Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Month: December, 2015

A Night in the Show (1915)

Night_in_the_Show_(poster)For my final review of 2015, I’m looking at a wonderful New Year’s party-style picture with a drunk Charlie Chaplin in two highly disruptive roles. He goes out for a night’s entertainment, and winds up being more entertaining than anything on the stage.

Night_in_the_Show_(1915)

Except for maybe this guy

Charlie drops his “Little Tramp” outfit to appear as a more refined, but evidently inebriated fellow in a tuxedo, called “Mr. Pest” in the intertitles. Mr. Pest has a hard time distinguishing statues from people, and takes a while finding his seat, meanwhile pushing past large numbers of already-seated people. He lights his cigarette on the trombone player’s head and tosses the match into the trombone. He sits on several hats and drives people like Leo White out of the theater. Meanwhile, up in the balcony (the cheap seats), Mr. Rowdy, who looks like Chaplin in a Ben Turpin mustache, is drinking from a bottle, when he’s not spilling its contents all over the wealthier patrons sitting below. Mr. Pest finally winds up in a front box, along with a fat kid who has brought several pies to snack on. His proximity to the actors on stage gives him the opportunity to interact with them. At one point, the snake charmer allows several snakes to escape into the orchestra. At another, Mr. Rowdy uses first a barrage of rotten fruit and finally a fire hose to drive off a pair of bad singers (one of them is Bud Jamison). The hose goes everywhere and the whole audience gets drenched as well. The final shot is a close-up of Mr. Pest being showered from above by Mr. Rowdy.

Night in the ShowIt’s hard to give a description that really gets across the madcap hilarity and chaos of this picture. Chaplin’s two characters are complete madmen, but they are tolerated and finally appreciated by an audience driven to distraction by the terrible performances that are trotted out. Chaplin brought his full range of physical agility to bear for this; even as he appears to be stumbling drunk each movement is precisely timed and aimed to achieve maximum effect. His ability to switch between the two roles adds a degree of visual diversity to the movie, where with a single protagonist it might have dragged at points. The use of close-ups and editing is now established and honed.

Night in the Show3The whole movie is apparently derived from a vaudeville routine called “Mumming Birds,” which Chaplin performed for the Fred Karno Company before he began work in the movies. He had to re-write it, however, to change it enough to avoid being sued by Karno, so it can still be seen as a Chaplin original script, which built on the framework of the older routine. Parts of it were reused by Robert Downey, Jr. in the biopic “Chaplin,” which gives this piece a “familiar” feeling to someone of my generation, at least. It seems to me the most sophisticated of the many “funny drunk” movies Chaplin had done at this point, and apparently audiences agreed. Judging by the ads in film magazines from the end of 1915, this movie was held over and reissued many times, perhaps almost as many as “Burlesque on Carmen,” which Essanay released only after Chaplin had broken his contract and quit.

Night in the Show1Director: Charlie Chaplin

Camera: Harry Ensign

Cast: Charlie Chaplin, Leo White, Bud Jamison, Edna Purviance, Wesley Ruggles, Charles Inslee, John Rand

Run Time: 25 Min

You can watch it for free: here (no music) or here (with music)

Night in the Show2

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Shanghaied (1915)

Shanghaied_(1915_film_SW_poster)With the year drawing to a close, it seems appropriate to return to a few of the groundbreaking shorts Charlie Chaplin contributed to Essanay in 1915. This one, released in October, represents some of the better work he did that year.

Shanghaied

Chaplin’s “Little Tramp” is in love, again. With Edna Purviance, again. Her father (Wesley Ruggles, this time) disapproves, again. The twist this time is that Daddy owns a boat, which he has decided is a liability, so he conspires with the ship’s captain and first mate to blow it up and collect the insurance. Charlie, trying to get a job and make good, is hired to “recruit” sailors for the ship. He hides in a barrel and cold-cocks each person that the mate (Bud Jamison). Once the crew is assembled, Charlie demands his pay, but the captain and the mate pull the same trick on him.

