Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Month: March, 2016

Broncho Billy’s Sentence (1915)

This short movie is supposed to reflect a more “mature” stage in Gilbert M. “Broncho Billy” Anderson’s career. At only a single reel, it doesn’t really manage the complexity Anderson probably hoped for, but it does give him a chance to display a range of emotional states and motivations, making it well ahead of “Broncho Billy and the Greaser,” for example.

Broncho Billys SentenceThe story begins with Billy on the run, apparently having stolen a cash box from a stagecoach, whose drivers are raising a posse to search for him. He picks out a few large bills from the cash box and leaves the rest, making his way through the forest until he finds the home of Virginia True Boardman and her father, Ernest Van Pelt, while the posse rides like mad through the countryside. We see the posse interrogate the local preacher and his wife, who haven’t seen Billy but offer them sandwiches. Billy busts in on Virginia and Ernest, holding them at bay with his gun when pappy makes a move for a club, and demanding bread. The posse now knocks at their door, sandwiches in hand, and Billy makes it clear what will happen to father if Virginia isn’t quiet. She tells the posse “he went thataway” and they rush off. Billy thanks her with a kiss that she doesn’t want, then runs out into the night. She follows with a rifle and manages to wing him in the head. The gunshot seems to attract no one’s attention, but Billy finds a place to hide his spoils and jumps into the preacher’s church.

Broncho Billys Sentence1In this second act, as it were, Billy is cared for by the preacher and his wife, who have no idea who he is, but see that he has been hurt. Such kindness obviously affects the desperado, and he listens attentively when the preacher’s wife reads the Bible to him. Still in hiding, he listens in on the preacher’s sermon and appears to realize that the words are spoken to him as much as any man there. He writes a note to his benefactors and goes to retrieve his booty and turn himself in to face his punishment. He does stop just long enough to take a dog-eared copy of the Bible from the old couple’s house. Now he goes to the sheriff, who is obviously surprised to see him, and nearly shoots first when Billy tries to surrender his gun. Billy just gives a kind of knowing smile, hands over the gun and the money, and is escorted to the cell, where he proceeds to start reading his Bible, from page 1. The final act begins with Billy in prison. All the the prisoners are marched into a small chapel, and Billy leads the service, still holding his Bible after many years. His service is intercut with the arrival of an important letter at the Warden’s office – obviously Billy’s release, although this is not confirmed until he has finished preaching and been escorted by a trustee to the office. Billy gives an emotional display when the Warden hands him the news, then we watch the men marched out of the chapel. Finally, Billy, now dressed in street clothes returns and asks to take his Bible with him to the new life he will make for himself. He shakes hands with the Warden and leaves.

Broncho Billys Sentence2Ultimately, there isn’t enough to this brief morality tale to justify regarding it as substantially more “realistic” or “mature” than other Broncho Billy movies I’ve seen, although it does go in a new direction, compared to those. It resembles “His Regeneration” in that it is about a bad man going straight, but instead of doing it for a lovely girl, he does it out of a newfound religious conviction that is actually somewhat more convincing. Billy seems to convey at first that he believes the world is a tough place where you can’t trust anyone, and he’ll take what he can get along the way. After he is shot, he realizes this philosophy leaves him no recourse when he needs help, and the surprise in his face when he receives it is obvious. He then shows the effort he is making to understand why anyone would help a wretch like him, and the new faith he finds through the Bible. Trying to do this with dialogue would simply fall flat – but in silence each viewer can find his or her own voice speaking of goodness and charity in whatever words are most convincing to them. We see Billy grow from bewilderment to realization, and then finally resolve as he decides to turn himself in. The final act simply shows him as a reformed man, although his breakdown when the Warden announces his release gives him a final emotional outlet. Because he is so clearly at the center of the story, none of the other actors manages to be anything more than background in the short time they are on screen, although at first Virginia shows a feistiness that seems to portend Hollywood-style romance. In a longer version of this, we might have seen her feelings about Billy grow and develop, as she watched him transform himself through faith. The movie is shot in a very typical, rigid, often cramped style, although the tight editing makes it a bit more visually interesting.

