Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Month: June, 2017

Love’s Forgiveness (1917)

The final episode of “Judex” lives up to its title by being more about love and forgiveness than about crime and revenge. It serves almost as more of an epilogue than a discreet chapter of the serial.

The movie begins at the seaside villa which has served as Judex’s headquarters for the final parts of the story. Judex (René Cresté) and his brother (Édouard Mathé) lead Favraux (Louis Leubas) into a room and put him in a chair, where he contemplates his fate alone, and breaks down crying. Shortly, Judex leads Jacqueline (Yvette Andréyor) into the room to see her father. When he leaves the room, she reaches out at first towards him as if she cannot bear his departure, but then turns her attention to her father, embracing him. Judex rejoins his brother and mother, Countess de Tremeuse (Yvonne Dario), looking downcast. His mother assures him that Jacqueline now knows the truth, and that she loves him. The Countess now brings Le Petit Jean (Olinda Mano) to Jacqueline and Favraux, and the child seems to break the grandfather from his stupor, as he again accepts his role in the loving family. His expression resumes its blank look when Judex walks into the room and asks for Favraux to pronounce judgment upon him. Favraux asks to see the Countess first. Judex leads Favraux to his mother, and Favraux breaks down and begs her forgiveness. The Countess informs him that he is forgiven, because of the harm that revenge will bring to the innocent Jacqueline and Jean.

Meanwhile, the Licorice Kid (René Poyen) has found Robert in the yard and asks to see Cocantin (Marcel Lévesque). Robert takes him to the marina, where Cocantin and Daisy Torp (Juliette Clarens, if my deductions are correct) are returning from their adventures. Cocantin, still wearing Daisy’s hat, introduces her as his fiancée. The Licorice Kid appears to approve of his choice. The next day, Kerjean (Gaston Michel) is walking on the seaside when he finds the body of a woman – it is Diana Monti (Musidora), who evidently drowned in her attempt to escape justice the previous night. Michel, who has been deprived of his son by this woman’s machinations, appears to be bitterly satisfied at the discovery.

The official “Epilogue” is now announced with an Intertitle, and we see Judex’s now united family, represented by Robert, the Countess, and Le Petit Jean walking in the woods. They find Kerjean sitting sadly at the seaside and Jean runs up to him and kisses him, which brings him out of his reverie. Although he has lost his son, it seems he has a place with the family and can still partake of their love. Favraux, we learn, chooses to live in ongoing isolation without reclaiming his fortune. We see him pruning a tree in his old garden. He interrupts his work when a poor girl comes begging at the gate, and he gives her some money – proving his repentance is sincere, since the series began with him turning away a similar beggar in the Prologue. Next we see Cocantin and Daisy Torp in wedded bliss, with the Licorice Kid as their officially adopted ward. Cocantin proves his love by demonstrating that he is learning to swim on a tabletop. Finally, Judex and Jacqueline are shown in a happy embrace, having overcome everything to be together in one another’s arms.

And so ends “Judex,” the third of the crime serials directed by Louis Feuillade, perhaps France’s most important director of the late Nickelodeon period. I’ve seen all three now, and, due to the nature of this project, I wound up seeing them in the sequential order of their release: first “Fantômas,” then “Les Vampires,” and finally “Judex.” During that time I’ve discovered that each one has its fans and devotees, and that there isn’t agreement on which is the “best” of the three serials. I usually try to avoid reducing my reviews to simple analyses of whether I like a film or not, but I have to admit that for me the progression has been pretty much downward. “Fantômas” remains my favorite, then “Les Vampires,” and “Judex” is at the bottom of the list. This despite the fact that the filmmaking techniques, and especially the editing, decidedly improved over time. I have a theory that which one will be your favorite depends on which one you see first. They’re each so different that if you go into the second and third ones expecting more of what you got in the first, you’re bound to be disappointed.

That’s a compliment to Feuillade, really, a reflection of the breadth of his skill and imagination. He did not simply make three serials that were all the same, he made three very distinct cinematic experiences, linking them only in terms of cast and themes. And, just because “Judex” seems to me the least of the three Feuillade serials, doesn’t mean I haven’t enjoyed watching it. It’s easily one of the best serials of the period, even if it isn’t “Fantômas.” (I have yet to meet a silent fan who regards “The Perils of Pauline” with the devotion so many give to these movies. “Judex” was made in part as a response to criticism that Feuillade’s earlier crime films had glamorized criminals and de-emphasized the heroes. I think that’s part of why it seems less modern and interesting to me. I think Feuillade tries so hard to emphasize redemption and love that he forgets to include enough action, and his fascinating villainess winds up being cast off, literally killed off as an afterthought at the end of the series. But, in doing this he also more or less invented the concept of the superhero, an iconic figure that the world would spend the next century exploring and re-examining. That’s an accomplishment worth celebrating.

