Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: 1911

The Puncher’s New Love (1911)

This unusual film from Gilbert M. “Broncho Billy” Anderson avoids most of the usual Western tropes to tell a romantic story of love lost through selfishness. While a bit awkwardly shot and acted, it goes a long way to showing the diversity of roles Anderson did within the “Broncho Billy” umbrella.

As the movie begins, Anderson is leaning in the window to ask out his girl (Ann Little) to an upcoming barn dance. She is happy to accept and even gives him a little kiss goodbye. Right after he departs, a rival (John O’Brien) arrives with a handbill about the same dance. Ann rightly tells John she can’t go with him, because she just agreed to go with Billy, but he doesn’t seem to get the hint until she repeats herself. Eventually, he seems to console himself by saying at least he’ll see her at the dance with Billy. Meanwhile, Billy comes across a “city girl” (Gladys Field) out riding, and is immediately infatuated. He shows her the handbill and she shows an interest in going with Billy, who seems to completely forget about Ann. On the night of the dance, John sees Billy come in with the city girl and his jaw drops. She refuses to shake hands with a man Billy introduces her to, and looks disdainfully at the whole affair, but eventually agrees to dance with Billy. John eagerly rushes off to find Ann, who is standing forlornly in front of her gate. He tells her Billy’s there with another woman, and she looks crushed, but eventually agrees to go with John. Once there, Billy appears to be about to leave with his bored date, but receives a withering stare from Ann before he gets out the door, and sees that she is with John.

Some time later, Billy pays a call on the city girl, looking about in wide-eyed wonder at her fine house and the liveried butler. Gladys seems not to remember Billy when he is announced, but eventually deigns to coldly greet him. Then a man in a tuxedo comes in and she quickly rushes up and hugs him hello. Billy expresses his jealousy and is asked to leave, which he will not do until he’s said his piece and threatened violence. Now he returns shame-faced to see Ann in her home, but she is still angry at being cast aside without even being informed that their date was off. She tells Billy to go, and this time he does so with more decency, because this is someone he can respect. John comes in a bit later with a ring and we see that Ann has transferred her feelings to him. A final intertitle (possibly added due to the loss of some footage) tells us that the couple eventually discovers Billy dead.

We can’t see you, Ann!

There are no gunfights, horseback chases or bar room brawls in this film, yet it is fundamentally about the different values of the “pure” pioneering America versus the corrupt Europeanized culture of the city. Billy and all the other “punchers” wear riding garb at all times, even at the formal dance, although the city girl wears a black gown and the other country girls are in simple dresses. The overall plot is reminiscent of F.W. Murnau’s much later movie “Sunrise,” but without the happy ending, or the attempted murder. It’s interesting that Billy is unable to redeem himself from his mistake – usually in a story like this, a man can make amends, but a “fallen woman” has to die. This movie surprised me by ending with the death of the fallen man. It’s very much a 1911 movie, with all shots taken at full-figure distance, and no camera movement or editing within scenes. The sets are often crowded, especially the dance hall set, and actors frequently pass in front of one another, obscuring  the main action. The dance begins with a little comedy about the fiddler, who is either drunk or exhausted (I couldn’t tell if he was laughing hysterically or yawning), and nearly everyone in the movie is crowded into that scene. One really unfortunate choice was to shoot the scene of John picking up Ann from behind the gate Ann is waiting at, so her face is obscured as she acts out her reaction to Billy’s betrayal. There were a lot of other angles they could have used for that scene, but it probably didn’t occur to anyone that it would be an issue.

Director: Gilbert M. “Broncho Billy” Anderson

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Gilbert M. “Broncho Billy” Anderson, Gladys Field, Ann Little, John O’Brien, Augustus, Carney, Harry Todd, Margaret Joslin, Brinsley Shaw

Run Time: 12 Min

I have not found this movie available for free on the Internet. If you do, please comment.

The Automatic Moving Company (1911)

This short film from Pathé demonstrates considerable skill in animation, as well as a touching imaginative approach that rivals Georges Méliès in the realm of the trick film. It still seems somewhat novel today, and must have been even more so at the time.

