The Terrible Kids (1906)
An early “JD’s” (for juvenile delinquents) film, this short from Edison shows the exploits of two naughty boys and their faithful dog, terrorizing the adult world through pranks. The comedy relies on pratfalls and physical stunts for its humor, and on the audience’s enjoyment of seeing the kids get away with their mischief.
Similar to “The Great Train Robbery,” the movie opens with a close-up on our miscreants, who are seen munching on (possibly stolen) pastries, while their dog sits up and begs. When the kid on the right tries to feed him a bit of his pastry, the dog tries to steal the whole thing, giving us a sense of his character right off the bat! The next scene shows a young woman in a summer dress with a small dog of her own. The kids run up to her and seem to try to take the dog away, but she shoos them off. Then, a gentleman comes up and speaks to her. They put the dog in her purse and put it on the ground while they speak. He seems to be giving her directions as the kids’ dog runs up from behind and snatches the purse, running off down the street. The kids run past and the adults notice and give chase.
The next scene is an ethnically insensitive portrayal of a Chinese American, who walks with a funny lope down the street and has a long “queue” or ponytail. The dog runs up from behind him and bites the queue, knocking him down and hanging onto it as the kids run up and laugh. His attempts to get up and chastise them are discouraged by the dog’s persistence in knocking him down. Again, kids and dog end the scene by running off with the adult in pursuit. The next scene involves a poster-hanger, attempting to glue posters on a wall from a ladder. The kids again run up and start putting their hands on the glue, and he shoos them away, flinging glue at them from his brush. Then, once he is five steps up the ladder, the dog jumps up and bites his pants-leg, bringing him crashing to the ground and spilling all of his glue. Now the dog runs up behind two proper Victorian ladies out for a stroll. They ignore him as he runs past with a piece of rope, but then the kids, holding the other end of the rope, position themselves to trip the ladies (incidentally giving the audience occasional glimpses of their petticoats and ankles). Dog and children run around the ladies, effectively tying them together to give them time to escape while the ladies disentangle themselves from the rope.
The next shot shows a wooden fence. The dog runs up and grabs a rope hanging from the top of the fence, suspending itself in the air until the kids lean over and pull it across. It’s not really clear why they do this until the adults, now joined by a policeman, start running up to the fence and start trying to scale it and pursue them. Now we see an opening in the same fence and a large yard behind it. The kids and the dog run across the yard to the opening, then the dog grabs a piece of rope and uses it to trip all of the pursuers. The next shot is of a hillside, and we see the adults rolling up it in what seems to be reversed-action. I guess (?) we are meant to think this is what happens after they are tripped, although we saw them all get up and start running in the previous shot. Again, the undergarments of the women are positioned to be visible during the roll. The next shot is of a trolley, and the kids jump on, luring all of the adults on board before leaping off. The adults climb out of the windows (I guess the kids are supposed to have locked the doors, but I don’t see this as happening). The pursuit continues down a country street, with the dog in the lead. After he runs past, a policeman sees the crowd coming and waits behind a fence in order to catch the kids. The other policeman helps him to drag the kids to a waiting paddy wagon (or “Black Maria”). The camera pans past the dog, sitting innocently on the street corner as the kids are bundled aboard, and once the cops are gone, he leaps up to open the handle. As soon as the wagon starts to roll, the door springs open and the kids and dog make their escape.
Ultimately, this movie is a variation on the chase film, which became so popular in the Nickelodeon Era. Each shot is set up to have one action take place, usually ending with a pratfall or funny physical stunt. No Intertitles are necessary, the movie is shot cheaply, and few effects are seen (assuming that we can count people rolling uphill in reverse as an effect). The only camera movement is the pan at the end, and we only have the one close-up at the beginning. The movie still has the sense of being performed by amateurs. During the opening sequence, we can see the kids responding to directions from off-screen. Occasionally, they look up as if distracted by whatever is being said to them. They are clearly not actors, and neither do the adults attempt to give their characters any real motivation, except anger at the kids.
Movies like this were criticized for giving children bad examples of behavior, and it is noteworthy that the children are allowed to escape punishment at the end. Of course, bad boys had been in the movies since “The Sprinkler Sprinkled,” and the process of chasing and catching them was typical of the resolution, but usually justice would be seen to prevail, however much the audience may have enjoyed identifying with their acts of mischief up to that point. In subverting this narrative by his ending, director Edwin S. Porter may have been consciously or unconsciously attacking his critics, which surely only made them angrier.
Director:Wallace McCutcheon Edwin S. Porter and
Camera: Unknown, possibly Edwin S. Porter and Wallace McCutcheon
Starring: “Mannie” the dog, unknown
Run Time: 7 Min
You can watch it for free: here (no music).
Maybe Porter was “inspired” by the Katzenjammer Kids comic strip. It was already pretty popular in 1906.
Well, by 1906 there were already dozens, if not hundreds, of movies with this basic structure. (The first “Buster Brown” movie came out in 1902, for example). Comic strips were certainly an influence on movies of that time, however, and Biograph had made movies based on the Katzenjammer Kids starting in 1898, so that could have been an influence.