Director: Louis Feuillade

Camera: André Glatti, Léon Klausse

Starring: René Cresté, Yvette Andréyor, Musidora, Édouard Mathé, Gaston Michel, Yvonne Dario, René Poyen, Marcel Lévesque, Louis Leubas, Olinda Mano, Juliette Clarens

Run Time: 13 Min

You can watch it for free: here (episode incomplete. I have not found the complete episode for free online. If you do, let me know in the comments).

The Cook’s Revenge (1900)

This short trick film from Georges Méliès is another example of the use of violence for humorous effect that was so common in his work. While much simpler than the longer story pieces he was making around the same time, like “Blue Beard” and “Cinderella,” it still shows considerable effects wizardry in its brief running time.

As the film opens, a cook is harassing a maid in the kitchen, causing her to drop a stack of dishes. The cook hears someone coming and hides in a cupboard. A man runs in who looks like a butler or headwaiter to me, although the Star Films catalog identifies him as either “the manager” or “the proprietor,” suggesting this may be the kitchen of a restaurant. He chastises the maid for her clumsiness in breaking the dishes, and she exits. Then the manager sees the cook sticking his head out of the cupboard, and runs over to it, pushing it closed in the process. The cook’s head is thus severed and drops to the floor. The manager picks it up and puts it on a table, where it comes to life and moves and speaks. This alarms the manager further, and he picks it up and throws it back into the cupboard. Now the cook emerges, whole, and grabs the manager, knocking his head to the floor. Then he picks up the manager’s headless body and flails it around, taking control over the situation as the movie abruptly ends.

I think both of the male characters in this movie are played by Méliès, but even if they aren’t, the multiple-exposures necessary for the effects would have been pretty demanding in-camera. He has to switch between the living characters to mannequins (or mannequin heads) or back three times in less than sixty seconds. If they are both played by him, he also had to deal with re-shooting the scene in order to get both images of himself to interact. Of course, he had done all of this before, for example in “The Adventures of William Tell” and even more impressively in “The Four Troublesome Heads.” These movies have generally been set in the world of fantasy, or at least clearly marked as performances of stage magic, but here we begin in a seemingly ordinary situation that rapidly becomes fantastic. It’s a slight but amusing piece of his work that hold up well today.

Director: Georges Méliès

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Georges Méliès

Run Time: 57 secs

You can watch it for free: here.

June 1917

We’re half a month in already, and most of my Century News for the month falls in the first half of June! Let’s see how things were going in the world a hundred years ago. Looking at headlines from back then can put today’s “crises” into perspective.

German trench during the Battle of Messines

World War I:

A French infantry regiment seizes Missy-aux-Bois on June 1 and declares an anti-war military government. Other French army troops soon apprehend them.

Conscription begins in the United States on June 5.

The Battle of Messines opens June 7 with the British Army detonating 19 ammonal mines under the German lines, killing 10,000 in the deadliest deliberate non-nuclear man-made explosion in history.

The first major German bombing raid on London by fixed-wing aircraft leaves 162 dead and 432 injured on June 13.

Herbert Bayard Swope, first Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist.

Culture:

The first Pulitzer Prizes are awarded on June 4: Laura E. Richards, Maud Howe Elliott and Florence Hall receive the first Pulitzer for a biography (for Julia Ward Howe). Jean Jules Jusserand receives the first Pulitzer for history for his work With Americans of Past and Present Days. Herbert Bayard Swope receives the first Pulitzer for journalism for his work for the New York World.

Disasters:

A fire at the Granite Mountain and Speculator ore mine outside Butte, Montana kills at least 168 workers on June 8.

Constantine I

Politics:

King Constantine I of Greece abdicates for the first time on June 11, being succeeded by his son Alexander. He will return briefly in 1920-1922.

Legislation:

The United States enacts the Espionage Act on June 15. Although intended to prevent sabotage during wartime, the act will be used during the post-war “Red Scare” to justify persecution of radicals and labor organizers.

Film:

June 9, filming completed on British movie “The Labour Leader” starring Fred Groves (release date unknown).

On June 25, “A Kentucky Cinderella” starring Ruth Clifford is released.

Also on June 25, “The Rough House” with Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle and Buster Keaton is released.

