Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Month: April, 2016

Eleanor’s Catch (1916)

This two-reel short from Universal is an interesting twist on the many “lost girl” love triangles of the period. Some of its notability no doubt results from the fact that it was directed by star Cleo Madison, an early feminist who believed that women could do anything as well as men could, and that the day was not far off when everyone agreed to this.

And men can do housework, too!

And men can do housework, too!

Madison introduces her character, Eleanor, as “a tenement rose,” and we see her literally wearing rags as she hand-scrubs her laundry. She also introduces William V. Mong, who wrote the screenplay and plays “Flash” Darcy or Dacy (the credits say “Darcy” but the Intertitles consistently spell it “Dacy”), a “shining light of the neighborhood.” Darcy comes out of a bar and runs into Eleanor’s mom (Lule Warrenton), who is carrying home a heavy basket of linens. He offers to carry them home for her and uses the opportunity to hit on Eleanor, who seems annoyed at first, but becomes interested when he flashes his wallet and agrees to pay for groceries and beer for the family. Mom rushes off to shop and leaves the two of them alone. Flash again ingratiates himself by offering to do some of the scrubbing and then invites a street musician to play accordion for them while they dance. Now, Eleanor’s boyfriend “Red” (Edward Hearn, who’s called “Spike” in the credits for some reason) walks up, and he scowls at what he sees. Mom tries to make it better by inviting him in for beer and dinner, but he mostly sulks while Eleanor and Dacy chit chat. They arrange to meet while Red’s at night school that evening.

Smooth operator.

Smooth operator.

At this point we cut to Eleanor’s less-pretty sister, who’s reduced to begging from men on the street. Then we see Eleanor’s reaction to the nice dress Dacy has sent over for her to wear when they go out (and a pair of socks for mother). He takes her on the town and shows her his trick of stealing a man’s tie clip by pretending to yawn and snatching it in his clenched fist. She’s impressed, but scared, and tells the man about hit, but it’s one of Flash’s cronies, who knew what was up the whole time. Now she tries, and fails, to get away with it. Some time passes, and we are given to understand that Dacy has been training her as a pickpocket. He brings a man with a nice tie clip over to her house and she does the fake yawn. But, instead of stealing the tie clip, she grabs Dacy’s gun from out of his pocket and holds him up, claiming to be an undercover cop. The man flees and a fight breaks out between Dacy and Eleanor, with the hard-up sister in the middle. Red’s been standing outside this whole time, and it finally dawns on him to come in and help and then mom shows up with a cop who hauls Dacy away, although I’m not sure on what charge. We are then told that “officer” Eleanor returns to her home life – which is pretty much like it was in the first reel, except now Red is a welcome guest.

Eleanors Catch2I did enjoy this little movie. In fact, I’d had a somewhat grueling afternoon pre-watching “Intolerance” and was ready for a nice light short. But, it had a few problems, plot-wise. First, I didn’t really buy Eleanor’s revelation that she was with the Secret Service. They sent her deep undercover so she could catch up with a small-time hoodlum that steals tie clips? Second, why does Flash need Eleanor in the first place? He seems like a good enough thief to steal all the tie clips he needs without her help. He certainly didn’t come out ahead on the deal: he had to buy all that food, booze, and clothing, and all he was going to get out of it was a tie clip? Finally, I do like the fact that Eleanor more or less rescues herself by grabbing the gun at the end, but then why did we need a big fight with Red and a policeman charging to the rescue? On top of that, I wish she had found some way to make Red more likeable. I was ready to like him when he showed up, since Dacy was an obvious skeeze, and he’s kind of a good-looking working class mug, but all he does is scowl and sulk until the end. Wikipedia makes the dubious claim that this is one of the first movies to include a twist ending, which obviously depends on your definition of that concept, but it isn’t really the most successful I’ve seen. Still, it was an interesting and fun little movie in its way. I liked the fact that Cleo makes Dacy do laundry, which fits with her idea that work shouldn’t be defined by gender, and she did look pretty comfortable with the gun in her hand, not like a typically nervous female of the time. I’ll keep an eye out for more of her work in the future.

Director: Cleo Madison

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Cleo Madison, William V. Mong, Lule Warrenton, Edward Hearn

Run Time: 15 Min

I have been unable to find this film for free online If you do, please comment.

The O’Mers in “The Bricklayers” (1905)

Alternate Title: Les Maçons, Les O’Mers dans “Les Maçons”

This short film represents the first clear example of slapstick I’ve seen from Alice Guy. It has a “French” feel to it, but remains a fairly basic example of early filmmaking from the dawn of the Nickelodeon era.