Shanghaied1The newly assembled “crew” is told its duties and abused, then thrown into the hold. Charlie tries to avoid this treatment by getting busy right away, but he goofs up and winds up in the hold. Charlie knocks several people, including the captain, into the ocean while trying to direct the crane to load the hold. He gets taken on by the cook as an assistant in the galley and there are a variety of funny sequences with him dropping a sponge in the soup, breaking plates, and generally being unable to serve food in the rolling sea. When it comes time for him to eat, he gets seasick. Now we learn that Edna Purviance has stowed away on board. She and Charlie meet up, but the bad guys have already lit the dynamite. Her father finds a note and races to meet the boat in a motorboat. Charlie throws the bomb into the lifeboat the bad guys are using to get away, then gets into the motorboat with Edna and her father, ultimately kicking the father into the water and speeding away, happy.

Shanghaied2This is a fairly violent and perhaps “vulgar” (to use the word critics bandied about at the time) example of Charlie’s slapstick, but it has a number of good laughs and gags that he hadn’t used up to this point. We are getting used to seeing the style of editing Chaplin developed from Keystone and refined in his year at Essanay, and he is now comfortable using close-ups to emphasize reactions and promote sympathy in the audience. Charlie also does a funny bit where he “salutes” the captain, but (seemingly by mistake) puts his thumb to his nose as he does so. This seems to represent his comedic rejection of authority even while bowing to it. I felt that it moved faster than the similar two-reel comedies he released earlier in the year and was a good representation of the higher aspirations he had for his artistry: just getting the boat had to be a major budget item for an Essanay comedy short.

Shanghaied3Director: Charlie Chaplin

Camera: Harry Ensign

Cast: Charlie Chaplin, Bud Jamison, Edna Purviance, Wesley Ruggles, Billy Armstrong, Leo White

Run Time: 27 Min

You can watch it for free: here (no music) or here (with music).

Santa Claus vs Cupid (1915)

For my final Christmas movie of the year, I’d love to tell you I’ve saved something really special, something that offers insight not only into the season, but into the way people felt about it a century ago and how it is similar to how we feel about it today. Instead, I’ve got this movie.

Santa Claus vs CupidTwo pie-faced boys moon over the image of the same bland-looking woman (Grace Morrissey) in a looking glass. In a plot that seems half-borrowed from “The Adventure of the Wrong Santa Claus,” one of them is invited to a Christmas party at her house to play Santa, while the other (Raymond McKee) mistakenly thinks this will be his role. Then, a burglar shows up at the house and tries to steal all the toys (were toys at Christmastime easy to fence or something?). The burglar in this case is “Mulligan,” one of the chauffers that brought the rich kids to the party, and in a nod to social conscience, the plot establishes his desperate situation at home, with a sick wife in need of medicine, as the reason for his attempted misdeeds. In the end, he winds up fighting both Santa Clauses, but being stopped by Jack, the one the girl spurns. Jack gives Muligan some money, in the spirit of Christmas. She still appears to prefer Edward, so I guess cupid wins this round.

Santa Claus vs Cupid1As suggested, this is a mostly recycled, light-comedy plot with not too much to recommend it. There are some cute bits, as when the maid points above the head of the butler and the cook, and the camera pulls back slightly to show that they are standing under mistletoe. They both begin to pucker up, look at each other, and run away, Another funny part is Jack standing around his house with a pillow in his pants, waiting to be called to play Santa Claus. I’d be surprised if this was a particularly big money maker for Edison, but the company’s film department was in decline at this point, and even the Edison Trust had been broken up by court order earlier in the year, so it’s probably too much to expect any breakthroughs.

Santa Claus vs Cupid2Director: Willard Louis

Camera: Unknown

Cast: Raymond McKee, Grace Morrissey, Billy Casey

Run Time: 15 Min

you can watch it for free: here.

 

Adventure of the Wrong Santa Claus (1914)

This is a somewhat sophisticated Edison short release, timed to coincide with the story’s appearance in the December issue of “Pictorial Review.” It appears to be part of a series of movies starring “Octavius, Amateur Detective,” a sort of spoiled American Sherlock Holmes.

