Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Category: Reviews

The Symbol of the Unconquered (1920)

Subtitled “A Story of the KKK,” this is another response by African American filmmaker Oscar Micheaux to the glorification of that organization by the likes of D.W. Griffith’s “The Birth of a Nation” and a reminder that some folks knew, even then, how objectionable that was. While it may be seen as polemical, this movie is a testament to the work of minorities in American cinema since the very first years.

Symbol of the Unconquered

The movie begins with the death of an “old prospector,” and the emigration of his young, light-skinned granddaughter Evon (Iris Hall) to “Oristown” which is located somewhere in the Northwest. The proprietor of the local inn is Driscoll (Lawrence Chenault) a man of mixed racial background who discriminates the more viciously against Blacks because of it. We see in a flashback how he lost the love of a white woman when she saw his mother and realized he was not pure white. He tells Evon and a Black traveling salesman (E.G. Tatum) that they have to sleep in the barn because the inn is full. That night, there is a terrible rainstorm and both are discomforted, but Evon flees in terror when she sees the man grimacing in the dark at her, evidently having thought she was alone in the place. She spends a wretched night wandering in the rain, but the next day she meets Hugh Van Allen (Walker Thompson), who is the neighbor of her grandfather’s cabin. He takes pity on her, gives her some food and takes her back to her new home, allowing her to nap in his cart on the way. When he helps her move in, he leaves her with a gun, telling her to shoot twice if she needs assistance of any kind.

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At this point in the movie, the villain, a white man named August Barr (Louis Dean), is introduced. He is assisted by an Indian “fakir” called Tugi (Leigh Whipper) and, of course Driscoll, the “mulatto” from the hotel. They buy stolen horses from some bandits and manage to sell them to Hugh, who is honest enough to return them to their rightful owner when challenged. Their bigger plan, however, is to find out where Evon’s grandfather hid documents in Evon’s cabin (from the footage and intertitles on the existing print, it’s unclear what is so valuable about these documents at this point in the film). When their accomplice sneaks into Evon’s cabin at night, she shrieks so loud that Hugh comes running, although she didn’t use the signal, and the man runs back to their “hideout” in the woods. Hugh now tracks down the former hotel manager at the saloon, and the two brawl over the stolen horses. Hugh wins fair and square, of course, but now the villain has another reason to have it in for Hugh, and vows revenge as he departs. Evon finds work in the field of her new cabin to be difficult, and goes for help to Hugh, who digs a hole for her in return for coffee and a meal. A mail carrier drops an important document, and Driscoll discovers it on a run to check the mail. He learns that it demonstrates the value of Hugh Van Allen’s land. The trio plot to frighten him if he refuses to sell to them. Meanwhile,  Driscoll’s mother shows up and immediately moves in with Evon, the one nice person in town.

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When Hugh refuses to sell, the villains hire Bill Stanton, “who knows how to make people do what they don’t want to.” He comes up with a plan to terrorize Hugh by making him believe he has been targeted by the KKK. This is portrayed on the screen by showing a single robed-and-hooded rider on horseback bearing a torch and charging toward the camera in a black background, the white of the robes and sparks from the torch popping out in contrast to the Stygian darkness. After the meeting, Hugh starts to get threatening letters from “The Knights of the Black Cross” who tell him to “watch out for your life” if he does not sell out and leave town. A final letter comes while he is out of town and Stanton rallies the conspirators to dress up and ride to finally terrorize him away from the property. Driscoll tries to back out of being the lead rider, telling Barr he will be “somewhere in the vicinity.” Barr’s wife gives the alarm to Evon and Driscoll’s mother, and Evon rides off seeking help. A strange sequence follows in which we see many hooded figures now riding through the night while Evon rides through the woods in daylight in intercut scenes.

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Unfortunately, a substantial amount of footage is missing from the surviving print that prevents us from seeing the climax, in which “a colored man with bricks” evidently fights off the Klan riders and the conspiracy is broken. We get to see the oil fields established on Van Allen’s old land, and the large office Hugh now works from. He greets Evon there, and finally realizes that she is also African American, and therefore marriageable to him. The two embrace at last as Abraham, now in the garb of a traveling salesman, briefly looks in at them in a comic moment as the curtain falls.

