Running away to join the circus was a popular romantic sentiment in the 1920s for those wishing to escape life's drudgery. For wannabe actress Violet (Beatrice Lillie), it was joining a third-rate travelling actors troupe specializing in over-the-top melodramas of love and loss. Too plain to play the vampy vixen, she was relegated to the menial but necessary tasks to keep the show afloat. Known for her rubbery features and comic timing, Lillie taps her higher Chaplinesque qualities and deep humanist emotions in beguiling balance to the laughter. Violet's real-life drama rises far above the on-stage fiction, as with her tutoring and support of a handsome young recruit (Jack Pickford) who becomes the male lead, a man whom she falls in love with but withholds her heart. This silent classic is a riveting time capsule into a pre-Depression world that will fascinate, draw tears and ultimately...cheers.
EXIT SMILING is perhaps the only film that ever fully utilized the comic genius of the incomparable Beatrice Lillie. The star is cast as the wardrobe lady of a touring theatrical company. She is introduced to the audience via subtitle as "Violet, the drudge of the troupe...Who also plays parts like 'Nothing' in Much Ado About Nothing." Though bogged down in a treacly plot concerning fugitive-from-justice Jimmy Marsh (Jack Pickford), Lillie manages to rise above the material with her first-rate clowning. Her particular highlight is an extended routine involving a string of pearls (a Lillie "standard" that she'd use time and again on stage). Alas, after the box-office failure of EXIT SMILING, Bea Lillie would be confined to secondary film roles, often as not far beneath her talents.
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