Wrong Santa Claus1At the beginning, Octavius (Barry O’Moore) is taking tea when his butler arrives with an invitation to attend a party and play Santa Claus for the children. The butler seems quite concerned about Octavius’s reaction, and looks relieved when his master laughs. Octavius goes to a store and buys a Santa Claus suit, although when he arrives, the wife tells him they already have one. After hanging around for a while, meeting the children and a pretty young woman who was also invited to the party, Octavius goes upstairs to change. Meanwhile, a burglar has entered the home and scouted it out a bit. He changes into the spare Santa Claus suit and knocks Octavius out. He goes downstairs, is seen by the wife and is able to steal all the presents (apparently they look like the most expensive things in the house, even though they’re wrapped and he has no idea what they are). Then he leaves the house, just as Octavius wakes up.

Wrong Santa ClausOctavius finds the wife and the looted Christmas tree, and quickly figures out what happened. Undeterred by the fact that he is wearing a Santa suit, Octavius begins the chase! He tracks the thief to a train station, just barely managing to board the train before it pulls away. He confronts the other Santa, but is deterred by the conductor. Then, when they reach the next station, the thief gets off, and Octavius tries telling his story to a police officer. The other Santa shows him a name written on a package, and presumably convinces the cop it’s his name. Octavius follows the burglar until he goes into a store and puts his basket down while shopping. Octavius grabs the basket and runs back to the cop. The cop, who had prevented one Santa Claus from taking a basket away from another once before, assumes that the two Santas are in the same roles again, and arrests the man trying to take the basket away from Octavius. Octavius rides the train back to the previous town, and brings the basket of toys just like a real Santa Claus, distributing toys to the family’s children. Then there’s an extended ending in which Octavius and the pretty young woman try to get away from the kids to smooch. Ultimately, Octavius has to give them hush money.

Wrong Santa Claus2I haven’t seen any other Octavius, Amateur Detective films, but I wasn’t too taken with the character here. He does manage to recover the stolen goods, but more through doggedness and deception than through brilliant deduction and insights. He comes across as sort of a doof, if not an idiot. His success seems to rely on an opponent dumb enough to rob a house while people are home and wear a highly-visible getup in his escape. I was somewhat impressed by the editing, which made good use of cross-cutting, especially during the initial break-in sequence and the chase. The camera was set quite close to the actors as well, not just cutting off feet but entire legs and sometimes the tops of heads. This seemed especially unusual for the conservative Edison Studios, where we expect entire bodies to be shown. On the whole, it’s a technically proficient, but narratively lightweight Christmas piece.

Wrong Santa Claus3Director: Charles M. Seay

Camera: Unknown

Cast: Barry O’Moore, Julian Reed, John Sturgeon

Run Time: 15 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

A Christmas Accident (1912)

This short from Edison Studios may be the schmaltziest of the early silent Christmas movies I’ve reviewed this year, but I also found it to be emotionally effective and enjoyable to watch. It establishes a long-standing trend of the Christmas special with the basic plot of “a curmudgeonly old person learns the true meaning of Christmas.”

A mean old man.

A mean old man.

The movie begins by establishing the two neighboring resident-families of a duplex. On one side is a poor but happy family with a lot of children. On the other, a grizzled old man and his wife. The old man gets angry when the children play on his side of the back yard, or play with his dog. The poor family puts up with his abuse and remains positive. One day, a grocery order for the old couple is delivered to the family by accident. The mother cooks up the roast before the mistake is discovered, and when they offer to return the food, the old man refuses on principle. The wedge grows still deeper when the old man finds his dog dead. On Christmas Eve, the family is doing its best to celebrate with the means available, although the children must share a doll and there is no bird for the dinner. The old man is returning from the store with a turkey, but is driven, snowblind, into the wrong apartment. He is welcomed by the family as a guest, and they invite him and his wife to dinner. Embarrassed, he offers them the turkey and is charmed by a gift from the eldest girl.

A happy family.

A happy family.

