Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Little Train Robbery (1905)

Little Train

This seems like a pretty appropriate movie to discuss, as Edison studios shifts from the “Age of Attractions” to the “Nickelodeon Era.” I have read that the very first movie shown at a Nickelodeon was “The Great Train Robbery,” and that in itself speaks to how the shift from spectacle to normalized entertainment was brought about, in part, due to the filmmaking advances of Edwin S. Porter. That movie was such a tremendous hit that it made sense, only two years later to send it up in this parody/homage/remake. This version shows the original film reenacted by children. It’s not (quite) a shot-for-shot remake, but it would definitely be recognizable to fans of the original. I actually think Porter improved on some technical aspects, such as the pan which follows the train as it approaches the ambush. As I’ve made some comments about gender in recent reviews, it’s worth noting for this one that the gang is led by the “Bandit Queen,” one of the only girls we can see clearly in this production (the others are among the victims on the Little Train). Although the boys clearly respect her authority, she does not take part in any of the physical acts of the robbery. She is also set free at the end, the one member of the gang to get away.

Director: Edwin S. Porter

Run Time: 10 Min, 30 seconds

You can watch it for free: here.

How a French Nobleman Got a Wife Through the ‘New York Herald’ Personal Columns (1904)

French Nobleman

Quite early on, Edwin S. Porter seems to have realized that the chase was a critical part of the spectacle of film that kept audiences coming back. The climactic chase in “The Great Train Robbery,” for example, is a good part of what makes it a dramatic success. Indeed, chase scenes remain an important element in film today. But, there were also many films made which were based on the chase as the central element, as this short comedy demonstrates. The basic concept is simple, an amorous single (and probably poor) foreigner has decided to place a personal ad, to find a mate. When he shows up at his announced rendezvous, he finds that far too many women have arrived, and he flees, to be pursued by the females through New York’s Riverside Park. Each shot shows him running, then each of the women in turn running after him. At the end, he is caught, ironically not by the swiftest runner, but by the one woman willing to follow him into a pond. Again, we have an interesting perspective on gender relations, something that wouldn’t seem out of place in an old Popeye cartoon: a man is overwhelmed by the attraction of the other sex and has to run from their ardor.

Director: Edwin S. Porter

Run Time: 11 Min

You can watch it for free: here.