Corner in Wheat (1909)
This is an early example of D.W. Griffith directing a film with a clear social message, something he was to return to frequently in his career. In this case, a wealthy tycoon manipulates the market for wheat in order to give himself a monopoly, unconscious of the harm it does to less fortunate people. Through cross-cutting, we see the story unfold across the two worlds simultaneously: the “Wheat King” attends fancy parties in one scene while the poor line up for bread at inflated prices. Another scene, the subtlety of which I missed on the first viewing, shows three people coming in to the shop to get the newly expensive bread: the first is a fop, who just shrugs as he hands over his extra nickel; next is a young woman, who seems reluctant, but pays anyway; finally a poor mother comes in with her daughter, she cannot afford the new price and is turned away hungry. At the end, the Wheat King suffers the ironic fate of being buried alive in wheat at a granary. Henry B. Walthall (the minstrel from “The Sealed Room” and later in “Birth of a Nation”) appears as the Wheat King’s assistant, and there are small parts for Mack Sennett (founder of Keystone Studios) and Blanche Sweet (later to star in “The Avenging Conscience” and “Judith of Bethulia”) as well.
Director: D.W. Griffith
Camera: Billy Bitzer
Starring: Frank Powell, Henry B. Walthall, Mack Sennett, Blanche Sweet
Run Time: 14 Min, 15 seconds
You can watch it for free: here.