The movie begins with a brief glimpse of the only human actor in the whole story. We see a postman approach a door and push a letter through the mail slot. The camera then cuts to the interior of the building, where the letter floats across the room and onto a desk. A letter opener, moving by itself, opens the letter and an insert shot shows it to us. A client has written to the “Automatic Moving Company” to request a move, including a new address. A ledger book opens itself and a pen makes a notation. We now cut to a gate, from which a moving cart emerges, with no horses to pull it. It pulls in up to a door, and a series of furniture extracts itself and moves into the door. We follow the furniture up the stairs and into a bedroom, where the bed constructs itself and various pieces of furniture arrange themselves in appropriate positions in the room. Moving crates come in and pictures, linens, and clothing all emerge and tidily put themselves into place. This continues as we see a dining room put itself together, and a kitchen, including anew stove, sets itself up. When one plate falls to the ground and breaks, a broom and dustpan move into position and clean it up. One side table seems to tease a lamp, moving from one side of a table to another until it finally allows the lamp to climb on top and then takes up a position. At the end, one of the moving trunks hides under a table until a large trunk comes and pulls it out with a rope. They stop on the stairs and retreat, allowing the piano to come in, before departing the scene. We see all of the moving trunks load themselves back onto the back of the cart, the doors to the cart close, and it pulls away, the job now complete.

Most of this movie is in wide shot, allowing us to see the entire room, but a couple of insert shots give us a closer view of details, and this allows us to see that the moving objects are in fact miniatures, presumably moving about miniaturized sets on the scale of a doll house. Nevertheless, the illusion is mostly very convincing, and considering the amount of work that had to go into stop motion animation at the time, it was an impressive investment for a small film that was only expected a brief theatrical run before oblivion. Interestingly, the letter indicates that the client lives in “Kalamazoo, Mich,” although everything about the movie looks French, including the moving cart which clearly has French words on it, and appears to be from Nice. Possibly America was associated with modernity and high-technology, or possibly the name “Kalamazoo” sounded exotic to the film makers, and therefore magical. I particularly liked the way certain objects were invested with personality, like the playful side table and the reluctant moving trunk.

Director: Romeo Bosetti

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Unknown (mostly animated objects)

Run Time: 4 Min, 45 secs

You can watch it for free: here.

Max Takes Tonics (1911)

Alternate Title: Max, victime du quinquina

This short from Max Linder is basically an extended “funny drunk” routine and may have influenced later work by Charlie Chaplin, that use similar themes. Linder is able to go farther in some respects, and makes more use of class as a theme, perhaps because of the cultural differences between France and the US.

The movie begins with Max visiting a doctor’s office. The entire appointment is in medium shot, with the doctor behind his desk and Max seated before it. He tells the doctor that he’s been tired lately, and the doctor looks at his tongue before telling him it’s nothing serious, but he’ll prescribe a tonic that should help. He is to take it each morning. The next scene shows Max seated at a table with the tonic, which is labeled “Bordeaux of Cinchona.” His wife brings out a very large glass, which is labeled “Souvenir de Bordeaux” and he concludes that this is the correct dosage of the tonic he is meant to take. He pours out almost the whole bottle into the glass and drinks it with a straw. Thus fortified, he goes out on the town.

His first encounter is with another man in a top hat, who is trying to get into a cab. Max keeps trying to get in from the other side, and each time the two see one another, they walk around the back of the cab and argue briefly, seeming to come to some agreement, and then both walk back around to their respective doors and try to get in. Finally, the cab drives away, without either one on board. Rather than coming to blows, the two exchange cards. This first fellow, we learn, is the Minister of War. Next, Max goes to a nightclub and tries to get a young lady interested in him. Unfortunately, there is a grouchy older man at the next table, and Max keeps accidentally hitting him, or forgetting which table has the young lady at it. Finally, when the young lady’s real date shows up, he pushes Max into the angry customer, who gives Max his card. He is the ambassador of Styria. Max also exchanges cards with the date, challenging him to a duel for hitting him, and this man is the commissioner of police.

