The Whole Dam Family and the Dam Dog (1905)

by popegrutch

This short from Edwin S. Porter is actually his interpretation of what Charles Musser calls a “comic picture postcard” that was popular at the time. The racy title and humorous portrayal of a family made it one of the bigger hits Edison had.

The movie begins with a series of close-ups on each character, each with a card bearing their name at the bottom of the screen, like the number on a mug shot. There is “Mr. I.B. Dam,” a fat-faced fellow with a somewhat heavy brow. Then, “Herself,” which I assume is his wife, a large woman who never ceases talking. Next is “Miss U.B. Dam,” who I take to be the maiden aunt. She fixes her hair into an improbably large bun. Next up is “Jimmy Dam,” a greasy-haired, slick looking fellow with an upturned nose. He smokes a cigarette with considerable relish, blowing the smoke out his nostrils. Then comes “Annie Dam,” whose face is largely lost under an enormous lampshade of a hat. I assume her odd head movements and finger-chewing is meant to be coquettish (or, meant to appear as if she wants to be coquettish, but is too dumb to pull it off). “Lizzie Dam” is a child who likes to chew gum, pulling it out of her mouth in a long string, then chewing it back in again. The last character is “Baby Dam,” who wails and cries at the camera.

After the gallery of close-ups, we see the family in a group shot. Then the Intertitles announce the arrival of “the Dam dog,” but the dog does not get a close-up. Instead, we see the family seated at the dinner table, arguing and gesturing, while the dog sits at the head of the table. I.B. Dam shoos him out of his place, and the dinner continues in its raucous manner, father apparently admonishing Jimmy to put out his cigarette, and the baby crying the whole time, until the dog runs up and grabs the tablecloth with his teeth, pulling it down and sending the entire dinner to the floor. The family stands up in distress, uncertain what etiquette says about this situation.

The movie is very simple, but retains some of its humorous appeal. “Stupid” families are certainly familiar to modern viewers of “The Simpsons,” and some of the origins of Homer and Bart can be seen here, in the ineffective authority of the father, and the precocious grandstanding of Lizzie, for example. Most of the characters are made up to emphasize their backwardness, and they all act as if they had no sense of propriety or manners. There were apparently a number of different series of “Dam family” postcards, as well as dolls, tobacco pipes, and other memorabilia. I somehow imagine that it was the sort of thing kids liked to “shock” their parents with – “but look, ma, it really does say ‘Dam’” – but that parents were wisest to ignore, lest they encourage through disapproval.

Director: Edwin S. Porter

Camera: Edwin S. Porter

Starring: Unknown

Run Time: 5 Min, 30 secs

You can watch it for free: here.