OMers in Bricklayers

We see a stage with a building facade backdrop with a scaffold in front. Four men in work clothes are hauling materials to the work site. Two policemen enter, and soon are knocked down by the busy workers. What at first seemed an accident soon escalates as the workers continue provoking and assailing the officers. The police give chase, but are consistently outwitted and knocked repeatedly down. There are falls from ladders, things dropped from a pulley a man knocked into a wheelbarrow, and water sprayed at the face. In short, it is a very simple performance with many laughs.

Omers in Bricklayers1The print is somewhat more faded on this than other Guy films I’ve seen, but you can still make out the action. The title and the look of the film makes me suspect that this is a filmed version of a vaudeville ensemble, giving a performance much as they would on the stage, only now without sound. The performance is well timed to come off in a single take, and about seven performers have to time their entrances, exits, and physical performances with one another to make it work. The O’Mers, whoever they were, do a fine job in all respects, but the film itself is rather unimaginative for 1905.

Director Alice Guy

Camera: Unknown (possibly Alice Guy)

Cast: Someone called “The O’Mers”

Run Time: 2 Min 10 secs

You can watch it for free: here.

Faust and Mephistopheles (1903)

Small aside: This is the 500th post I have written on this blog, according to WordPress. I never expected to make 500 in just over two years! Thanks to all my readers for keeping me going. I plan to celebrate with a Guinness after dinner – that’s about all I can get away with on a work night at my age.

Alternate Title: Faust et Mephistopheles

Alice Guy takes a stab at a common theme among early filmmakers. According to the catalog of Georges Méliès, he had tried a version of “Faust and Marguerite” as early as 1897, and first attempted to depict “The Damnation of Faust” in 1898. He would return themes in movies of the same names in 1903 and 1904. Meanwhile, across the pond, Edwin S. Porter made his first “Faust and Marguerite” in 1900. Of course, the entire Faust legend would be borrowed from heavily in the making of “The Student of Prague” much later in 1913.

Faust and MephistophelesTwo bearded men in robes stand before a cauldron. One wears white, the other black. They gesture at one another, and the white-robed one puts his hands over the cauldron, summoning a demon. The demon brings him a sword and sets to bringing up the flame, and the wizard swings the sword and makes the demon disappear, replacing him with a charming man in a cape with a horned helmet (I take this to be Mephistopheles, though I’m not certain). This new man uses the sword to turn the white-robed magician into a younger man, dressed sort of like one of the Three Musketeers. This new man takes the sword and makes the devil disappear, then turns the black robed magician into a more well-dressed young man – identifiable as Faust. Then they are transported together to a new room. The musketeer-fellow waves the sword at a sealed door, and Faust looks through to see a beautiful woman singing and spinning (Marguerite, surely). He pulls her into the room, but she disappears, replaced by Mephistopheles. Then the room is filled with ghosts. The Devil comes back briefly, and then Faust sees the woman with horns on her head. He pleads with the musketeer fellow, but nothing happens until he falls on his knees when he should flee, and suddenly the Virgin Mary appears holding a cross. The ghosts and demons are banished, and Faust is reunited with Marguerite.

Faust and Mephistopheles1

As compared to the other versions of “Faust” I’ve talked about, this version ambitiously tries to tell the whole story in just two minutes. Prior to this, the versions were kept to vignettes. Really, this version is too hurried to be entirely coherent: I’m still not sure whether Mephistopheles is the Musketeer-fellow or the horned and caped man, and who is the sorcerer in white? However, it does work as a pretty advanced trick film with a narrative storyline, even if the characters are obscure. As with “How Monsieur Takes His Bath,” the camera edits are much cleaner than in the case of early Méliès, and there are no serious jump cuts. Still, one must recall that “A Trip to the Moon” came out the previous year, and “The Great Train Robbery” in the same year; Guy was not at the cutting edge here, so far as telling complex stories is concerned.

Director: Alice Guy

Camera: Unknown (possible Alice Guy)

Starring: Unknown

Run Time: 1 Min 45 secs

You can watch it for free: here.

How Monsieur Takes His Bath (1903)

Alternate Title: Comment Monsieur prend son ban

This is a short trick film from Alice Guy, using techniques pioneered by Georges Méliès to have some fun at the expense of its main character. We’ve seen its like before, but it is very well done.