Broncho Billys Sentence3Director: Gilbert M. “Broncho Billy” Anderson

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Gilbert M. “Broncho Billy” Anderson, Virginia True Boardman, Ernest van Pelt, Carl Stockdale

Run Time: 12 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

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Wonderful Absinthe (1899)

This movie has a fair amount in common with “At the Club” (1899), although it is in a very different setting. The movie is also fast-paced, and takes more than one viewing to be understood, although I suppose that original audiences saw it with explanatory narration.

Wonderful AbsintheWe see two outdoor seats in what seems to be a comfortable middle-class beer garden or café. A bearded man in a long coat and top hat is shown to one, and he makes his order. The waiter then shows a family to the table next to him, while he reads from a magazine. The waiter now brings out a glass, a bottle, and a carafe to his table, and pours just a bit from the bottle into the glass and leaves to take the family’s order. The man now pours from the carafe, but since he is still reading from the magazine, he does not notice that he is pouring into his hat rather than the glass. When he takes a sip from the glass, he suddenly explodes into violence, leaping from his chair. The family shrinks back, and the waiter defends them, kicking the mad absinthe-drinker in the rear and ejecting him from the screen.

Wonderful Absinthe1Modern viewers find this movie hard to understand, as exemplified by the confused reviewer at imdb who claims that the “drunk” becomes violent when “bumped from behind.” Part of this confusion results from unfamiliarity with the “absinthe ritual,” which involves adding sugar and water to the noxious drink in order to make it palatable. This is what the bearded man fails to do when he absently pours from the carafe into his hat. His reaction is probably meant as a play upon both the horrid taste of uncut absinthe (believe me, it’s bad enough WITH the sugared water) as well as making fun of the myth of absinthe’s supposed hallucinogenic effects. Despite what you’ve heard, absinthe does not cause madness or hallucinations, but this was a widespread belief until fairly recently.

 

The interesting contrast to “At the Club” is that this clearly takes place in comfortable middle-class surroundings, in an environment that is open to women and children. Again, I wonder if perhaps director Alice Guy is emphasizing the evil effects of alcohol and the degree to which it victimizes families, even when the husband is not a drinker. Or, again, she may just be poking fun at the subject in a light-hearted manner. Certainly, this does not appear to be a preachy “message” picture.

Director: Alice Guy

Camera: Unknown, possibly Alice Guy

Starring: Unknown

Run Time: 40 secs

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

Broncho Billy and the Greaser (1914)

This is probably one of the most “typical” Western shorts I’ve seen from Gilbert M. “Broncho Billy” Anderson, in the sense that it could most effortlessly be substituted for the kind of kids’ Western fare of later eras of movies and television.

Broncho Billy and the GreaserBroncho Billy delivers mail by horseback, and when he rides into town he quickly greets Marguerite Clayton, apparently the only single young lady for miles around, before going into the General Store that serves as a local post office. The postmaster there is dealing with the impatience of locals who seem to have little to do but hang around the store asking him when the mail’s coming in, but he’s happy to fill Marguerite’s jug while they wait. Meanwhile, a local “half-breed,” played by Lee Willard, has been making better (or worse) use of his time at the local saloon. He saunters in just after Billy delivers the mail, blustering his way to the head of the line by displaying his six-shooter. Billy, made aware of the situation by the post master, corrects the situation by drawing his gun and escorting the bad guy out of the store. Once she has her mail, Marguerite shows her appreciation with a chaste handshake that makes both of them ride their horses backwards. The villain, of course, observes all of this with glares.

Broncho Billy and the Greaser1Lee now gives us a performance, showing off how enraged he is, riding back to his shack and drinking from a flask, snarling at the camera. He watches as Billy rides past his shack and picks up a knife, showing us what is in his mind with slashing gestures, then gets on his horse and follows. Billy stops on the road to help a man who seems to be suffering from thirst and exhaustion, stumbling down the road and trying to drink from a stream. Lee goes into a bar to get more liquor, but is treated with suspicion by the proprietor, who demands money up front. This only raises his ire, and now he pursues Billy (and his invalid discovery) back to his shack, where Billy has put the man to bed and started a pot of coffee, before taking off his own bracers and laying down for a snooze. Lee peeks into the window and sees Billy asleep, but at this moment Marguerite rides up and sees what is afoot, hastily jumping on her horse for help after the devious Mexican enters Billy’s shack without knocking. Billy fights, but Lee is able to tie him up. So, Marguerite makes her way to the Lazy X ranch, where a dance is taking place, and calls on the men to help. The invalid tries to do something, but barely manages to fall out of bed. The men from the ranch ride to the rescue while Billy struggles to keep the knife away. Once there, they grab the bad guy and drag him away, barely pausing long enough to untie Billy, who now returns to helping the old man. Marguerite comes in and makes sure Billy is OK, before they again shake hands shyly.

