Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

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.