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It’s a shame that we miss out on what is probably the big “action sequence” of the movie, but there is enough here to see what Micheaux was doing with the story. Here, the KKK is depicted, not as a historical organization defending the Old South against Carpetbaggers and Scalawags, nor as some “Klan revisionists” might have it today, as a populist organization on a moral crusade for Protestant values, but as linked to corruption and dishonesty in its very nature. This depiction might even seem to be a critique of the link between white supremacy and capitalism, but for the fact that Hugh is able to be a successful “oil king” in the final reel, implying that Micheaux and his audience accepted egalitarian ideas about equality in the “American Dream” so long as African Americans were not cheated out of their heritage by dishonest whites and white allies. You’d think at least some would have questioned this – after all, how many Black millionaires could they name? And perhaps some did, but we see no sign of a deeper critique here.

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It’s also interesting that the relationship between Evon and Hugh is dependent on his realizing that she is Black. This is not because Hugh would refuse to date a white woman, but because he fears any white woman would reject him. This parallels Driscoll’s rejection by the white woman when she sees his mother in the flashback at the beginning of the film. Micheaux points out the pain of this rejection twice, but again does not use it as a means to challenge the racial order directly. It’s possible that this kind of criticism (and that suggested above) would have insured censorship that would have prevented the movie from being seen by the audiences he made it for (mostly African Americans living in segregated cities). Possibly by raising the issue, Micheaux made it possible for audiences “in the know” to carry the conversation forward where he wouldn’t have been allowed to go.

At any rate, this movie is one of the stronger surviving examples of “race film” from the era, and is more complete, and more watchable, than many other such examples. Certainly worth a look for those interested in the period.

Director: Oscar Micheaux

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Iris Hall, Walker Thompson, Lawrence Chenault, Louis Dean, Leigh Whipper, E.G. Tatum

Run Time: 58 minutes (surviving)

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

Regeneration (1923)

I’m kicking off 1923 with this fragment from director Richard E. Norman. It serves as a reminder of the fragility of the art of film as a medium – and choices that are made about what is preserved and what is not.

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The opening credits inform us that this is part two of a serial produced by the Norman Film Manufacturing Company of Jacksonville Florida. An opening intertitle appears to assume the audience is up to speed as it informs us that we are seeing “The Eve of Sailing.” The opening shot is of a group of African American sailors (one in a chef’s uniform) working on the deck of a small craft. A man in an officer’s uniform talks to a young woman; she is concerned that the crew all look like “villains,” but he assures her he can control them. We get a shot of the one-legged cook singing a song about evading work, strumming on his crutch like it is a banjo. The officer chides him and orders fried chicken for dinner. The footage starts to break up pretty badly at this point, and much of the action can only be concluded by reading intertitles, which linger on the screen even as the nitrate damage dances around them. It appears that as they get far out to sea, the crew rebels and tries to force the officer and his girlfriend to surrender a treasure chart they have in their possession and which is presumably the motivator for the voyage. The cook, despite the rough treatment he received earlier, appears to side with them and work behind the scenes to help them to escape. He seems to sow seeds of discontent among the mutineers, who fall out and accuse one another of stealing the chart. The cook is menaced and surrenders the chart. The episode ends with a promise that the story will continue in part 3.

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Like many films from the silent era, this movie is essentially “lost,” but we are fortunate to have enough of it to know that it once existed. Studies show that a vast number of films from the silent era have been lost or destroyed over the decades. One reason we know so little now about African American film history is because the “race pictures” that were made in the silent era were not seen as culturally significant; some came from studios that went bankrupt and lost control over their collections, others were distributed with limited prints to begin with, and few film collectors have made them a priority. As with so many aspects of our culture, the most vulnerable groups lose out in history because they don’t have the power to prevent their erasure from history.