Broncho Billy and the Greaser2The obvious thing to comment about in this film is the racist portrayal of a “half-breed” or “greaser” villain. There are no surprises here, and certainly no subversion of American racial hierarchies, but it’s interesting to note two things: First, much of the story is told from Lee’s point of view, and he may actually get more screen time than Billy. Second, for all of the villain’s apparent evil intentions, he in no way menaces the white virginal woman, as played by Marguerite Clayton. One could argue that this threat is implicit, inasmuch as Billy’s closeness to the girl seems to be what sets him off, but it is Billy that he acts out against. Even there, he’s decent enough (or drunk enough) to wake Billy up and tie him rather than simply slitting his throat while he sleeps – although really this is a contrivance to give the girl a chance to go for help. It’s also noteworthy that Billy’s sole “heroic” act against him is to point a gun at him in the general store. If the other (white) townspeople had not come to his rescue, Billy would not have had the strength to defeat his foe alone. Billy is a gentleman toward the girl, and tries to help a wounded man, so we know he’s “good,” but he doesn’t manage to save the day.

Broncho Billy and the Greaser3One more thing I’ve been meaning to comment on is an odd bit of fashion that I mentioned briefly above – the bracers or wrist guards that all of the cowboys wear in these early Westerns. It’s universal in Essanay films, and common from what I recall in Ince pictures and in the few early Westerns of Douglas Fairbanks that I’ve seen. But, if you look at a later Western (I watched “Once Upon a Time in the West” the other night, and kept an eye out, for example), they have been abandoned. Wikipedia only lists these items as protectors for archers, but I can imagine cowboys using them to avoid chafing their wrists with rope or reins. To me, it kind of gives these early cowboy actors a Heavy Metal look (although theirs aren’t studded or spiked), and it feels somewhat more authentic than later movie fashion, but I’m no expert here.

Director: Gilbert M. “Broncho Billy” Anderson

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Gilbert M. “Broncho Billy” Anderson, Marguerite Clayton, Lee Willard, Carl Stockdale

Run Time: 15 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

At the Club (1899)

Alternate Title: Au Cabaret

Out of all the Alice Guy movies I’ve seen so far, this is the first that might have a slightly feminist social critique to it, although it could just as easily be meant to be taken as a funny drunk routine. However one reads it, it is a short and simple movie, but with some interesting aspects for the unfamiliar viewer.

At the ClubA group of men sit around a table outdoors, with a hastily-built shack behind them that advertises “wines” and “liquors.” A waiter serves them as they play cards, then returns to the shack. An argument erupts and two of the men overturn the table and begin fighting, while the waiter and the other man try to keep them separate. The squabble continues until the end of the movie cuts it off.

At the Club1Now, why would I argue that this is feminist or any kind of social critique? Well, let’s remember that “clubs” and other drinking establishments were male-only domains in the West in the nineteenth century. There’s also a kind of class-criticism here that may not apply in the French: in English a “gentleman’s club” is supposed to be a place of civility and decorum, while what we see depicted here is anything but that. In the French title, the drinking establishment is called a “cabaret,” although we see none of the accoutrements associated today with that term: there is no evidence of live entertainment, nor are meals served with the wine, nor do the clientele appear bohemian or artistic. It seems to me that this movie can be taken as a kind of chastisement of the evils of drink, along the lines of the American temperance movement, but it also has a distinct sense of humor: Guy may be simply laughing at drunken men, not actually condemning them – which, I admit, seems more like the French attitude.