I don’t usually worry about “spoilers,” but I’m leaving that final moment a bit vague because the gift from the child is the emotional “punch” that makes this movie work. If you can watch it without even a few tears…well, you have more emotional control than I do anymore. There seems to be some dispute about who directed: the “A Christmas Past” DVD credits Bannister Merwin and imdb and other online sources say it was Harold M. Shaw. Since Edison didn’t credit its directors at all at the time, this may be uncertain. The film is fairly typical – sequential editing, stationary camera, all done in medium-shot, etc. A final close-up allows us to read the note on a Christmas gift, but there are no faces shown in close-up, even where it would accent emotional situations. I did think it was an interesting (today untypical) choice to have the connection made between the mean old man and the eldest daughter, rather than the smallest and cutest available child. This may reflect a more realistic attitude or just the difficulty of getting small children to perform on cue.

Christmas Accident2Director: Uncertain (see above)

Camera: Unknown

Cast: William Wadsworth, Augustus Phillips

Run Time: 15 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

A Christmas Carol (1910)

I don’t know for certain whether this was the first adaptation of Charles Dickens’s classic tale to the screen, but certainly it is the oldest I’ve seen. It wouldn’t surprise me if a British filmmaker had beaten the Americans to the punch, but this version is directed for Edison by J. Searle Dawley, the same man who brought us “Frankenstein” in the same year and directed D.W. Griffith’s performance in “Rescued from an Eagle’s Nest.”

Christmas CarolMarc McDermott chews the scenery as Ebenezer Scrooge, a tight-fisted miser without a friend in the world. We see him berate Bob Cratchit (played by Charles Ogle) at his office before he rudely receives and then turns out petitioners from a charitable society and his own nephew. He yells at Cratchit for leaving early on Christmas Eve, then goes home himself. He is confronted by the transparent face of the deceased Jacob Marley on his door knocker. Then, as he prepares for bed Marley comes to warn him that he needs to change his ways or be condemned, as he is. The “Spirit of Christmas” (singular) shows him images of his past, present, and likely future. The images of the past are quite detailed and show a young Scrooge in happier times, the present is limited to images of Cratchit’s family and his nephew’s party, and the future shows him a tombstone which reads: “Ebenezer Scrooge, He Lived and Died Without a Friend.” Scrooge awakes the next morning to children caroling at his doorstep and throws money at them. He meets the charitable society people and hands them bills. He goes to find his nephew and makes him his business partner. And he brings him and his fiancé over to Bob Cratchit’s, where he pretends to be furious, then surprises the family with a huge goose. Scrooge and nephew are invited to dinner and everyone is happy.

Christmas Carol1Like many movies of this period, the success of this one largely depends upon one’s familiarity with the story. Fortunately this story is as familiar today (especially after its many screen versions) as it was then. I thought McDermott did a great job of conveying the necessary emotions: meanness at the beginning, then fear and remorse, followed by the jolly pranksterism of his reformed self. We never got to hear, or read in Intertitles, his famous “Bah, humbug” line, but he makes up for it by curtly dismissing his visitors with a bow. At times, it looks like he might hit poor Cratchit with his cane, he’s so furious about him leaving early on Christmas Eve. We do see Tiny Tim, but only briefly. We see him limping with a crutch, but there isn’t much emphasis on him as a point of interest for Scrooge or Cratchit. We only get one ghost, but at least all aspects of the story are retained in the short run time.

Christmas Carol2The ghostly effects are probably the part of this movie that interest most viewers today (and possibly at the time as well). They are accomplished through multiple-exposure, and required fairly precise editing and staging techniques to work. Still, for 1910 they are hardly innovative; Georges Méliès had done for more complex multiple exposures well before this. They do work well enough for the story, however. The other question they raise is whether I should count this as part of my history of horror, always a tricky question in terms of this story, which is both warm hearted and filled with horrific imagery. Because fright plays such a major role in the story arc (it’s the whole reason for Scrooge’s change), I’m labeling it as such.