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Thankfully, however, we do have both this clip (thanks to the Library of Congress and Kino Lorber’s “Pioneers of African-American Cinema”). We also have a good deal of historical background about this movie, thanks to The Norman Studios Silent Movie Museum website. I won’t repeat everything you can read there, but they nicely document director Richard E. Norman’s showmanship and business acumen in working with distributors and local censors to get his movie seen. What we can see of the film reminds me of other adventure movies of the time, such as “Terror Island” with Harry Houdini. While the production values, marketing, etc may have been good, it’s somewhat disappointing to see the cook portrayed as a standard minstrel-show lazy Black man, though his apparent redemption as the one crew member not standing with the mutineers might help make up for that, if only we could see it more clearly.

Director: Richard E. Norman

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Stella Mayo

Run Time: 11 Min (existing)

You can watch it for free: here.

Phantom (1922)

For the last movie I review on this site in 2022, I decided to go with an example of German Expressionism in a non-supernatural-horror setting, created by Expressionist master Friedrich Murnau. It also turned out to be an excellent opportunity to look at some of what was going on in the world about one century ago and how it affected film making.

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“Phantom” begins by showing us the author, Gerhart Hauptmann, carrying a book on a rustic road and looking into the camera. Hauptmann was one of the foremost champions of “Naturalism” – a pre-Expressionist literary and theatrical movement that favored realistic dialogue and embraced scientific theory and social commentary. He’d been writing since the 19th Century, and appears here as an elder, but still fit, scholarly type with receding hairline and tweed jacket.  The credits resume after this brief interlude and the film proper gets going again.

Phantom

Read the rest of this entry »

Georgetown Loop, Colorado

One of many “actualities” from the beginning of the twentieth century that offered to show America to Americans and the world, this movie reflects a rare opportunity to see the West in the movies before fantasy took over. Much longer than movies of only a few years ago, it remains simple in terms of technique and set up.

Georgetown Loop

The camera rushes along a mountain rail line, seeming to soar over forests and rivers, following the track across high bridges and below towering peaks. After a short distance, the train itself comes into view as it proceeds around a bend in the track. We can see the caboose, suggesting that the platform the camera is mounted upon is attached by a cable perhaps ten feet or more long, allowing a complete view of the train under certain circumstances. Seemingly all of the passengers in the rear cars are waving white handkerchiefs out the windows on the left side of the train, waving, as it were, at the audience. A conductor stands on the back of the final car and is especially vigorous and visible in his waving. Even when the passengers seem to tire of it, or when he has to lean dangerously far off the side to be seen, he keeps waving. At one point, the train goes underneath a trestle bridge while another train passes above, but the camera remains focused on the wavers. The terrain becomes rocky, the train barely missing boulders that have been blasted out to make way for the track, and the conductor is now hanging off the side in what seems a decidedly perilous manner as we go by a rail worker standing by the side of the tracks. Now a mountain village becomes visible, as the camera turns to pay more attention to the surroundings than the train. Houses loom up and we roll past warehouses and other commercial buildings. A church spire is visible in the distance. Still, whenever the train turns, we see the passengers endlessly waving, right up to the end of the film.

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It’s interesting that someone thought seeing Coloradans wave would be more interesting than just looking out at a vista of Colorado. This may have been done to add “human interest,” or it may have been calculated to give the audience something more to focus on than just the scenery, which is all you usually get in a “panorama” film like this. It’s especially surprising to a modern audience when we glimpse the second train on the bridge above, only to lose sight of it and stay focused on the wavers. I suspect this is because the tripods used at the time didn’t allow for enough “tilt” to keep it in view as the train went underneath. The conductor seems to have been especially dedicated to the waving principle, we can sometimes see him glance over his shoulder to make sure he’s not the only one waving. His uniform is distinctive and similar to what would be seen in later years; we also see a woman in a heavy, non-revealing outfit with a large hat, pretty much the style in 1903.

Director: Unknown

Camera: Unknown. Some Internet sources claim Billy Bitzer, but this is not confirmed in his autobiography or any reliable source I can find.