Director: Alice Guy

Camera: Unknown, possibly Alice Guy

Starring: Unknown

Run Time: 40 secs

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

Picture Theaters of 1916

One of the first articles I wrote for context on this blog was a discussion of Nickelodeon audiences, and I followed that last year with a discussion of the transition to “movie palaces” that began in the mid-teens. This year, I’d like to explore a bit further what movie venues looked like a century ago. We can’t ever hope to re-create the conditions under which audiences saw these movies on our flat-screens or hand-held devices today, or even really at film festivals, but it helps to think about the surroundings people found themselves in when they went to the movies back then. It helps us to understand how different the experience was from going to a multiplex or just clicking on a link to see movie, and it also gives us a sense of how the movie industry was trying to convince itself and the world that it really was a legitimate art form, worthy of respect and high ticket prices.

Picture Theaters 1For this year’s article, I’m going to look at an article from the January 1, 1916 issue of Moving Picture World, called “Among the Picture Theaters.” This was a regular feature in the weekly magazine, which displayed some of the newest and most fashionable movie theaters across America. It’s important to realize that not all theater owners could aspire to this level of elegance, nor did all audiences necessarily enjoy it. But Moving Picture World was an industry magazine for exhibitors, and the owners did read and drool over what they saw here, probably picking up a few hints for their next renovations as they went along. These were some of the best places to go to the movies in 1916, and also probably some of the most profitable.

Portland Sunset TheaterFirst up, we pay a visit to my adopted hometown of Portland, Oregon, and the Sunset Theater, which was situated at Washington and Broadway in the downtown area, apparently on the most heavily taxed lot in the city at that time. With a rent of $900 per month, they had to pull in a lot from each screening just to cover the overhead. The corner was and remains one of the busiest intersections in the city. With seating for 500 people and four loges or theater boxes that could accommodate 34 people each, they certainly had the capacity when filled to show a tidy income. There was an organ in addition to a small orchestra space in the front of the house. The two entrances were finished in onyx and the lobbies set in Grecian marble. The restrooms included tapestries and furniture “in the Marie Antoinette” style. Surely a regal setting to watch the latest antics of Charlie Chaplin or adventures of Douglas Fairbanks!

Newark Proctors PalaceNewark Proctors Palace1Moving East to Newark, New Jersey, we get a glimpse of one of the styled walls and several balconies of the Proctor’s Palace. This true movie palace was designed to seat 2800, and is called by the Moving Picture World writer “the latest word in theatrical construction.” Located at 118 Market Street, it would have been close to the center of this suburb’s downtown, a place frequented by wealthy New Yorkers on weekends as well. The building was ten stories high, with offices available for rent above the theater level, making it one of the tallest in the vicinity, and with a series of “brightly lit hanging lights from the third to the tenth stories” making it visible from a distance at night. The floors of the lobbies were done in mosaic tile and the walls in white marble, while the ceilings were forty feet high, and there were smoking and lounging rooms available on each floor of the theater. One almost imagines buying a ticket just to hang out in these lounges socializing, and forgetting to head back in time to see Mary Pickford or Pearl White on the screen.

Wallace Grand TheaterWe don’t get any attractive pictures of the interior of the Grand Theater in Wallace Idaho, but the imposing outside of the structure suggests that it was one of the major institutions of that small mountain community (current population estimate = 780). Built at the economy rate of only $30,000, it held 700 patrons, many of whom might be stopping over at the railroad station on a trip West. Following a somewhat older model of entertainment, its shows combined vaudeville and live music with movie screenings, giving two “shows” per day of mixed entertainment. This is a more rustic concept of a theater, sturdy and functional, but not gaudy or decorative. I bet more than one Broncho Billy Anderson fan discovered his hero right in this theater!

Denver Strand TheaterWe return to a more exotic conception with the Strand Theater of Denver, Colorado, whose striking exterior is shown fully lit with “58,000 candlepower” electric lights. On Curtis Street, in the midst of other theaters, these lights made the theater “one of the most conspicuous” and the writer says that the entrance is “simply a blaze of white light.” The capacity was 1250, with wide, comfortable seats in rows spaced 30 inches apart. The price was only ten cents, and the house was restricted to screening features, apart from twice-weekly newsreels. A smoking room was also provided, although with those comfortable seats, I suppose more people stuck around to watch Theda Bara or Henry B Walthall purvey their art.

Note: MPW's caption says "Pageant" but the article says "Regent."

Note: MPW’s caption says “Pageant” but the article says “Regent.”