How Monsieur Takes His BathA man is alone in a room, with a bathtub next to him. He begins to disrobe, but when he puts his pants down, suddenly a new suit appears on his body. He tries again, and the same thing happens. He tries to accelerate, momentarily getting far enough ahead that he can take off his pants and jacket, but soon he has dozens of layers on and the movie ends with him wearing more clothes than he had at the beginning.

How Monsieur Takes His Bath1Given that this sort of movie had been around for 6 years, one might think that audiences would expect something more, but I have to note that, compared to the earlier Méliès films, the edits on this are quite precise and the man doesn’t seem to hop around due to jump cuts. Guy has been in the business for just about as long now, and has obviously learned her craft. Even the clothes he takes off pile up realistically as he throws them aside, not moving around or randomly disappearing due to continuity errors. The movie may not be a breakthrough, but it is a reasonable success. Two observations about the language: First, Guy deliberately uses titillating language in the title, as in “How Bridget Served the Salad undressed.” Second, there really is no English equivalent to the French word “Monsieur” here (“How Sir Takes a Bath” doesn’t work t all!).

Director: Alice Guy

Camera: Unknown (possibly Alice Guy)

Starring: Ferdinand Zecca

Run Time: 1 Min

You can watch it for free: here.


His Picture in the Papers (1916)

Douglas Fairbanks returns in yet another movie in which he must face unbelievable odds and travel immense distances in order to get married. This one takes advantage of his charm and wit, and occasional doses of his physical prowess, to get a good number of laughs from the audience.

His_Picture_in_the_Papers_PosterDoug plays Pete Prindle, first son and heir of Proteus Prindle (Clarence Handyside), the magnate behind “Prindle’s Products,” a line of unappetizing vegetarian goods. One of Prindle’s “disciples” (and, evidently, employees), is a fellow named Cassius Cadwalader (Charles Butler). His young daughter, Christine, (Loretta Blake) is of marrying age, but she doesn’t seem to like the thin, effeminate specimens he brings home; it’s very important that she marry a vegetarian, you see. Pete and Christine run into one another at a non-vegetarian restaurant and share a steak together – they both share the secret of rejecting their families’ diet. But, when Pete asks to marry her, Cassius tells him he must prove his worth by getting a 50% interest in the Prindle empire, and his father tells him the only way that will happen is if he gets out and gets some publicity for the company. His daughters have managed to get a story in a Vegetarian Journal, why isn’t he in the news, too?

Doug's got an idea. Watch out, world!

Doug’s got an idea. Watch out, world!

So, Pete sets out to get himself into the papers. First, he fakes an automobile accident, but only gets a small mention, not a picture. Next, he wins a boxing match, but the police raid it before any of the photographers can submit their pictures. Then, he has the bright idea of telling the papers he was miraculously cured of being an “invalid” by taking a competitor’s product – that only gets dad madder at him. Finally, trying to cadge a dollar for a fortune teller from a buddy in a men’s club, he winds up hungover in his pajamas in Atlantic City and gets into a brawl with some policemen, but his name is withheld.

Really, it could happen to anyone!

Really, it could happen to anyone!

While all of this is going on, a gang of hoodlums (one of whom is Erich von Stroheim, still new to America at the time) is trying to threaten Cadwalader for protection money. Cadwalader doesn’t think a Prindle’s man should back down so he has the police arrest one gang member, and when another one stabs him in the chest he’s defended by his trusty tin of Prindle’s lentils that he always carries. His daughter insists on hiring detectives, so from this point he’s constantly surrounded by four of them. One gang member tries throwing a bomb, but gets blown up himself. Now Prindle orders him to go down to Atlantic City to check on a shipment of Prindle’s Products that got delayed, and the gang devises a plan to crash his train.

His Picture in the Papers2Of course, Pete is walking along that very line, and catches sight of a railman they’ve disabled in order to pull the switch that will crash the train. Without knowing who he’s saving, he heroically dashes in and fights off the gang, finding the missing railroad car and using Prindle’s Products as weapons. The next day the headlines trumpet his saving one thousand people and capturing the crooks. He and Christine kiss behind a paper.