Run Time: 3 Min

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

 

 

Blood and Sand (1922)

Happy Silent Movie Day, everyone. Well, this post was originally going to be put up on September 29, “Silent Movie Day,” as part of the blogathon hosted by Silentology. As it happens, the 29th was also “silent moving day” for me – I relocated 250 miles north. For that reason, this post wound up getting delayed until now. Anyway, around here every day is silent movie day!

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Rudolph Valentino remains a phenomenon, almost 100 years after his death. He wasn’t the first male film celebrity, but he is one of the first to have spawned a “cult” of fascination that seems to transcend time and space. Some people just fall completely in love with him, his face, his acting, the very idea of Valentino makes some go weak in the knees. This isn’t his “big breakout” movie (that honor belongs to “The Sheik”), but it’s a solid example of the kind of romantic role he was famous for, and very good at. Being set in Spain, it also reinforces the concept of Valentino as a “Latin Lover.” Let’s dive in and see what it holds!

Blood and Sand Read the rest of this entry »

Nosferatu (1922)

It looks like this year I may only have time to present a single entry to my “History of Horror” for October, but that one is a doozy! Profoundly influential, in its day controversial, and still significant, we will take a look at Friedrich W. Murnau’s vampire film, which could even qualify as the first indisputable horror film this project has discovered.

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The first intertitle to this movie tells you that something a bit unusual is at work, in that it is written in the first-person, as if the story is being told to us by an individual author. Some English prints attribute this to a historian named “Johann Cavallius,” but more authentic prints put it under the header “an Account of the Great Death in Wisborg,” sans author’s name (note that the same prints that give this name tend to follow conventions of Stoker’s novel in naming characters – Hutter is “Jonathan Harker,” etc. I will stick to the names from the Murnau script for this review). Whoever our author is, he or she has a propensity for dramatic statements about “deathbirds” or chilled blood, though what is introduced is homey enough as we see young Hutter (Gustav von Wangenheim) with his wife Ellen (Greta Schröder), living a comfortably bourgeois life with a garden in this fictional town. Hutter, however, works for an unscrupulous real estate agent named Knock (Alexander Granach), who has decided to sell the grim-looking empty house across from Hutter to a mysterious Count Orlok who comes “from the land of phantoms and thieves.” He assigns Hutter to travel there to meet Orlok and close the deal.

Nosferatu1 Read the rest of this entry »

Do-Re-Mi-Boom! (1915)

Chester Conklin plays a typical Keystone tramp in this Mack Sennett comedy from the year after Charlie Chaplin left the studio. He brings none of the sympathy Chaplin did (although Chaplin’s Keystone roles were his least sympathetic as well), and the movie hinges on increasingly madcap action for laughs.

Do Re Mi Boom

The movie begins with Conklin listening to the piano playing of Vivian Edwards, standing outside her window, dubiously trespassing on her property and peeping in at her. He is so moved by her playing that he starts to sing along, which causes her to come and speak with him, apparently unconcerned about his creepy behavior and odd appearance. Her music teacher (Charles Arling) now arrives and a rivalry is established. Arling quite reasonably takes offense at Conklin’s behavior, and drives him away with threats. He then remonstrates with Vivian not to encourage unhoused individuals to hang about her window making moony eyes at her, but soon engages in a bit of his own sexual harassment toward his pupil. Conklin wanders into the park, and sees an organ-grinder (Harry Booker) with his monkey attracting a crowd. This gives him the good idea to steal the organ and monkey for himself. The organ grinder is understandably upset by this, and being a swarthy foreigner in a Keystone film, naturally avails himself of an anarchist bomb. Conklin attempts to serenade his ostensible sweetie outside her window with the organ, which results in Arling coming out and giving him what for. Arling wins the fight and chucks Conklin into a trash can, where the foreigner tosses his bomb. Luckily, it has quite a long fuse and Conklin is able to put it out in time.