Christmas Carol3

Director: J. Searle Dawley

Camera: Unknown

Cast: Marc McDermott, Charles S Ogle, Viola Dana, Carey Lee

Run Time: 10 Min

You can watch it for free: here (no music).

The Night Before Christmas (1905)

This is a 1905 Edison release with clearly seasonal intent from Edwin S. Porter, based loosely on the famous poem, much of which appears in the Intertitles.

Night_Before_Christmas_1905We open on Santa feeding his reindeer, then going inside to labor over toys in a crude woodshop. There is no sign of any Elves or “helpers” present, and it appears Santa must work backbreaking hours on each toy to produce it by hand. We then see the interior of a middle class home with a large family. There is a brief ritual in which the kids appear to write their wishes to Santa and throw them in the fireplace, then all the children run upstairs for their stockings to hang. The smaller ones are helped by the parents and a servant, possibly their nurse. Then they are led upstairs and the parents clear the room for the presents that will appear. The next sequence is in the children’s room, where the excited kids keep getting out of bed and causing the nurse to come back in. Eventually, they break out into a pillow-fight. Now we see Santa again, he goes through a big book with first names written in it, putting check marks next to some, and crossing others out (I noticed he laughed especially hard when he came to my name and crossed it out). He loads up his sleigh and there is an “effect” sequence in which we see a tiny model sleigh with eight reindeer dash across the (painted) countryside, evidently drawn by a string. They do very little flying, but do manage to get to the top of the house at the end. Now we switch back to live-action and Santa throws the bag of toys down the chimney before descending himself. He emerges in the middle-class dining room we saw before, and deposits toys in all the stockings, sometimes checking the letters in the fireplace. He then waves his arms and lots of bigger tows and decorations appear. He makes his signature wink, and goes up the chimney, just before all the kids run downstairs and eagerly start grabbing toys. The movie ends with a close-up on Santa with his finger beside his nose, and the words “Merry Christmas” at the bottom of the screen.

Night Before ChristmasNo doubt this was a successful movie in its day, with familiar material convincingly brought to life through simple storytelling techniques. The reindeer-sleigh sequence hasn’t held up terribly well, although its use does seem to add a kind of Méliès-charm to the whole thing (Méliès would’ve made them fly, I bet). The shots are static and scenes are edited in sequence. The one somewhat odd piece is the pillow fight, which isn’t in the original poem (indeed, supposedly “not a creature” should be “stirring”). Pillow fights were, interestingly enough, a fairly common subject at Edison, where they were seen to supply a certain slapstick humor to family fare, so I suppose Porter felt it would be appropriate to put one in here. My thought, as the pillows flew apart and feathers went everywhere, was that Santa should cross these naughty kids off his list!

Director: Edwin S. Porter

Camera: Edwin S. Porter

Cast: Unknown

Run Time: 9 Min

You can watch it for free: here (no music) or here (with music)

A Trap for Santa (1909)

Trap_for_Santa_ClausWith Christmas coming at the end of his first year working for Biograph, D.W. Griffith released this one-reel seasonal movie with a heartwarming ending and a hint of social message. It shows the level that he had already achieved in terms of storytelling and film technique.

A family in want.

A family in want.

A family is destitute, and the situation grows bleaker as the father (Henry B. Walthall), unable to find work to feed his children, turns to drink in order to forget his worries. The mother (Marion Leonard) tries to make the most of the situation, but she scolds the father when he comes in drunk and wakes the children. Desperate, he leaves the house, fearing that he may be a worse influence on his own children if he stays. The bartender (Mack Sennett) at his usual dive doesn’t appreciate it when he tries to sleep on the table , and throws him out into the cold. The mother tries to find work, but is turned away from the employment agency. When she returns home, she finds that the hungry child she left there alone has eaten their last crusty loaf of bread. Then, some men arrive with some good news: her aunt’s estate has been settled at last, and she is the inheritor of a small fortune. She and the children move into a nice house with a maid (Kate Bruce). When Christmas rolls around, she explains to the kids that Santa will come in through the window, since there is no chimney, and the kids hatch a plan to “trap” Santa by leaving a basket covered by a picture frame right where he will step (it’s lucky he doesn’t break his neck!). Mom manages to get them to bed, but she sighs while trying on the Santa suit, wishing they had a father to play the role.