Drunk Max heads out on the street and has an encounter with a lamp post, with the result that he tries to put his jacket on while leaning against it, so that the back of the jacket is wrapped around the pole and he can’t move. A police officer, seeing a drunk, comes over to arrest him, and when he asks for identification, Max gives him the one of the cards he has received. The policeman immediately salutes and carries him to the address indicated. It is the address of the Minister of War, who is enjoying a late dinner. When he hears someone enter his apartment, he hides under the table. Max sits down and finishes his dinner, but then the minister leaps up and throws him out of the house, rolling him down the stairs and to the feet of a second policeman. Again, Max gives the wrong card and is taken to another posh apartment. Here, his over-consumption of alcohol (and perhaps the Minister’s dinner) catches up to him and he pantomimes an urgent need to vomit. He picks up a top hat and vomits into it just before the Ambassador comes out to investigate. The Ambassador, assuming that he is now ready to initiate the duel, gives Max the choice of swords of pistols, and then puts on his hat. He is so outraged at the result that he forgets the duel and throws Max out the window, where he crashes into a third policeman. This man now carries him to another apartment (although the same staircase is used as for the last one), where the exhausted Max takes off his jacket and tumbles into bed. Unfortunately, he is now sleeping next to the wife of the commissioner of police, who is sneaking in late after his date, only to find his wife in bed with another man. He also throws Max out, only to have him quickly returned by the same policeman. Finally, when he also hurls Max out of his window, Max crashes into a convocation of the three police officers, who are sharing a smoke and talking about the prominent drunks they’ve run into tonight. Each of them recognizes Max and they compare the cards he has given them, finally recognizing him for an impostor. The movie ends with the three of them beating Max up.

Charlie Chaplin famously referred to Max Linder as “the Professor” at a time when Linder’s star was in decline and the two of them became friends during Linder’s brief career in Hollywood. I’ve always felt that a bit too much is read into that – Chaplin didn’t know Linder before he started acting, and it’s not clear how familiar he was with his work. The compliment appears to have been written to help a friend through a difficult time, not to prove who was the better comedian. Still, this movie definitely has many elements of Chaplin’s work in it. It’s hard to know how much of it comes before his top-hatted drunk routines on stage with Karno, but in particular the sequence with the lamp post was familiar, and a lot of what Linder does here we’ve seen Charlie do in movies like “One A.M.” and “A Night in the Show.” On the other hand, and despite critics talking about “vulgarity” in Chaplin movies, it’s impossible to imagine Charlie using vomit in such an explicit way! And, of course, all of the business about calling cards and duels is pure European upper-class culture, with no place in an American film. Even the fact that all of these powerful people live in Paris apartments is a bit foreign.

By the standards of 1911, this is a somewhat long comedy, and Linder is at the focus of all of the humor. He has to appear drunk enough to be helpless in many situations, and yet also to be in complete control in reality. Physically, he had probably managed better work in “Max Learns to Skate” and other films with similar themes, but he definitely handles drunk well here. Most of the scenes are shot from a single camera angle, although the choice to shoot the cab-dispute from the rear of the cab was a very effective way to show the confusion over who was getting in first. For some of the violence, Max is replaced with a dummy that is tossed around, something we’ve seen in Méliès and other French movies.

Director: Max Linder

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Max Linder, Maurice Delamare, Gabrielle Lange, Lucy d’Orbel,

Run Time: 17 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

The Dream (1911)

This short film from IMP (the predecessor to Universal Pictures) is a simple morality tale about a philandering husband’s comeuppance. It is probably known today mostly because of starring a young Mary Pickford along with her then-husband Owen Moore.

The film begins by depicting a drunk couple out together in a restaurant. The man (Moore) staggers around and hands the waiter all of the money in his wallet. In the midst of their carousing, we briefly cut away to images of a woman (Pickford) sitting dejectedly at home alone, with dinner waiting on the table. She doses off for a moment, and checking the time, determines that it is getting quite late. An intertitle informs us that the husband returns six hours later, but the wife doesn’t seem angry or concerned, just happy to see him. That quickly changes as he yells at her, throwing the food she made on the floor and turning over a chair before passing out on a divan. She seems very upset by his behavior. Read the rest of this entry »

Manhattan Trade School for Girls (1911)

This short documentary about a New York school was evidently made for fundraising purposes. It shows the day-to-day activities at a progressive institution attempting to give working class and especially immigrant women a chance at making enough money to support themselves in an urban, industrial economy.

The movie begins with a series of intertitles that inform us of the difficult economic situation that many young women found themselves in when they left compulsory education. In “blind alley” jobs in shops and factories, they often earned 2 or 3 dollars a week, and had little opportunity for raises or advancement. The one-year program at the Manhattan Trade School can teach them skills, particularly in running sewing machines or other industrial machines that will give them an edge in employment. We see a group of girls filling out applications at their elementary school and then going to the Trade School for the first time. We then begin to see the program of classes.