For Indianapolis’s Regent Theater, we get a very different impression from viewing the exterior. This 800-capacity house looks sort of like a giant Nickelodeon, with minimal decoration and simple posters advertising its wares, rather than fancy lights. We are told, however, that its opening day drew 8000 patrons to what we must assume were ten separate screenings, surely a profitable day for the owners! This theater included the “innovation” of aisle lights to help patrons find their seats in the dark. The “retiring rooms” were located in the basement, and the women’s room was attended by a maid and included free telephones and writing desks! Surely, that made it easy for female movie reviewers to phone in their thoughts on the latest Cecil B. DeMille drama.

Perth Amboy DitmasThe Ditmas Theater in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, looks more like a major train station than a movie theater from the outside to my eye. Situated on State Street, “the center of the city’s activity,” it catered to “the best and most exclusive playgoers” of the community. The “spacious and artistic” lobby was decorated with photos of “well-known” film stars – wouldn’t you love to know which ones made the cut? This was another 800-seat house with no balcony or boxes, but with “comfortable and roomy” chairs. The Ditmas showed Paramount and Universal pictures exclusively, with serials on Friday night and new features on every Saturday. Unlike the larger theaters with full orchestra pits, only a piano was provided for the music. Fans of Blanche Sweet and Owen Moore probably  found it more than adequate.

Hamilton LyricFinally, we have an impressive interior view of the Lyric Theater in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, a sizable metropolis near the border with New York and part of the Niagara Peninsula. The picture reminds me of the theater frequented by Charlie Chaplin in “A Night in the Show.” With a capacity of 2200, it was originally opened as a vaudeville house, which converted to movies when they proved more profitable. They screened 13 reels to a show, apparently avoiding features which “mean an interruption to the system of programs in vogue,” so mainly a series of shorts, perhaps with live performances interspersed. At a rate of 10 cents for adults and 5 for children, this must have been the place that many a Canadian discovered the joys of Keystone comedies!

Surprise Attack on a House at Dawn (1898)

Alternate Title: Surprise d’une maison au petît jour

This short scene from Alice Guy may reflect the popularity of American war films at the time. While the Americans had their own real war to shoot (the Spanish-American War), the danger of conditions and limitations of the technology resulted in most of their combat scenes being re-enactments. Well, France had plenty of historical and patriotic wars to re-enact, and that is what Guy has her actors do here.

Surprise Attack on a HouseWe see the front of a house on a snow-covered morning. A lone guard stands next to a small cannon, or possibly a Gatling gun or similar weapon. A group of soldiers in different uniforms sneak up behind him and one of them shoots him from behind. Now they all run around to stand before the camera and exchange fire with the soldiers who come out of the house to investigate the shot. They soon retreat and the defense force uses the gun to frighten them and also engages in pursuit. An officer, with a sword and side arm instead of a rifle, waves his arms and tries to direct the soldiers. Suddenly, the enemy reappears, pushing a large wagon in front of them for cover. They fight with the officer and his few remaining men, the officer cutting several down with his sword. When the film ends, the fighting is still going on.

Surprise Attack on a House1This movie made no immediate sense to me, and I had to do a certain amount of digging before the French Wikipedia informed me that it is a re-enactment of a battle from the “War of 1870” (known to Americans, if at all, as the “Franco-Prussian War”). I’m not good at identifying uniforms, but I believe the French are the defenders in this sequence, which may explain why the heroic officer isn’t cut down for his rather foolhardy sword attack on men with guns. The apparent snow on the ground threw me as well – the only war I could think of where cold weather was a factor was Napoleon’s disastrous invasion of Russia, which didn’t seem like an uplifting subject for a French filmmaker. Of course, the French lost the Franco-Prussian war as well, ultimately, but this version of events allows the viewer to focus on the individual heroism of the soldiers and on the aspect of defending against a ruthless enemy (willing to shoot a man in the back, for instance). As compared to other war movies I’ve seen from the time, this one is pretty exciting: keeping up the action consistently throughout and using the stationary framing to add a degree of suspense – when the soldiers run on and off camera, we imagine the battle expanding, and wonder when the next attack will come on screen.

