The American Venus is a romantic comedy set against the backdrop of a beauty pageant, namely the actual 1925 Miss America contest in Atlantic City. The film is the second in which Louise Brooks appeared, and the first for which she received screen credit.
The American Venus proved popular upon release, and continued to be shown around the United States for an unusually long two years. Though largely eye-candy, many fans and at least a few critics responded to the numerous scantily clad bathing beauties, an elaborate tableaux and fashion show, and the film’s pioneering use of Technicolor. The critic for the Boston Herald wrote, “The scenes made at Atlantic City and during the prologue are artistically done in Technicolor. Comedy relief in abundance is furnished by a wild automobile chase replete with giggles and thrills. The picture on the whole is entertaining.”
However, not all were pleased with this otherwise frothy comedy. Harrison’s Reports, an industry trade journal, echoed the comments found in other publications: “The only striking feature about it is the technicolor scenes; they are extremely beautiful. But some of them will, no doubt, prove offensive to church going people, particularly in the small communities, because of the fact that women’s legs, backs, sides and abdomens as low as below the navel, are shown aplenty. Women in tights have been shown in his pictures by Mack Sennett, but he has never been so ‘raw’; at least he had the girls wear brassieres, whereas Jesse Lasky has his girls wear nothing under the bathing suits, with the result that the women’s outlines of their breasts are clearly seen. In places there isn’t even the thin cloth of the bathing suit to cover the flesh.”
The Washington Herald added, “Many of the tinted scenes of the fashion review were very daring in their exposure of the Atlantic City bathing girls. Once scene especially drew forth gasps from the audience; whether from shock or admiration, we cannot say.”
The stars of the film, which was called a “shape show” by some publications, were Esther Ralston, a renown beauty, and Fay Lanphier, the reigning Miss America. Though she had only a small role, Brooks was featured on a lobby card and film poster, as well as in advertisements. She was also singled out by a handful of critics. The female critic for the New York Evening Journal noted Brooks’ “distinct screen personality”, while the male critic for the New York World stated Brooks was “better looking than any of the other brunettes now acting in films”.
“Mary Gray, whose father manufactures cold cream, is engaged to sappy Horace Niles, the son of Hugo Niles, the elder Gray’s most competitive rival in the cosmetics business. Chip Armstrong, a hot-shot public relations man, quits the employ of Hugo Niles and goes to work for Gray, persuading Mary to enter the Miss America contest at Atlantic City, with the intention of using her to endorse her father’s cold cream should she win. Mary breaks her engagement with Horace. When it appears that she will win the contest, Hugo lures her home on the pretext that her father is ill, and she misses tile contest. Chip and Mary return to Atlantic City, discovering that the new Miss America has told the world that she owes all her success to Gray’s cold cream. On this note, Chip and Mary decide to get married.”
Production took place in the fall of 1925, beginning around August 24 and ending around November 10. The film was shot in part in early September at the Miss America beauty pageant in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and later at Paramount’s Astoria Studios on Long Island (located at 3412 36th Street in the Astoria neighborhood in Queens), as well as on the Coney Island boardwalk, in Greenwich, Connecticut (in the vicinity of Round Hill and Banksville), and “near a swimming hole” in Ocala, Florida.
Under its American title, The American Venus, documented screenings of the film took place in Australia, British Malaysia (Singapore), Canada, China, Dutch Guiana (Surinam), India, Ireland, Jamaica, New Zealand, Panama, and the British Isles (England, Isle of Man, Northern Ireland, and Scotland. The film was also screened in England under the title The Modern Venus.) Elsewhere, this motion picture was known to have been shown under other-language titles including Die Amerikanische Venus (Austria); Venus Americana (Brazil); La Venus Americana (Chile); Americká Venuše (Czechoslovakia); Den amerikanske venus (Denmark); De Moderne Venus (Dutch East Indies); Vénus moderne (France); Vénus américaine (France); Die Schönste Frau der Staaten (Germany); Il trionfo di Venere (Italy); Trionfo di Venere (Italy); 美女大競艶 (Japan); Venus Moderne – Die Modern Venus (Luxembourg); La Venus americana (Mexico); Amerykan’ska Wenus (Poland); Venus Pokutujaca (Poland); A Vénus American (Portugal); Американская Венера (Soviet Union); La Venus americana (Spain); La Venus Moderna (Spain); and Mannens ideal – Venus på amerikanska (Sweden).
The film is lost, though a few minutes of material was found in Australia in the late 1990’s. The surviving material includes fragments, variously in black and white, tinted and in Technicolor, from two theatrical trailers. These surviving trailers, each about 180 feet in length, are housed at Library of Congress and at Pacific Film Archive. The two trailers were screened at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival in 2002, and can be found on the DVD box set, More Treasures from American Film Archives 1894 – 1931.