Births:

Leo Gorcey (actor, in numerous “Dead End Kids,” “East Side Kids,” and “Bowery Boys” pictures), born June 3

Dean Martin (singer and actor, in “Oceans 11” and earlier “Scared Stiff” with partner, Jerry Lewis), born June 7.

Lena Horne (singer, appeared in all-black cast films “Cabin in the Sky” and “Stormy Weather”), June 30.

Susan Hayward (actress, in “I Want to Live” and “I Married a Witch”), June 30.

The Water Goddess (1917)

The penultimate episode of “Judex” has what appears to be the final cycle of capture-and-release for the serial, ending on the cusp of a final resolution. An empowered female hero arises, even as our traditional male superhero begins to soften and appear more human.

An oblivious Judex.

The episode begins with Judex (René Cresté) explaining his determination to negotiate for the life of Favraux (Louis Leubas) to his brother (Édouard Mathé). He shows him a big wad of francs he intends to pay as ransom, then goes off to wait at the seashore. Even though he has foolishly gone alone, he is observed by chance by Cocantin (Marcel Lévesque) and his new fiancée, Daisy Torp (I believe she is played by Juliette Clarens). They are able to clearly see the rowboat “sneaking” up to shore behind Judex, but he obstinately stares in another direction, being surprised when Diana Monti (Musidora) reveals herself. He offers to negotiate for Favraux, but Monti makes him come back to the Eaglet with her, and Favraux asks him to write another note to his daughter, telling her that Judex’s life will only be spared if she comes herself. He refuses, giving away his identity and telling Favraux that when he comes back to his senses, he will realize that he does not belong with Monti and Morales (Jean Devalde). They respond by tying him to a post in the cabin. Read the rest of this entry »

Saved by the Juvenile Court (1913, Fragment)

This is a re-edited segment of footage of Ben Lindsey, known as “the Kid’s Judge,” apparently designed as campaign propaganda during an effort to recall him engineered by political enemies. Accordingly, it has to be understood as propaganda, but it does show images of the judge in his public role from the time.

The movie begins, unsurprisingly, with a portrait of the judge himself, smiling benignly at the camera from behind a desk. Then it introduces his assistant, Mrs. Greggory, who we are told, is “the only woman associate judge in the world.” She also sits behind a desk, but she is writing something, distracted from the camera for most of the shot. Next we see “a few of judge Lindsey’s most ardent admirers,” who are young boys in working class attire. They appear to really enjoy being in front of the camera, and do their best to crowd around the judge and get a handshake. Lindsey lifts one of the smaller boys to his shoulders. The subsequent shots purport to show Judge Lindsey during a typical working day. First he leaves his large house and wholesome-looking children. Then, he meets a colleague in front of the courthouse and has an earnest discussion as they enter. Then, the Intertitles tell us, “the probation boys arrive” and a crowd of eager young kids pour into the open doors of the courthouse. A brief narrative occurs when an “old maid” brings in a boy whose ball hit her dog. She flails and argues, while judge Lindsey stands protectively next to the accused, his hand upon his shoulder. Mrs. Greggory at first tries to calm the old maid, but after she storms out in a huff, she joins Lindsey at his desk, apparently assisting with the paperwork of the case. The final shot shows “Judge Lindsey and his campaign kids.” Lindsey is shown making a fiery speech to a group of the same kind of boys (maybe the same boys) in the previous shots. One of them holds up a sign. On one side it reads “Vote for the Kid’s Judge.” On the other, “Down Wid de Boss.”

Judge Ben Lindsey is remembered today for being the man who brought the juvenile courts to Colorado, and he really did devote much of his career to working with boys in trouble (he felt the problems of girls “too complicated” for him to tackle). He also had many political enemies in both parties in the Denver area and was constantly fighting to keep his seat. The mention of Mrs. Greggory’s unique status is partly explained by the importance of progressive women’s votes in his election, although it struck me that she doesn’t even merit a first name. The kids in this movie may well have actually been probationers who had been through his court – the judge is reputed to have had a paternal relationship with his charges and to have defended their rights aggressively – but of course the scenes are all set-ups, not genuinely spontaneous displays of their affection for him. These scenes are taken from a much longer movie with a narrative, but judging from the “acting” ability of the “old maid,” I wouldn’t judge it to be among the best movies of 1913.

Director:Otis Thayer

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Ben Lindsey, Mrs. Greggory, unknown boys

Run Time: Unknown

I have been unable to find this movie for free on the Internet. If you do, please comment.