Interestingly, the first shots of the school’s program emphasize the physical education that is included. We see girls tossing a ball, having their backs measured for posture, and engaged in a simple folk dancing class. This probably reflects the progressive sense that urban living was unhealthy and the importance of physical fitness, though it may also have been intended to perk up the interests of male donors – the girls are shirtless (though covered) for the “back-straightening exercises” sequence. Continuing our interest in the girls’ health, we then see girls preparing “nourishing meals” in the community kitchen. Two girls carefully measure the amount of batter to be added to a tin, using a scale to determine when it is enough, while another peels endless potatoes.

After this the focus is on more the kind of classes we expected to see. The girls are introduced to us by name, and many of them appear to be immigrants and/or Jewish (“Millie Spiro,” “Rosa Pasquale,” “Miriam Levy”). They learn basic sewing, millinery, dressmaking, “novelty box decoration,” “sample mounting,” machine operating, etc. They also receive instruction on personal economy and frugality – how to make the most from their low wages. The working conditions look bleak by our standards today, but there is enough light and air and no one appears to be in physical danger. Older women are on hand to supervise and offer suggestions, and the girls appear to be intent on getting their work done, not particularly distracted by the camera or interested in slacking. At the end of the movie, we see the girls receiving their certificates, and an intertitle tells us the salaries of their first jobs  – one is making $20 per week at “straw operating!”

To put this movie in perspective, it’s worth mentioning that it came out the same year that the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire took the lives of 123 young women who were working in the most appallingly unsafe industrial conditions in a sweat shop in New York City. Many of these women were immigrants, and many immigrants continued to work under unsafe conditions even after new laws were passed to protect workers. The Manhattan Trade School was intended to be a more positive solution to this situation. Children could leave school legally at age 14 and many working class boys and girls would immediately take work to support their families at that age. Some, especially in immigrant families, didn’t even get that far. The Trade School’s brief program was supported by grants to make it possible for the students to receive small stipends and the work they did in classes was sold to support the school as well. The “trades” taught at this school were not, for the most part, seen as professions, but as better alternatives to low-paying jobs for unmarried girls until they found a husband. Some probably did continue piecework of one kind or another from the home as well, which may explain the emphasis on “novelty box making” or “artificial flower making” we see here. This movie is a very interesting glimpse into the reality of life for many people at the time, although of course it is carefully edited to make the school look as good as possible!

Director: Unknown

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Sadie Smith, Mary Johnson, Millie Spiro, Rosa Pasquale, Miriam Levy

Run Time: 16 Min

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

A Daughter of Dixie (1911)

This Civil War melodrama is a short from the Champion Studio in Fort Lee, New Jersey that was screened at this year’s Cinecon on Monday, September 3. As always with those, I have only seen the film once, and have only my notes and memory to work from in reviewing it.

A young girl is seen in her home. Her brother enters in a Confederate uniform and she makes the usual tearful protestations. The family is supportive, but sad at the development. We then cut to a battle scene, shot so that we see only the Confederate side at first. Smoke and some explosions show us that they are under fire, and they fire rifles at enemies off-screen. Then we see “her lover,” who is among the Union forces, shown in similar fashion, and they fire at the opposite side of the screen, giving us a sense that the two sides are in conflict. Finally, they meet, and a full-fledged (but quite small) pitched battle takes place in a static shot. The lover is wounded and separated from his companions, and forced to flee the Rebels. He runs to the girl and begs for shelter. She hides him in a closet and tries to cover when her brother and some other men come searching for him. The brother realizes where the man must be hiding, but when he goes to find him, the girl grabs his rifle and points it at his chest, keeping the Confederates at bay for an hour while the lover escapes. Then the war ends and the family is reunited. When the Northern lover returns, the former Confederate welcomes him to his home.

An interesting dilemma is somewhat weakened by the easy resolution at the end. It seems to me that the sister would have been arrested and possibly lynched for collaborating with the enemy, and even assuming no legal or extra-legal difficulties, the brother has every reason to resent her threatening his life and to hold a grudge after the war. Alternately, it seems as though he and his men should question whether she really would shoot her own flesh and blood, and they likely would have called her bluff on the spot, possibly with tragic results that would not be so easily forgiven. But, I may be asking a bit much of a ten-minute melodrama. The director has rather ambitiously tried to tell a sweeping story of the war in a very simple format, and in places this is quite clever. At first I thought it was a bit cheap, showing the battle from one side only, but once I saw the other side and then the final clash and melee, I realized what they were doing, and saw it as a good way to mirror the two sides and show how an individual soldier would experience the fighting. Once again, this shows that others besides D.W. Griffith were working with the tropes of the Civil War from an early period of cinema.