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Now armed with the bomb himself, Conklin gets a new idea and follows the music teacher back to his hotel. Despite behaving an a very conspicuous manner and being asked to leave by the desk clerk, he is able to sneak up to Arling’s room and gain entry while he is out. He has the clever idea to hide the bomb inside his piano, rigged to ignite when certain notes are played. However, before he can effect an escape, Arling returns with Vivian and they sit down to another lesson. Conklin, trapped behind the piano, can do nothing but gesture in a panic. Now the monkey climbs up to the window, perhaps seeking Conklin who was his last owner. He jumps on the piano and it starts to smoke, now Conklin jumps out and tells them a bomb is inside. Together, they all push the piano out the window, but Conklin falls out with it and soon he and the monkey are barreling down the street on top of a runaway piano while the fuse grows shorter and shorter. The organ grinder sees them and gives chase, perhaps demanding the return of his monkey (or his bomb), while Arling and Vivian watch from the window. The bomb explodes, apparently resolving the issue and the survivors kiss.

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Watching something like this today, I can sympathize with critics of the day who called the movies “vulgar.” That’s not the word I would choose, but this is certainly pretty low-brow and low in production value. There’s little effort at characterization or story, just escalating zaniness and social cliché. There’s really no one to identify with here, except maybe the monkey – the two rivals are equally violent and inappropriate, one just happens to be in poorer clothing than the other, the foreigner is the worst kind of stereotype, and the woman is completely objectified and apparently has no will of her own. Despite a lack of credits, I’ve gone ahead and named her as Vivian Edwards based on a picture from “The Silent Era,” which is usually more reliable than the imdb, which credits her as “Girl in Hotel Lobby.” She was a busy comedienne of the day, and had worked with Chaplin in his time at Keystone, including on “His Prehistoric Past” and “The Masquerader.”

Director: Walter Wright

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Chester Conklin, Vivian Edwards, Charles Arling, Harry Booker, Fred Fishback, Charles Lakin, William Sheer

Run Time: 11 Min, 40 secs

You can watch it for free: here.

The Mystical Flame (1903)

This is a classic example of Georges Méliès filming one of his stage magic acts with a few trick photography effects and calling it a film. Coming the year after “A Trip to the Moon” and other serious efforts like “Robinson Crusoe” it may seem a bit disappointing, but surely this is where the steady income came from for Star Films.

Mystical Flame

Méliès steps onto a stage, with one of his familiar backdrops and picks up a skull that is sitting on a chair, after playing with the jaw for a moment, he tosses it into the air and it becomes a handkerchief. He does various tricks with the handkerchief, turning it into a larger napkin and then a large sheet, from which he summons forth a liveried servant. The servant helps him to bring a large screen onto the stage, and then a stool-like object, which the Star Films catalog describes as a “low table.” He sets fire to the top of the table, and a flame flares up briefly before lowering to reveal the figure of a woman. The woman steps down from the table and Méliès leads her about the stage, then puts her back atop the table. He leaves the stage and the servant professes his love for the woman, who slowly fades away. Méliès returns and chases the servant off, perhaps blaming him for her disappearance, then he tumbles over the chair and disappears himself. The servant rushes to the chair to see where his master has gone, but Méliès re-manifests on the stool/table and grabs him from behind, causing him to disappear in a puff of smoke when he touches the table. He does the same with the chair and finishes the act.

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The flame is only very briefly on stage; it might make as much sense to call this movie “The Mystical Handkerchief” or even “The Skull.” The existing print isn’t that great and I’m sure this is one of those movies that would look better in the original hand-painted color. Still, it gives us a sense of the whimsy and fun that Méliès brought even to simple projects during the peak of his productivity. When in doubt, he could always make someone disappear! The black screen, which serves no obvious purpose, was probably brought in because it was easier to do in-camera effects in front of a neutral black background. The Star Films Catalog refers to the character Méliès plays as a “juggler” though he never juggles anything, and it says he appears “from under the table” although he just fades into existence on top of it.