His Picture in the Papers3It’s interesting to note how often Doug plays the spoiled son of a wealthy man (even in “The Matrimaniac,” he’s rich and unmarried, although we never see his father) who has to make good somehow. I’ve really come to enjoy the style of humor of these early Douglas Fairbanks movies. In this case, the intertitles are the source of much of the humor, but they seem to match up with the wry grins and attitude of Doug himself. A lot of the humor is at the expense of vegetarianism, which actually makes it seem more relevant today than a lot of century comedies (remember, vegetarians, these products have come a long way in 100 years!). Doug climbs up a building to visit his sweetie’s balcony, and he also boxes, wrestles a goat, beats up two policemen, and swims ashore from a cruise liner. At one point, he is thrown off of a train because his ticket apparently specifies that he is a “fat man with whiskers.” That’s why he attacks the goat – he needs the whiskers! Much of this movie was shot in Fort Lee, New Jersey, but there are some recognizable shots of New York City (especially Grand Central Station) and the Atlantic City boardwalk (the one the property in Monopoly is named for!). There is good editing and shot composure, and a strong use of close-ups. The one scene that puzzled me was the boxing scene, which looked like it had been shot for Edison in 1896. The camera never moved, there were no cuts, and the whole fight was shot at such a distance that I couldn’t tell the boxers apart. Overall, it’s a very enjoyable movie, and the Flicker Alley version comes with a lively score by Frederick Hodges.

Director: John Emerson

Camera: George W. Hill

Starring: Douglas Fairbanks, Loretta Blake, Clarence Handyside, Charles Butler, Erich von Stroheim

Run Time: 1 Hr, 2 Min

You can watch it for free: here (no music). For music, head on over to Flicker Alley and rent it, cheap!

The Actors: Rare Films of Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. Vol 1 (1915-1916, 20??)

Rare Films FairbanksThis is a quickie low-to-mid quality DVD of public domain films. If you take a look at the screen captures of the reviews I’ve posted, you’ll get an idea of the image quality. It seemed worth it to me to be able to see some of Fairbanks’s earliest work, but now Flicker Alley is making one of those films – the Matrimaniac – available for streaming. I’ll be looking at the other 1916 Fairbanks movies streamed in coming weeks. In the meanwhile, though, this is about all there is for “The Lamb” and “Reggie Mixes in,” so if you’re a completist, this is better than nothing.

Worldcat link for Inter-library Loan: http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/673205125

Miss Dundee and Her Performing Dogs (1902)

Alternate Title: Miss Dundee et ses chiens savants

This is a typical “Age of Attractions” film of a sideshow or circus act, scaled down for the camera, allowing people who might be in distant locations to see a performance that previously had to be visited in person. Director Alice Guy gives us only a few minutes of what was probably a much longer act in person, but the time is well used.

Miss Dundee Performing DogsMiss Dundee appears on a stage with several of her dogs on various stands, wearing a variety of costumes. She is attired in tights and a slight outfit – very revealing for 1902. An assistant bring out an easel and canvas. She begins to paint on it, and this causes one dog to jump down and stand on his hind legs, looking like he is begging. This dog is dressed in a jacket, like a dinner jacket or something the British upper class might wear in a men’s club. Miss Dundee notices him, leans over as if to speak with him briefly, and summons her assistant again, who brings a staircase that goes up to the easel. The dog climbs the stairs on all fours, gets back up on hind legs, then turns and bows to the audience. He then turns his back and begins to simulate writing or drawing on the board. Here, there is a jump cut (or perhaps some missing frames) and we never see what the dog has drawn or written.

Miss Dundee1From here, the action mostly involves Miss Dundee holding out a rod and directing dogs to jump over or under it while the assistant brings out various platforms for them to leap from. Most of the dogs are small, but one is fairly large, perhaps a Great Dane, who gets jumped over as well as jumping over Miss Dundee, and I believe I saw at least one terrier as well as various sizes and types of poodle. The camera is stationary and the filmmaker leaves it up to Dundee to provide movement and interest. I liked the “painting dog” part best myself, but it’s too bad it was cut off the way it was.

Director: Alice Guy

Camera: Unknown (possibly Alice Guy)

Starring: “Miss” Dundee, various dogs.

Run  Time: 3 Min 20 secs

You can watch it for free: here.

An Untimely Intrusion (1902)

Alternate Title: Intervention malencontreuse

Alice Guy returns to domestic comedy with this short. While it could be seen as a comment on dysfunctional relationships or domestic violence (or even elder abuse), I’m inclined to read it as a one-gag attempt to get a laugh.