Director: Unknown, possibly Ulysses S. Davis

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Unknown

Run Time: 10 Min

This movie has not been made available on home video or the Internet at this time.

The Outlaw and the Child (1911)

This early Western from Essanay shows that Gilbert M. “Broncho Billy” Anderson’s characters weren’t always unambiguous heroes and also gives us a glimpse of work the Chicago-based company was doing in California even before opening a permanent studio in Niles.

 

Broncho Billy plays the outlaw, and as the movie opens we see him being secured in his cell by the sheriff (Arthur Mackley), arrested for we know not what crimes and awaiting trial. The sheriff heads home to see his five-year old daughter, assuring that we get to see both of the title characters in the first few minutes of the film. She does a cute bit of searching her father until she finds a bag of candy hidden under his hat. Then the sheriff puts her to bed and gets ready to sleep himself. Meanwhile, a confederate has brought Broncho Billy a file so that he can cut through the bars of his cell. He is able to do this in remarkably little screen time, and steals a saddle and horse in order to get out of town. The deputy (Harry Todd) discovers his absence and raises a posse, heading over to the sheriff’s house to rouse him and get him to lead the search. The sheriff leaves his small child alone, and when she wakes, she finds him absent and so goes out to look for him, soon blundering into the desert with her doll. The search is unsuccessful and the sheriff returns home, only to begin a new search for his missing daughter.

 

Meanwhile, the outlaw has made his way into the dessert with a full canteen, but he comes across the prostrate figure of the child. He rushes to her side and revives her with his supply of water, but while he is doing this, his horse wanders off. Now, he must carry the child back to civilization, sacrificing all his water to keep her alive. He brings her right to the door of the sheriff’s house, where the sheriff and his posse all witness his heroism before he expires.

This simple plot works well for a one-reel Western, although there is little subtlety of character or drama. We have to accept that a seasoned outlaw doesn’t know how to keep his horse under control for a couple of minutes while he attends to another concern, and also that the sheriff hasn’t been able to teach his daughter to stay put at night (I assume it’s night, because they were asleep, though the whole movie was clearly shot in broad daylight), but these are pretty minor concessions compared to the enormous coincidences audiences expected in melodrama at the time. I rather expected when the father left the girl alone that Billy would wind up taking her hostage and then having a change of heart, but this story emphasizes his redemption over his crimes. The locations, which were in Los Gatos and Redlands, California, work well for the piece, especially the desert scenes, where I found myself thinking how vast the openness looked behind our actors, while a film crew and safety lay only a few feet away. The filming and editing are pretty standard for 1911, with pretty much all scenes sequential and shot in long shot, so that we can see actors’ entire bodies as they move about the screen. A simple piece of Americana from another era.

Director: G.M. “Broncho Billy” Anderson

Camera: Unknown

Starring: G.M. “Broncho Billy” Anderson, Arthur Mackley, Harry Todd, William A. Russell

Run Time: 15 Min

I have not been able to find this movie available for free on the Internet. If you do, please comment below.

Her Crowning Glory (1911)

Before there was a “big three” (or four, or five) comedians, before Keystone Studios, before almost anyone (except Ben Turpin), there was John Bunny, the best-known film comedian of his day. Bunny was a large man with a red face and a larger-than-life style of acting. His frequent co-star, Flora Finch, was thin, pinched-faced, and demure. Together, they made a series recalled as the “bunnyfinch” shorts. We’ll be looking at one of those today.

A strong reaction to a hairdo.

A strong reaction to a hairdo.

John stars as an apparently wealthy widower with a small daughter. His daughter is becoming spoiled, as John’s instinct is to indulge her and let her get away with whatever she wants. A “friend” who looks like a typical D.W. Griffith-style bluenosed busybody comes over and tells him the child needs discipline. She recommends a governess of her acquaintance, emphasizing that she is a “strict disciplinarian.” The governess is, of course, Flora Finch. Although when she arrives her long hair is tied up, Bunny shows considerable attraction to it – despite the fact that Finch has been made up to look even uglier than usual. John’s daughter does not take to Flora, however, sticking her with a pin and otherwise being bratty. The relationship proceeds along these lines, with John being fascinated by Flora’s hair, and the child being as contrary as possible, until Bunny proposes to Finch. She happily says yes, and the maid now decides she needs to take action. That night, she gives the little girl a pair of scissors while Flora is combing her hair before bed. Exhausted (probably from running after the child all day!), Flora falls asleep in her chair and the child gives her a haircut while she snoozes. John wakes her with a kiss, but when he sees what has happened, he calls off the wedding, and Flora leaves in shame. John and the child go back to playing as before, and there is an indication that John has noticed how attractive the maid is for the first time.