Trap for Santa1Then, in a typically Griffithian coincidence, the starving father now tries to break into the wealthy home to steal some money or at least food, but finds himself confronted by his estranged wife. The girls think their trap has worked, but mom convinces them to stay in bed. Immediately, the couple puts a new plan into action and the father puts on the Santa suit and acts like he is caught in the trap. Mother rouses the girls, who come out and dance with “Santa.” The family is reunited in love.

Santa is trapped.

Santa is trapped.

It’s a happy ending, and I found it emotionally effective, but after all, the drunk may continue being a drunk now that his wife has money. We can hope not, and clearly Griffith wants us to believe that he will reform, since it was only hunger and desperation that made him drink and (try to) steal. Billy Bitzer’s photography is effective and the camera is at least close enough to cut off the actors’ feet and give us some intimacy with the action. There are only a few camera set-ups, and these are static and set to mid-shot throughout, but the editing makes the story work better than a lot of the movies of the period. Where shots in 1909 generally followed one another sequentially, this movie allows for simultaneous action as the father first deserts the family, and then later when he is “trapped” by the children in the next room. Leonard somewhat overdid her acting, pointing and pantomiming to make sure that the audience knew what was said, but overall the performances were good. I was particularly pleased to see Gladys Egan (from “In the Border States”) show up as the daughter.

Director: D.W. Griffith

Camera: G.W. Bitzer

Cast: Henry B. Walthall, Marion Leonard, Gladys Egan, Kate Bruce, Mack Sennett, W. Chrystie Miller

Run Time: 15 Min

You can watch it for free: here (no mucic) or here (with music).

A Muddy Romance (1913)

Muddy Romance4

One off the most famous Keystone romps includes Mabel Normand and Ford Sterling, a whole bunch of Keystone Cops, and a curiously muddy dry lake. This may not be high art, but it brought butts into seats at the Nickelodeons, and remains a great example of the comedy factory’s style and initiative.

Muddy RomanceThe movie begins with Ford and Mabel as next door neighbors with a friendly flirtation going on. All seems well until rival Charles Inslee shows up and charms, first, Mabel’s mother (Minta Durfee) and then Mabel herself. Inslee gets the better of Sterling, first by pouring milk over him and then tricking him into hitting Mabel in the face with a pie. Now, the couple take up arms (er, bricks, anyway), and begin pelting Ford wildly. Sterling puts on a brave defense, but ultimately he’s overwhelmed by their superior numbers and runs back into his house. Mabel and Charles hijack a passing preacher so they can elope, but Sterling pursues them and fires a gun at the rowboat they take out onto the lake to escape him. Unable to hit at that range, Ford comes up with another plan – he’ll turn the convenient crank that drains the lake! He does, and suddenly the rowboat, plus a boat full of Keystone Cops who had heard the shooting and were coming to arrest him, are stuck in the mud. Now someone calls in a squad of “water police” (more Keystone Cops), who are able to drag the stranded unfortunates back to land by use of a javelin-throwing cannon. Sterling is discovered by the parks attendant and dragged away from the crank before he can cause any more mischief. That’s where the “Slapstick Encyclopedia” version ends, but rumor has it an alternate ending exists with Sterling committing comic suicide.

Muddy Romance1The “story” behind this production is that Mack Sennett found out that the lake in Echo Park was due to be drained, and piled a cast and crew into cars to run down there without any kind of script, but with plenty of cop costumes on hand. It’s used as an example both of the lack of planning and arbitrariness of filmmaking at Keystone Studios, but also of the genius Sennett had for improvising with whatever was at hand and saving money by shooting around real-world events. See “Kid Auto Races” and “The Gusher” for similar examples. However you see it, it is both fun and unpredictably goofy, but probably not to everyone’s taste.

