Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Terrible Teddy, the Grizzly King (1901)

Terrible Teddy

This may be the first American political satire film, as well as being an early example of the work of director Edwin S. Porter. Porter, who up to this point had made many actualities as well as short comedic subjects strongly reminiscent of the work of Méliès, but this one does seem to express more of his “voice” as a director. It is apparently based on political cartoons that had run in major newspapers the same month as it was produced, giving an idea how fast the turnaround on film production was at the time. Theodore Roosevelt was being played up in the press as a serious outdoorsman, and a story ran about how he heroically killed a mountain lion; the cartoons and the film show him as a bumbler, followed by a press agent and a photographer, who guns down a harmless house cat, and skins it for the audience. Americans have always enjoyed laughing at our political figures, and Teddy was a particularly congenial subject for both friendly and unfriendly media humor. While this picture may not be as sophisticated as “The Daily Show,” it gives some hint as to the future importance of political comedy in our culture.

Director: Edwin S. Porter

Run Time: 1 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

Richard III (1911)

Richard III

My favorite Shakespeare play gets the silent film treatment in this series of 13 scenes or vignettes, which actually begin with the end of the previous play, Henry VI, Part 3. It stars Frank R. Benson as history’s greatest villain, and he also directed. Each scene is given a brief forward-facing intertitle to tell you what the action will be, and is also preceded by a brief quote from Shakespeare – thus giving us at least some of the traditional dialogue. Viewers familiar with the play will catch certain things that aren’t explained in the intertitles, for example why Richard gestures oddly with his left arm in the scene before Hastings is taken away to be executed, or why Buckingham becomes upset at Richard’s coronation. The production is British and they take advantage of good quality set design and centuries of experience staging Shakespeare to produce a quite acceptable silent version, although of course it is less satisfying than seeing it performed with dialogue. I especially missed the subtlety of the opening monologue and the banter between the hired murderers. I particularly liked the scene of Richard tormented by his conscience in the night before battle with Richmond: simple in-camera effects allowed each of his victims to appear before him in spirit-form.

Directed by: Frank R. Benson

Starring: Frank R. Benson

Run Time: 23 Min

You can watch part of it for free: here. (I was unable to find it complete. If you can, let me know!)