Director: Georges Méliès

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Georges Méliès

Run Time: 2 Min

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

The Witch’s Revenge (1903)

This short trick film from Georges Méliès takes the basic format of one of his magic shows and integrates it into a plot – a plot that seems to playfully celebrate the diabolical powers of Satanism! Lighthearted and fun, it manages on a small budget to provide almost as much entertainment as one of the longer films he was experimenting with at the time.

Witchs Revenge

The stage is set as the throne room of a medieval King, with a throne and some lesser courtly chairs at one end and a post with chains attached at the other. A backdrop completes the picture, suggesting a large room with a colonnade allowing a view of a city beyond. A man with a beard (played by Méliès)is in chains, dragged in by two guards while another man, evidently the King looks on. The King signals that the bearded man be shackled to the post, but the sorcerer (for he is such) pleads with him for mercy, promising to use his powers to benefit the King. The King, intrigued, agrees and sends the guards out of the room. The sorcerer now summons an imp, who rises from the floor and tumbles, before going off-stage. Moments later, a large portable stage (identified in the Star Films catalog as a “palanquin”) is brought forth. The sorcerer gestures and three women in Greek costumes appear. The sorcerer gestures again and they come to life, now dressed in courtly clothes, one assuming the role of a Queen and the others her ladies-in-waiting. The King takes the Queen by the hand and escorts her to a place of honor near the throne and the ladies take up positions nearby. The sorcerer now begins some tricks to amuse the Court, beginning with a chair that he makes spin in place and hop around. He turns it into a clown that performs some tumbles before becoming a chair once again. The sorcerer sits in the chair and disappears. The King rushes over to investigate, only to find the sorcerer is now in his throne! He summons the guards but the sorcerer turns them into demons, who chain the King to the post that was meant for the sorcerer. The sorcerer takes his crown and his Queen as the King struggles against the chains.

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The French title of this movie is “Le Sorcier” which is why I have described the man with the beard as a sorcerer, but the English title uses the term “witch,” which has come to be associated only with women. This was not always the case, and during the time of the witch trials it could be used to describe a person of either gender who made a pact with the Devil to gain worldly power. In that sense, it works just as well for the condemned magician of this story, who obviously does call upon Hellish powers to usurp the King’s position. Why would Méliès make a movie in which the Devil wins? Well, it’s not the first time there has been some playful blasphemy in a Méliès film, for example in “The Devil in a Convent.” But, I think the explanation here has more to do with the nature of comedy. The movie begins with a man in chains, bullied by guards, and in the power of the King. It’s funniest if that situation is reversed at the end. Think of Charlie Chaplin, and the other “little men” of silent comedy, and how they overcame cops, bosses, waiters, large powerful convicts, and other minions of authority. Here, Méliès is doing the same thing, only in this case the authority is endowed with the Divine Right of Kings, so the element of sacrilege is already there, even without bringing in imps and demons. Méliès takes it one step further, and, this time, unlike in “The Devil in a Covent” or “The Devil and the Statue,” he skips the “squaring-up” at the end and doesn’t have the sorcerer get his due – which would make this a moral lesson, rather than a simple comedy.

Director: Georges Méliès

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Georges Méliès, unknown

Run Time: 3 Min, 22 secs

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

Why Broncho Billy Left Bear County (1913)

This typical short Western from Essanay shows Gilbert M. Anderson’s best-known character once again in trouble with the law, but acting from a code of decency nevertheless. It would be more or less impossible to reconcile its narrative with any coherency with other stories in the series, but that never seems to have been a concern for Anderson or his audiences.

