Best Screenplay 1915
“Words, words, more words!” In “Sunset Boulevard,” the former silent actress Norma Desmond accuses writers of “making a rope with words and strangling this business,” but even in the silent years, what was written on the page presaged what would be seen on the screen. Writers are the true creators in cinema – the ones who originate the ideas that everyone else tries to live up to or adapt to their own approaches and talents. Then as now, a good story, well told in words, sets the stage for a great film. Some of our candidates for Best Screenplay are adaptations of other works, while others are “original” – to the degree that movies ever are.
Charlie Chaplin used many of his old tricks, gags, and bits of business to make up his original screenplay for “The Bank,” a comic fantasy that turns to sympathy and gives his “Little Tramp” an opportunity to shine. Carl Harbaugh collaborated with Raoul Walsh to adapt Owen Frawley Kildare’s short autobiography to an epic story of a man’s moral salvation and the loss of the woman he loved in “Regeneration.” Thomas H. Ince and C. Gardner Sullivan emphasized the importance of their screenplay for “The Italian” by including an introduction in which star George Beban opens the book and reads it. The Russian M. Mikhailov provided a taut storyline of love and trust betrayed in “Children of the Age,” which develops realistically in a surprisingly short time. Finally, Hector Turnbull and Jeanie MacPherson turned in a powerful story of a woman who nearly sells her virtue out of pride and the husband who tries to rescue her from a smooth and charming villain with “The Cheat.”
The nominees for Best Screenplay of 1915 are
And the winner is…”The Italian!”
There were many great candidates this year, but when I looked back and asked myself, “which of these do I remember for the story, rather than images or acting,” the answer came through clearly. The story of a man coming to America full of hope, only to find hardship, crime, and injustice remains iconic, and has to be seen as bold for the time. While some elements will seem melodramatic or predictable to modern audiences, that’s largely because of the impact this movie had on later filmmaking practices.