Jacqueline’s Heart (1917)

This episode of “Judex” serves as something of an interlude in the action of capture-and-release, but it does further the plot with an important discovery and confession. If you’re worried about “spoilers,” you’ll want to watch it before reading!

The entire episode takes place within the confines of the Mediterranean estate where the Countess de Tremeuse (Yvonne Dario) has brought Jacqueline (Yvette Andréyor) to recuperate after her most recent ordeals. Jacqueline is pouring her heart out to the Countess at the beginning of the episode, in distress because of her father’s fate. The audience, of course, knows that the Countess is the instigator of this tragedy, in her blind desire for revenge (see “The Woman in Black”). Her son Jacques de Tremeuse (René Cresté) listens in from a convenient balcony while Jacqueline wishes aloud that Vallieres were present to advise her. He immediately goes to his room and puts on his “Vallieres” disguise. Amost as soon as he arrives, Jacqueline gets a note from her father, tellng her he is alive and asking her to meet him at night in a secluded area with Le Petit Jean (Olinda Mano) After consoling her for a while, Vallieres/Jacques retires to his room and changes into his “Judex” outfit, presumably to meet the villains who have “liberated” her father.

At least we get to see him in the cape!

It is now night, and Jacqueline peers out of her window to see a caped figure creeping through the garden. Immediately, she runs to Vallieres’s room to awaken him, but instead she finds the wig and beard that Jacques wears when he’s dressed as Vallieres! The Countess comes in and sees her turmoil. She takes the confused Jacqueline out to a veranda and says that it is time to tell her the whole truth. We see their conversation acted out without Intertitles, although the audience knows what she has to say: Jaqueline now must realize that Jacques and Vallieres are one and the same, and that both are actually Judex.

The running times of episodes in Feuillade’s serials often vary greatly, but this one stands out as unusually short. Most of the “Judex” episodes have run about two reels long, but this clocks in at less than ten minutes, presumably not even a full reel of film. It’s possible that there’s some missing footage, but I haven’t read anything to confirm that and the episode as it stands clearly moves the plot forward (more than some of the longer episodes have in fact), so I’m inclined to think that it was meant to be this way. It’s also possible that title cards have been dropped from the discussion at the climax of the movie, but as it is, it leaves the audience to fill in the details of the Countess’s revelations and Jacqueline’s reactions from our memories and imaginations. The two actresses do a remarkable job of carrying off this emotional scene.

Director: Louis Feuillade

Camera: André Glatti, Léon Klausse

Starring: René Cresté, Yvonne Dario, Yvette Andréyor, Olinda Mano, René Poyen

Run Time: 8 Min, 30 secs

You can watch it for free: here.

The Cost of Carelessness (1913)

This early educational short was aimed at children in Brooklyn, and produced by the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company. It depicts a variety of unsafe activities to try to caution children to be careful in traffic, and, incidentally, to exculpate the streetcar company from responsibility for accidents.

The movie begins by showing us the educational work that the company is engaging in, including setting up Safety Patrols (student crossing guards) and showing films in a classroom. Reversals are used during a lecture to show the reactions of some students to the presented material, and a double exposure allows us to see both the students watching the film and the film in progress at the same time.  After showing a parade of schoolchildren marching out of their school to take up positions on the Safety Patrol, the real meat of the movie gets going: depictions of unsafe behavior and the accidents that result.

The first behavior we are warned about is “hitching” by jumping onto the fenders of moving vehicles to catch a ride. We see two children do this on a streetcar, ignoring a warning from a conductor. When one leaps off, he runs in front of an automobile and is run over. Next, we see a group of children playing a game in the street that seems to involve hitting a piece of wood into the air and catching it. The kids pay little heed to the traffic in the street, focusing on their game and one another, then moving aside at the last minute as cars or streetcars go by. One waits too long and is run over, but he’s OK because of the “wheelguard” the company uses. The conductor fills in a report on the incident, but the child grins sheepishly throughout. When the streetcar moves on, the group gets ready to start up the game again, but the recent victim suggests moving to a nearby vacant lot, where no traffic is likely to come by. He gives a brief speech (via Intertitles) about looking both ways and not playing in the street.

Now the subject switches to adults who also need to be cautious. We are shown the right and wrong ways to disembark from a streetcar, with a pratfall as the result of the latter. We also see a man trying to leap onto a moving streetcar, which is prevented by the new “safety doors” that close when the streetcar is in motion. This is displayed by a series of reversals from inside and outside of the streetcar, in rather advanced editing for 1913. They also demonstrate the new “no-step” entryway to modern streetcars, which reduces the likelihood of tripping. Finally, we see some “bad drivers” who fail to give right-of-way, ignore traffic cops, and veer all over the road. One of these winds up side-swiping a streetcar and crashing. We then see the wreck, and the bodies of the driver and his passenger being pulled from it.