Why Broncho Billy Left Bear County

The movie begins by showing a girl (Marguerite Clayton) ministering to her sick mother. She runs out of medicine, and goes out to another room to find her father (Lloyd Ingraham) snoozing in an easy chair. She gives him the empty medicine bottle and some money and sends him off to get more. Dad, it seems, however, is not the most reliable errand-boy, as we will see later, but we do see her admonish him as she gives him the money and there is a curious shot of him crossing a creek, sniffing the bottle and using the creek water to rinse it out. Now we switch scenes to a typical Western bar, and Broncho Billy sidles up to the bar and orders a drink. Dad comes into the bar and speaks with the bartender (Harry Todd) before slumping down in a chair at a table. The bartender brings him a menu written on a small tablet/chalk board, and takes a coin from him and erases something from it when he makes his selection. He then brings Dad a full bottle and lets him pour out a drink. After a while, Dad is pretty drunk, and he pulls out the medicine bottle and hands over the last of his coins, asking the bartender to fill it with rotgut. The bartender looks at the bottle and then goes to draw from what looks like the cheapest bottle in the house (actually it looks more like a large wine bottle). Dad passes out while he fills it.

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Now Marguerite, wondering what’s taking so long, walks up and sees the bartender putting booze into the medicine bottle. She puts two and two together and goes to intervene. She wakes up her father and sniffs the bottle, then calls to the bartender, who refuses to take back the booze, insisting that the sale is complete. Broncho Billy sees what’s going on from across the room, and squares things with the bartender, giving him his gun in exchange for him returning both the empty bottle and the money to the girl. She is thankful, but now she struggles to get her dad to come with her, so Billy gives an assist. She goes to the drug store and gets the medicine while Billy sees to Dad, who is now awake and quite upset at the situation. They get back to her home and she gives Billy a prayerbook as a reward.

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The Intertitles tell us it is now the next day, and Billy is on horseback in the woods. He sees the stage driving up and gets himself into position to rob it, but Marguerite sees him and shames him out of doing it. She speaks to him and he takes out the little prayer book she gave. Meanwhile, Dad robs the stage a few feet down the road. He takes the strongbox and bashes it open with a rock, taking the loot bags and riding to his home, unaware that Billy has seen him. We now see the sheriff rousing his deputies in pursuit, as the report of the robbery has come in. Billy goes to the house and warns Dad they are coming, offering to take the cash off his hands. Billy mounts up and there is a wild chase on the road, with the posse in close pursuit. Billy manages to reach the County line, and he leaves the bags at the marker with a note that he is leaving the territory for good. The posse is satisfied to recover the money, and does not pursue him past their jurisdiction. A final shot shows Billy at church, kneeling and putting his prayerbook to good use.

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The first problem with this movie is that there are sources that list it as “Why Broncho Billy Left Bear Country,” which implies a different kind of a story. Even the DVD collection I have gives a different title on the beginning of the movie and the intertitles (both of which look reconstructed, to me). The fact that “Bear County” is written on the sign where Billy hangs the money seems to resolve that question, as well as the fact that we don’t see any bears, which would seem necessary to establish “bear country” in context. I had a hard time recognizing Dad as the robber in the second half of the film, and without that information, the story was confusing the first time through. The only thing that distinguishes him, given the quality of the print I was watching, was his checkered shirt. Poor Marguerite, with a dissipated father who resorts to such un-Christian acts! The color of the medicine and the booze were also very similar, which got me to wondering whether Ma might also be a secret tippler, and the medicine really snake oil all along. The most interesting thing cinematically about this movie is the editing. Most of the movie is stagey, with long, stationary shots in which the actors go about their business. The first moment in which this is disrupted is actually when Billy goes to help out Marguerite. Suddenly there are edits from him to the bar to the table where Dad and Marguerite are, giving the audience a sense of things happening at the same time. The bigger use of this is the horse chase at the end, where Anderson seems to be trying to emulate “The Great Train Robbery” by creating an action-suspense sequence to keep the audience on the edge of their seats. It’s not quite so thrilling as that movie, but with the moment of suspense when the posse is bearing down on the house where Billy and Dad are exposed with the loot, there is a moment of genuine alarm.

Director: Gilbert M. “Broncho Billy” Anderson

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Gilbert M. “Broncho Billy” Anderson, Marguerite Clayton, Lloyd Ingraham, Harry Todd, Fred Church, Victor Potel, True Boardman, David Kirkland

Run Time: 13 Min

You can watch it for free: here.