Just what was, or still is, "it"? According to British novelist Elinor Glyn, who coined the term, at least as far as it's referred to here, the phenomenon can mean various things: "a strange magnetism that attracts both sexes," for example. Well, whatever "it" is, Clara Bow had it, and that's why she was ideal to play the part of Betty Lou in Clarence G. Badger's 1927 film titled - fittingly enough - It.

Based on the ideas put forth by Glyn in her writing (though the storylines are totally distinct), Bow personifies this enigmatic quality. In the film, when the author makes a rather random appearance, she is asked about this "it," and what "it" designates. "'It' is that quality possessed by some which draws all others with its magnetic force. With 'It' you win all men if you are a woman and all women if you are a man," she states. "It" is "Self-confidence and indifference whether you are pleasing or not and something in you that gives the impression that you are not at all cold." Yes, "it" is all of that. With Clara Bow in this role that is now inseparable for her on-screen persona and, in many ways erroneously, her off-screen self, she is a jubilant being of exuberance, sexuality, playfulness and she is a figure of the times. Bow is one of the most underrated and frequently neglected female stars of Hollywood's silent era, and this is easily her most recognizable performance.

In It, Bow's Betty Lou works in a department store. Monty (William Austin), friend of the store's wealthy owner, Cyrus Waltham (Antonio Moreno), notices her. In a unique self-referential way, Monty becomes infatuated with this craze surrounding "it." He tries to find "it" in the various girls employed at the store, and he does in Betty. He develops a liking for the girl, but she has her eyes set on Waltham. In a daring way for the time, Betty is the scheming and assertive woman; she makes a plan and ambitiously goes for it. Is it superficial? Is it purely for money? Maybe, at first anyway. But her decision to be her own woman and do everything in her power to succeed in her goal positions her as a powerfully independent female force.

What makes this film noteworthy, beyond this audacity, is Bow's screen presence. She's certainly not "America's Sweetheart," little Mary Pickford, and she's no demur Lillian Gish. Bow is closer in spirit to Louise Brooks as a sort of emblematic free spirit of the flapper era. She is immensely attractive and her alluring personality is enchanting. However, she does indeed possess something else, something special. She has that "it" factor. It's somewhat of a copout to say there aren't really words to describe how Bow is presented in this film, but it's true. She did exude a unique quality that had to be dubbed simply "it."

Aside from all this, It is itself a pretty good film, one of the funniest silents I've seen not involving the usual suspects of Chaplin, Keaton, Lloyd, etc. There are some hilarious bits of dialogue, much of it in the slang specific to the period, and some of it just plain goofy in its phrasing: "Sweet Santa Claus, give me him" … "I feel so low, old chap, that I could get on stilts and walk under a daschund." And the situations our main trio of characters find themselves in are quite amusing, especially given the customs of the 1920s.

It was another of the films shown at the TCM festival, my fourth of five seen on that particular day, and to see it there was special for two reasons. One was the live orchestral accompaniment. Silent films were never really silent. There was nearly always music, sometimes even sound effects and narration, so to see the film with the score being performed right in front of you was a tremendous experience. The second major highlight was just to see the film on the big screen, in 35 mm. Say what you will about Blu-ray restorations you can see on your 70 inch television, but nothing matches a sharp film print projected in the Egyptian Theatre. You can see stills of Bow on the internet or in film books, and you can watch her movies from the comfort of your living room, but you've never really seen Clara Bow, and you've never really experienced how she radiates, until you've seen her look, her smile, and her coy suggestiveness and delight on the big screen.

That being said though, I can't recommend It enough. So in the end see It however you can, and enjoy the delightful charm that was Clara Bow.

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