terry O. Morse
Costumes: Max Ree
Cast: Pert Kelly (Colleen Moore), Winthrop Peabody, Jr. (Neil Hamilton), Ma Kelly (Bodil Rosing), Pa Kelly (John St. Polis), Winthrop Peabody, Sr. (Edward Martindel), Jimmy Alexander (Louis Natheaux), Jerry (Lincoln Stedman), Tom (Edward Clayton), Julie (Collette Merton), Susie (Dixie Gay), Dancer (Mischa Auer), Party Guest (Grady Sutton), Young Man at the Boiler Room (Andy Devine), Drummer at the Boiler Room (Phil Harris), Jr.'s Secretary (Virginia Sale), Party Guest (Jean Harlow)
Why Be Good?
This film is presumed lost. Please check your attic.
Originally scheduled for release as That's a Bad Girl.