Director: Alice Guy

Camera: Unknown (possibly Alice Guy)

Starring: Unknown

Run Time: 1 Min

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

Disappearing Act (1898)

This short by Alice Guy has much in common with “At the Hypnotist’s,” which appears to have been shot on the same set, possibly using the same actors. But, it can also be seen as a remake of “The Vanishing Lady” by Georges Méliès, released two years before.

Disappearing ActA lady and a man enter a well appointed room and walk around a couch to bow to the audience. The lady is dressed in typical demure 19th Century French middle-class clothing and the man has long hair and a long black coat on. The man gestures and the lady lies on the couch. He approaches her with a sheet and waves it. Suddenly, she is turned into a ridiculously phony-looking monkey. The monkey hops about a little, but is soon coaxed back onto the couch and the magician again gestures. Now monkey and couch are gone, replaced by a large crate. He gestures to make the crate disappear, then makes the woman, standing, appear at his side. He waves again to banish her and bows once more, seeming to depart the stage. Suddenly, he and the lady stand side by side, bowing repeatedly.

This is another “trick film,” done reasonably well but without either the artful backdrops or the technical wizardry of Méliès. The one truly original aspect is the monkey (substituting for the more horrific element of a skeleton), and I must comment that it is represented by possibly the worst monkey costume I have ever seen. The movie is light and enjoyable, but undeniably unoriginal. I would assume that it was shot back-to-back with “At the Hypnotist’s,” although the camera remains too far from the actors to allow for facial recognition.

Alternate Title: Scéne d’escamotage

Director: Alice Guy

Camera: Unknown, possiblly Alice Guy

Starring: Unknown

Run Time: 1 Min

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

The Making of Broncho Billy (1913)

As promised, I’ll be taking care of the reviews of the movies of Gilbert M. “Broncho Billy” Anderson that I binge-viewed for my “Broncho Billy Marathon” post. This piece, put out by his Essanay Studio at a time when there wasn’t much in the way of competition, is a fairly uncomplicated but fun little example of what people thought of the Old West at the time.

Making of Broncho BillyAs I mentioned in the previous discussion, the movie serves as a kind of “origin story” for Broncho Billy, although of course there had been many movies made before it. Anderson shows up in a Western town wearing Eastern clothes (he looks sort of like a young D.W. Griffith) and is mercilessly mocked by the local cowhands. When he shows up in the lobby of his hotel, one of the roughnecks shoots at the floor to make him dance. He wanders over to a gambling table, but declines to gamble, to the amusement and annoyance of the other patrons. In the bar, he turns down whiskey and asks for something lighter (a beer, maybe), and the bartender has to brush the dust off the bottle, it is so rarely ordered. One of the cowpokes comes to razz him about it, and Billy gets ready to hit him with the bottle, but the bully quickdraws and shatters it. Now Billy learns that he must learn to shoot to gain their respect.

Making of Broncho Billy1

Please don’t shoot the cinematographer.

Billy goes out and finds someone willing to sell him a gun (no waiting period or background check necessary). Next, we see him attempt shooting a bottle in his Eastern garb, but he doesn’t seem to know to point the gun down at it. In the next scene, wearing Stetson hat and cowboy shirt, he sets up several bottles in front of the camera and hits them all. Then he shoots holes in the middle of playing cards. Now, he’s a real Western man, and he can go back to the bar. There, he meets the fellow who gave him trouble before. They both go for their guns, and Billy shoots the gun from his opponent’s hand. Now he gets on his horse and rides to the sheriff for protection as an angry mob comes after him. The sheriff puts him in a cell, bolts the door, and gets his shotgun out when the mob arrives, and they batter down the door. The surviving bully, whose hand has been treated by the town doc, now races to the scene, where he announces that he just wants to shake Billy’s hand. Everything is resolved happily, and he is accepted in the town.

Making of Broncho Billy2The scene that really surprised me here is where Billy’s target practice involves him shooting right at the camera to take out the bottles and cards. Although, of course, it is easy enough to arrange for an effect that makes that appear to be the case, often in earlier movies people really did fire bullets in gun scenes. At least according to Hollywood legend, Howard Hawks was still doing this as late as 1932 for “Scarface.” Presumably, they figured out some safer way to do that for the camera operator. I wasn’t entirely certain what was going on with the gambling scene – the croupier seems to greet him and hope he’ll join in, but the gamblers mostly look annoyed. Also, my own reaction to Anderson’s being willing to fight hand to hand was that it seemed more courageous than the gunfight his opponent insisted upon, but I suppose Anderson is trying to establish a cultural expectation of the Old West here. Overall, this is rather light family fare, the sort of thing that Anderson would mostly be remembered for, despite the somewhat darker portrayals in years to come.