Don't try this at home, kids!

Don’t try this at home, kids!

John Bunny was not known as a slapstick comedian; his movies are “situational” in their humor. This one seems fairly average, based on the few I’ve seen. It’s a little funny, in terms of the situation, but doesn’t really get me laughing very hard. The most interesting part of the movie is the child, played by Helene Costello (who would become an adult star in the twenties), whose willfulness and dislike of snooty adults is compelling. Silent movie children are often much more natural than their sound-era counterparts, confirming the old adage that “children should be seen but not heard.” Helene does look at the camera once or twice, and does seem to follow instructions from off-screen as she spies on her daddy with the governess. The contrast between Finch and Bunny is played up here – it helps to sell us on the idea that Finch is not the right woman for him, he is simply distracted by her head of hair. The movie is shot in a conventional manner for 1911 (few edits, long shots, stationary camera), but does include an important close-up on the hair as it is cut.

Director: Lawrence Trimble

Camera: Unknown

Starring: John Bunny, Flora Finch, Helene Costello, Kate Price

Run Time: 14 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

The Lonedale Operator (1911)

This is one of the most talked-about of D.W. Griffith’s early shorts, in terms of his contributions to film “grammar” and especially editing. It is a fast-paced action film in which a pair of non-descript hobo thieves threaten Blanche Sweet, who manages to use her wits and high technology to save herself.

Blanche knows how to keep a man.

Blanche knows how to keep a man.

The movie begins when “the young engineer” (Francis J. Grandon) is assigned to take out a locomotive. He seems to be hanging around the railroad tracks, hoping for work, and he gets up quickly to head out to the station, but not without stopping by to see his girl, Blanche Sweet. Sweet is shown reading a book, letting us know she’s smart, and her house fronts on the tracks, giving us a sense of her class and the likelihood that her family are railroad people. She walks to the station with Francis, but refuses him a kiss. When they arrive, Francis takes over his train, but Blanche stops in to visit her father (George Nichols), the wireless operator. He’s not feeling well, so Blanche offers to take over for him. He agrees, and offers her the revolver in his pocket, but she assures him she’ll be fine, and he leaves her alone and unarmed. She waves goodbye to her beau, excited to have this great responsibility thrust on her.

No, I probably won't need it!

No, I probably won’t need it!

Soon, we see the arrival of the payroll for the local mine, which is delivered to her care, and the simultaneous arrival of two tramps (one of them is Dell Henderson, a Griffith favorite) who’ve been riding under the train. They hide out until the train has gone, and then try to get into the office to take the money. Blanche realizes what they are up to and locks the door, but with no gun, it’s only a matter of time until they break in. She quickly telegraphs the next station that there’s an attempted break-in going on and arms herself with a wrench. The boyfriend, hearing of his girl’s distress, now jumps on his engine and hightails it back to the station, but can he make it in time? Well, the tramps do break in, but Blanche turns the wrench around to look like a gun and holds them at bay until the train arrives and she is rescued. The tramps go to jail, and the money goes to its rightful payees. Presumably Blanche and Francis get hitched.

Competant and capable.

Competant and capable.

Now, this is a good movie, but I think its significance has been rather over-stated. For example, the Wikipedia entry says, “Unlike most films at the time which had a simple plot line set in one location, The Lonedale Operator “intercuts three primary spaces—the telegraph office interior, the criminals outside, and the rescue train.” Although audiences in 1911 were not used to such editing, the use of the telegraph helped them understand the crosscutting between scenes in such a way that they could follow the plot.” I think this kind of thinking comes about because the only movies people ever see from this period are D.W. Griffith and Georges Méliès. I mean, come on! Intercutting of primary spaces goes back to at least “Life of an American Fireman” (1902) and it’s done with greater sophistication in “The Great Train Robbery” (1903). Admittedly, neither of those depends on THREE simultaneous spaces (just two at a time), but I hardly think audiences were too dumb ten years later to figure it out. Even the claim that “most films” used only “one location” is ridiculous – by 1911, many films were shot on several sets, although I’ll grant you that many plots still unfolded sequentially.