Muddy Romance2The same can probably be said about the comedic star/villain, Ford Sterling. According to Charlie Chaplin, when he first arrived on the set at Keystone, he was struck by the fact that all through shooting, Ford Sterling would keep the cast and crew in stitches with a running dialogue in his fake Dutch accent. What was the point, when the audience would never hear it? This is a movie where you can sort of see that happening. Sterling’s lips are in constant motion, and he seems to be rolling his r’s and otherwise being funny with his speech, although I’m no lip reader, so I won’t claim to know for sure. He doesn’t forget the movie audience, though. When he needs to communicate what he’s saying, he pantomimes with his hands or makes appropriate facial expressions so that you can follow his meaning. I suspect that he kept his line of jokes going because he felt it lightened the atmosphere on set (making a movie can be a lot of hard work, especially when so little is planned in advance) and in the hopes of inspiring his fellow comedians to “think funny.” It’s shame we can’t hear them, though, because I bet he’s as funny with his voice as without it.

Muddy Romance3Director: Mack Sennett

Camera: Unknown

Cast: Mabel Normand, Ford Sterling, Charles Inslee, Minta Durfee, Mack Swain

Run Time: 11 Min

You can watch it for free: here (no music) or here (with music).

December 1915

Well, it’s time to wrap up the news of the year 1915. It’s been an exciting year, both in and out of the movie theater. The First World War extended far longer than anyone had foreseen and also began to affect areas outside of Europe. The sinking of the Lusitania brought the war to the US, even though the country would remain neutral for two more years. The Gallipoli campaign brought heavy casualties to Turkish and Australian forces. And even African colonies began to get swept up into the war. Meanwhile, a new lease on making feature-length films and a beginning of recognition for film as an art form transformed cinema in the United States, while Chaplin-mania swept the world. American movies were finally beginning to dominate international distribution channels, and “Hollywood” was becoming another word for the American film industry as more and more production moved West.

Burlesque on carmen

Here are some of the headlines for December

World War I: Military higher-ups on both sides work to prevent another “Christmas Truce,” seen as bad for morale and likely to encourage spying. Units that broke ranks and attempted to communicate with the enemy faced harsh discipline. Some individual units were made to conduct raids on Christmas day and artillery barrages were scheduled to keep men in their trenches along the front.

Industry: on December 12, the one millionth Ford automobile rolls off the assembly line. Cars will transform American culture at least as much as the movies.

Politics: Yuan Shikai, the President of the Republic of China, declares himself Emperor, filling the gap left by the abdication of Puyi, the “Last Emperor.” This attempt to reinstate monarchy in China lasts only a few months, and is succeeded by years of internal warfare and instability.

First female President of the US? Edith Wilson nee Galt

First female President of the US? Edith Wilson nee Galt

Romance: on December 18, President Woodrow Wilson marries Edith B. Galt. The new Mrs. Wilson will become an important factor in American politics as the President’s health declines, becoming de facto head of the executive branch of government after he suffers a crippling stroke in 1919.

Shipping: HMHS Britannic, which shares design features with the Titanic, is launched December 23 as a hospital ship for the British Navy. Although it too sinks, after colliding with an underwater mine in 1916, nearly all crew and passengers will be saved due to improved safety features.

Revolts: The Military Council of the Irish Republican Brotherhood formalizes its decision in favor of an “Easter Rising” for Easter weekend, 1916. This has been planned since the beginning of the war, and members of the council have met with German representatives to seek German assistance against British Rule.

Film News:

Cheat_FilmPosterDecember 13, release of “The Cheat” by Cecil B. DeMille.

December 18, release of “Burlesque on Carmen” (in edited form), starring Charlie Chaplin.

December 30, release of “The Golden Chance” by Cecil B. DeMille.

Births:

Frank Sinatra, Dec 12. Singer and star of movies such as “The Man with the Golden Arm” and “Oceans 11.”

Curd Jürgens, Dec 13. Actor, appeared in “The Devil’s General” and “The Longest Day,” in both of which he played German generals during the Third Reich.

Dan Dailey, Dec 14. Actor, appeared in “The Mortal Storm” and “When My Baby Smiles at Me,” for which he won an Oscar.