Director: Gilbert M. “Broncho Billy” Anderson

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Gilbert M. “Broncho Billy” Anderson, Brinsley Shaw, Harry Todd, Roland Totheroh

Run Time: 9 Min

I have not found this available free on the Internet. If you do, please comment below.

The Burglars (1898)

I’d rate this as one of the more interesting movies I’ve seen from Alice Guy so far. It’s another light comedy with a vaguely anti-authoritarian bent, like “The Turn of the Century Blind Man,” but with no obvious parallels, except perhaps to the chaos of the vaudeville stage.

BurglarsWe see a set that is designed to look like the Paris rooftops, with various men scampering over it and another figure occasionally poking out of a window. The scene is so active and frenzied that it takes a moment (or even a couple of views), to divide the four into two distinct groups – two men in uniform, two not. The uniformed men are chasing the others, all of them leaping from one part of the set to another, climbing over obstacles, etc. The chased men manage to go inside of a window, and for a moment the uniforms disappear as well. The burglars (as we now know them to be) emerge with two paintings in hand. As they hold up their prizes, the gendarmes reappear, and the burglars smash the paintings over their heads, trapping them in the frames. They now roll their pursuers along the roof, presumably preparing to drop them over the side, when the film ends.

This movie is typical enough, in that it attempts to translate comedy and movement to the screen without worrying overmuch about the plot, but it took me by surprise with its chaos and violence (and apparent siding with the criminals!). Maybe we can see some prediction of it in “Robetta and Doretto,” itself an attempt to bring a famous stage comedy act to the screen. I think it possible that this is also based on an understood comedy situation – people chased by the police are by definition the “good guys,” etc. I’ve identified the pursuers as “gendarmes” in part because French Wikipedia does so, but their uniforms are decidedly different from the obvious cop in “Blind Man,” and look more like the man I assumed to be a soldier in “At the Hypnotist’s.”

Director: Alice Guy

Camera: Unknown (possibly Alice Guy)

Starring: Unknown

Run Time: 1 Min

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

At the Hypnotist’s (1898)

Alternate Title: Chez le magnétisuer

Again working on a sound stage, Alice Guy gives us her interpretation of a “trick” film a la Georges Méliès. It seems she was aware of what others were doing and happy to copy their style, even as a little of her own personality seems to slip in here and there.

At the HypnotistsThis movie takes place on a single stage, the backdrop suggesting a comfortable middle-class apartment in Paris. A woman is shown in to the room and a man with a beard and long black coat motions her to sit. He then waves his hands and she becomes suddenly stiff. He makes her stand erect, then waves his hands and suddenly she is standing in her underwear – the hypnotist now has her clothing! He hangs up her dress and shawl and again begins to gesture magically, when suddenly another man, dressed as a soldier bursts in. He appears to remonstrate with the hypnotist, who demonstrates that he can re-clothe the woman simply by throwing the clothes at her, but then he undresses her magically again. The soldier becomes more aggravated, and the hypnotist throws the dress at him – suddenly the woman is wearing his uniform, and he is wearing her shawl! She is suddenly awake and a chase scene begins with the woman, the soldier, the hypnotist and his servant. They run out of the room and back in again.

This seems like a somewhat lame imitation of Méliès, with a very basic plot and minimal production value. The stage is obviously false, and the camera is set to see the entire bodies and with a great deal of fairly uninteresting space above the actors’ heads. It doesn’t move and there are no edits, except those allowing for the tricks to be enacted. There does seem to be mild titillation going on – although the woman in her underwear is far more chaste than the boys we saw bathing in their trunks. The soldier is evidently an angry husband or suitor, and we must leave to our imaginations what the hypnotist might have done if not interrupted. the characters gesture a great deal, but somehow their performances lack the madcap silliness of Méliès.

Director: Alice Guy

Camera: Unknown (possibly Alice Guy)

Starring: Unknown

Run Time: 1 Min

You can watch it for free: here (with music).