The urban environment was becoming more dangerous in the early twentieth-century, in part due to the introduction of the automobile, but also because of crowding and a lack of outdoor spaces for children to play in. I was surprised that the streetcar company would openly advocate trespassing on a vacant lot as a safer alternative to playing in the street, but presumably Brooklyn neighborhoods had few parks at the time. That shot, by the way, is fascinating, because behind the lot we can see a row of tightly-packed townhouses with laundry lines, something rarely caught on film at the time. In fact, despite all the production going on in New York, this is a rare look at Brooklyn residential areas (we’ve had some Coney Island movies in this project, so it isn’t our first trip to Brooklyn, but it’s very different from that).

Fans of the later era of “scare films” for driving safety, like “Red Asphalt” and “Mechanized Death,” will be interested to know that there was such an early precursor to these movies. While the accident-victim-footage shown here is comparably tame, it does appear that the actors were put at risk to make convincingly frightening reenactments. Directors showing car accidents in narrative films at the time were relatively cautious by comparison, sometimes to the point of undercutting the illusion, as in the case of “The Ex-Convict” and “Police Chasing Scorching Auto” where the “rescued” children appear to have been at no risk whatsoever. I was also impressed by the advanced use of editing in this movie, which made it livelier than such a plotless movie would normally be. The commentary from the “Treasures III” disc notes the very naturalistic acting of the performers, this is especially true compared to the wooden line-reading of educational films from the sound era, but catching naturalistic performances from children was always easier when they didn’t have to memorize lines.

Director: Unknown, possibly Eugene C. Clarke

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Unknown

Run Time: 13 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

Hope – A Red Cross Seal Story (1912)

Similar to “The Usurer’s Grip,” this is another educational short from Edison that was made in collaboration with a nonprofit, in this case the National Association for the Study and Prevention of Tuberculosis (which has since become the American Lung Association). The thin plot serves as a framework for educating the public about the disease, although depictions of medical procedures or symptoms are avoided.

Read the rest of this entry »

When the Child Appeared (1917)

This episode of the serial Judex does contain a kidnapping, trespassing, and a sexy swimsuit, but is mostly pretty staid family fare overall. As the plot develops, we become more concerned with family relations than with crime and revenge.

The movie begins at a Mediterranean estate, where Madame Tremuese (Yvonne Dario) has brought Jacqueline (Yvette Andréyor), Robert (Édouard Mathé), Le Petit Jean (Olinda Mano), and the Licorice Kid (René Poyen). Apparently, they are all relaxing and enjoying themselves, and also feel reasonably secure from the scheming of the villains, since the kids are allowed to play unsupervised, and the adults spend their time at the seashore. Next door, we learn, Judex (René Cresté) has brought Kerjean (Gaston Michel) and Favraux (Louis Leubas), who also needs some time in the sun to recover his sanity after his long imprisonment below ground. Judex reassumes the title Jacques de Tremeuse and arrives at his mother’s estate, announcing that he has only just returned from the colonies, but both Jaqueline and Le Petit Jean feel they have seen him before. It is decided to invite Cocantin (Marcel Lévesque) down to see them as well, and this gives Diana Monti (Musidora) and Morales (Jean Devalde) a chance to tail him in hope of finding Favraux.

Read the rest of this entry »

From the Submerged (1912)

This short from Essanay uses Chicago locations in a melodrama about urban poverty and redemption. While not an entirely believable story, it contains a message about the worth of every human life.

The opening shot shows a vagrant (E.H. Calvert) waking up on a park bench, assessing his surroundings, and walking away. There are two other homeless people sleeping in the background. He walks out onto a bridge and looks ready to jump when a woman (Essanay co-founder Ruth Stonehouse) restrains him. She speaks to him a bit, gesturing towards the sky, perhaps in reference to God, and the man appears grateful to her for her intervention. Now he goes to a bread line, where he collapses with hunger before he can get any food. A sympathetic fellow-bum gives him a piece of bread, a coffee, and a newspaper, then goes to the back of the line again for himself. He eats eagerly, and looks at the newspaper, spotting a small item in the personals. It is addressed to “Charlie” and says that his father is dying and that all is forgiven. Calvert leaps up and runs off to answer the ad.

Read the rest of this entry »