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.
The movie begins with a scene in the office of a bank in upstate New York. The bank president (George A. Lessey) gets a letter from the Association urging him to sell Christmas Seals at his bank to help support the building of a sanatorium in town. He laughs and shows it to his fiancée’s father (William West). Then he dictates a note informing them that his is a country town, meaning that there is no consumption among the population, and therefore they do not need a sanatorium. That night he goes to see his fiancée, Edith (Gertrude McCoy), who has a cough which she attributes to a cold. When she goes to see the family doctor (Robert Brower), he looks worried as he taps her chest and listens through a stethoscope. Finally, he gives her the news that she has tuberculosis. She looks devastated by the news.
Edith hesitates to tell her fiancé or her father, but she accidentally finds some of the pamphlets in her father’s coat pocket and takes them to read. One is titled “Hope” and shows an image of hundreds of people reaching towards the dual-cross symbol now associated with the American Lung Association. She writes notes to both of the men in her life telling them that she has to leave for New York to seek treatment, and that she cannot marry. Although their first instinct is to bring her home, they support one another and belatedly join in the crusade to build a sanatorium in their town. We see some images of Edith in New York, where efficient doctors in white apply tests to patients and there are ugly tenements outside of Edith’s window. After the sanatorium is built, she is able to take fresh air and sunshine in the country. At the end she is “completely cured” and able to marry and have children. The movie ends by showing the two lovers inside of a picture frame in domestic bliss, which then fades into the image of the “Hope” pamphlet.
That image was, of course, the image for the Christmas Seal stamps, which were released just two days after this movie hit the theaters. This is an unusually well-timed use of a movie in a marketing campaign for the period, especially considering that movies usually only ran for a day or two at each nickelodeon that screened them. The emphasis was on educating people that tuberculosis was highly contagious, thus the importance of isolating Edith once she is diagnosed, and that it was not restricted to the cities, which was a common attitude at the time. Edith appears to be a healthy young woman in a comfortably middle class country home, yet she becomes a victim of the disease. She learns the right way to handle it from literature sent by the sponsors of the movie. In the process, the audience learns that buying Christmas Seals helps the Association to help the victims of the disease.
The movie is pretty light on drama or action. The only “villain” is tuberculosis and the only conflict is whether Edith’s men-folk will understand her situation and support her, which they do pretty quickly. It worked well as a marketing campaign and is interesting to us now mostly as an example of the educational use of film in history, but it is fairly short on entertainment value. It’s noteworthy that the director, Charles Brabin, went on to a long career, even extending into the sound era, but there isn’t much in this movie to indicate his talent.
Director: Charles J. Brabin
Starring: Gertrude McCoy, George A. Lessey, William West, Robert Brower
Run Time: 14 Min
You can watch t for free: here.