Traffic in Souls (1913)
Despite the title and theme of prostitution, this is not an early example of exploitative titillation, but rather a pure melodrama. Produced by Universal Films while they were still located in Fort Lee, New Jersey, the movie takes good advantage of contemporary New York City locations (including the Battery and Ellis Island) to show the dangers young women faced in a society where “White Slavery” ran rampant. There are essentially two storylines, probably because the concept of a feature film was still new, one in which a pair of Swedish immigrant girls are lured into a false employment agency, to be rescued by a heroic cop acting alone, and one in which the sister of said cop’s girlfriend is lured by an extension of the same gang into a different brothel. That storyline is resolved when the first sister infiltrates the cover operation for the racket and gets incriminating evidence on Edison cylinder, followed by a massive police raid (I counted 16 men in uniform) and the arrest of the “respectable” wealthy man behind the whole thing. The movie ends with him being unable to enter the streets without encountering angry mobs and his uptight wife dying in bed of her shame. As tame and moralistic as all this seems now, it was tremendously controversial at the time, resulting in a ban on prostitution as an acceptable theme in film.
Director: George Loane Tucker
Starring: Jane Gail, Matt Moore
Run Time: 88 Min
You can see (most of) it free: here.