Untimely IntrusionThe movie opens on an empty room, which seems to be the combination kitchen-bedroom of a small urban apartment. A man and a woman enter through doors at the back of the set. The man has a very obvious fake beard and the woman rather resembles pictures I’ve seen of Alice Guy. The couple is fighting, and the woman breaks her hat over the man’s head. They continue arguing, and the woman grabs the man, tearing off one of his sleeves. Now the man begins throwing plates on the floor, breaking them, and the woman does so too. An older woman (possibly the concierge, or landlady) enters the room with a broom, and the man accidentally hits her with something he was throwing at his wife. Soon, the man and woman team up against the old woman, yelling at her, breaking things on her, and laughing at her.

Untimely Intrusion1The funny moment here comes when the landlady comes in and unexpectedly gets hit. The title points out that the couple are mad at her for interrupting their fight. This is a pretty typical early slapstick-type film without special effects, editing, or a complex storyline. Unlike other examples of its kind, however, it doesn’t rely on gender stereotypes – the audience is free to decide which of the couple “started” the fight, and both are shown holding their own – neither comes across as a victim or a hero. I don’t think that it’s really Guy performing for the camera here, but at first I wasn’t sure.

Director: Alice Guy

Camera: Unknown (possibly Alice Guy)

Starring: Unknown (maybe Alice Guy, but I doubt it)

Run Time: 1 Min

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

Midwife to the Upper Class (1902)

Alice Guy finally moves into the twentieth century with a narrative short with editing and identifiable characters. It’s sort of a sequel to “The Cabbage Fairy,” or maybe it’s a satire.

Midwife to the Upper ClassThe movie opens on a small stage which is dressed in vines and flora, with a door in the back. One woman stands behind what looks like a flower stand, and a couple (man and woman) approach from stage right. All of them are in what seems to be antiquated clothing, making me think of a fairy tale. The couple discuss their finances, and the man takes out a purse and shows the woman how many coins he has. She looks happy, and approaches the saleslady. The lady at the stall now produces a series of baby dolls, each of which is examined by the customers carefully and discarded. Finally, she leads the pair to the door in the back of the stage.

Then there is an edit! And we find ourselves in the space behind the door, which seems to be a large cabbage patch. She now leads them between the rows, and starts pulling out live babies for them to consider. As they discard each one, she places them on a blanket near the front of the screen. Soon, there are five or six screaming babies. Occasionally, she shows them another baby doll (including one with black skin), but these are quickly discarded as the lady customer clearly wants a live child. Finally, she finds one that is to her liking and the man pays the baby-dealer.

Midwife to the Upper Class1I was so surprised to see an edit in an Alice Guy film that I almost fell off the couch. Remember, by 1902, Georges Méliès was putting out “A Trip to the Moon” and Edwin S. Porter made “Jack and the Beanstalk,” both movies that relied on multiple edits to tell complex stories. But Guy seemed to stay in that early “Age of Attractions” mode that just involved pointing a camera at a one- or two-minute subject and letting it run right into the twentieth century. Finally, she took a chance and expanded her storytelling technique, and it’s interesting to see where she goes with it. The movie appears to be intended as a mild comment on the fickleness and arrogance of the rich, although with its fantasy setting it can’t be seen as a serious social critique. In “the Cabbage Fairy,” we get the sense that the fairy is bringing welcome new life to the world as a gift, as the spring sun makes the flowers bloom without expecting recompense. In this film, she has been transformed into a merchant, trying to please snobbish clients. I see this as satire, but I’m not certain how far I can run with that. Although the title suggests that only the wealthy are the subjects, I wonder if it isn’t a comment on commercialism more generally, and its dehumanizing effects.

Director: Alice Guy

Camera: Unknown (possibly Alice Guy)

Starring: Germaine Serand, Yvonne Serand

Run Time: 4 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

Serpentine Dance by Lina Esbrard (1902)

Serpentine Dance Lina Esbrard

Yet another short film of a woman in a flowy dress performing a Serpentine Dance by Alice Guy. Apparently these things were very popular, but I can’t think of much new to say about this one. In this case, the dancer appears to be middle aged, and has rather beefy arms, although she has a dancer’s legs, to judge by the twirls she makes that lift her skirts. While it is often asserted that these films were taken because they could easily be looped, this one has a distinct beginning, when Esbrard enters the stage, and an end, when she bows and throws kisses to the audience. It’s surprising to imagine that audiences were still going for this sort of thing in 1902, which is the same year that Méliès released “A Trip to the Moon.”

Director: Alice Guy

Camera: Unknown, possibly Alice Guy

Starring: Lina Esbrard

Run time: 1 Min, 40 secs

You can watch it for free: here.