Lonedale Operator3So, while it’s maybe not so innovative as is suggested, it is a good example of what could be done with established technique, and I’m even willing to grant that in terms of editing it was better than what most audiences were seeing up to then. Griffith understood the potential editing offered, and used it well. But, he didn’t invent sliced bread. One of his major (real) contributions to film was his use of very young actresses. Blanche Sweet was only 15 at the time. Griffith seems to have understood that, with the greater intimacy the camera offered over the stage, audiences would be aware of the facial details of the stars, and so he shot for a kind of personal ideal that obviously had mass popular attraction. While that has some creepy or even misogynist undertones, note that in this movie the female star is not portrayed as utterly helpless. Even without a gun, she figures out a way to save herself and tricks the bad guys with a wrench. She’s obviously well-read, and knows enough about Morse to send a clear distress call. She’s not quite tough enough to clobber the tramps by herself (and that would have been a bit hard to believe), but she’s the equal of any boy her age, at least. One other thing stuck out to me on my latest viewing of this movie: there’s a stunt that most people probably don’t think twice about. Seconds after the train pulls into the station, Dell and his buddy crawl out form underneath it – showing that they were riding that way, clinging to the bottom of the car, for at least some distance. That’s a dangerous way to ride a large vehicle like a train! If one of them had slipped, no one could have stopped the train until the whole thing had rolled over them, easily removing an appendage or worse! Never let it be said that actors took no risks on these movies.

Director: D.W. Griffith

Camera: Billy Bitzer

Starring: Blanche Sweet, Francis J. Grandon, George Nichols, Dell Henderson, Joseph Graybill, Verner Clarges, Edward Dillon, Wilfred Lucas, W. Chrystie Miller, Charles West.

Run Time: 17 Min

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

Cinderella (1911)

I’ve been meaning for some time to get around to looking at the movies thanhouser.org has made available from the original films of the Thanhouser Film Company, especially those starring Florence La Badie, one of America’s first major movie stars, but, with one thing and another, it hasn’t happened until now. Here, I’ll take a look at one of the most beloved of her films – a version of the famous fairy tale of a girl magically saved from a life of hardship by a simple wish for one of romance and fantasy.

Not just no, HELL NO!

Not just no, HELL NO!

The movie manages to tell the story pretty effectively in a short time and with only three Intertitles. In the first sequence, Florence, as Cinderella, is made to help her sisters get ready for the Prince’s ball, only to be told summarily that she cannot go. Then, alone in the kitchen, she makes her wish and a Fairy Godmother appears, who turns various ordinary items into her coach and liveried servants, and then transforms her into a beautiful princess before sending her to the ball. The next sequence shows the ball, including her glamorous arrival, her meeting and dancing with the Prince, and her losing track of time until the last moment before midnight, when she rushes down the stairs, losing a slipper along the way. Finally, we see the search and trying-on of the shoe by Cinderella’s sisters, and their failure to make the grade, followed by Cinderella putting on the slipper, and even producing its mate from her pocket to verify that it really was her. The Fairy Godmother reappears and turns her back into a princess, whereupon she is taken to the castle and marries the Prince. The End.

Cinderella1 1911The version available on Vimeo can be viewed both with and without historical commentary, which is a nice touch, and it has a simple but appropriate organ score as well. I found the character of the father interesting; while he’s usually left out of this story, here he is a kind-hearted weakling, dominated by Cinderella’s step-mother and step-sisters. It’s also interesting that, even after all of the other magic has turned back to normal, both of the glass slippers remain in their “magical” state, although that’s basically necessary for the narrative. LaBadie is very good as the innocent, hard working Cinderella, but the evil step-sisters also deserve praise for communicating their meanness so effectively without words or sound. Unlike the 1914 Mary Pickford version, there are no added scenes or sub-plots, just the basic fairy tale that continues to be told in much the same way today. There are the expected camera-stop effects, with objects transformed before our eyes, and Cinderella’s dress appearing by magic, and the story is told by editing various scenes in chronological order, but there is minimal cross-cutting and no camera movement.

Director: George Nichols

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Florence La Badie, Harry Benham, Anna Rosemond, Frank H. Crane, Alphonse Ethier, Isabelle Daintry

Run Time: 14 Min, 30 secs

You can watch it for free: here.