Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: 1912

A Suffragette in Spite of Himself (1912)

This short film from Edison was actually shot in England and used local locations to create a comedy that was “ripped from the headlines” of the United Kingdom. It manages to address a thorny topic while walking a fine line in terms of not offending viewers of different perspectives, but it may undermine its own humor by walking on eggshells.

The movie begins by introducing our protagonist – a man who is strongly opposed to votes for women. His day begins at the breakfast table with a newspaper, and that paper informs him of the recent activism of suffragettes who have smashed windows, attacked a member of Parliament, and chained themselves to fences to make their case. He gestures broadly to demonstrate his displeasure in this situation and in the process upends a tea tray carried in by his young and pretty maid. He blames her for the accident, but his wife smooths things over a bit. As he gets ready to go, we see how absent-minded and dependent upon his wife he is. She gently helps him remember to take off the napkin tucked into his shirt, find the monocle that has fallen behind his back, and discover the gloves tucked into his hat before leaving the house. Appropriately prepared, he now goes out into the London streets.

The scene shifts to show a woman tacking up a “votes for women” sign to a tree. As soon as she leaves, two boys come up and remove it, then wait for a victim, who is of course our hapless protagonist. The smaller boy distracts him while the older one tacks the sign to his back. He walks off with a sign proclaiming the opposite of his beliefs visible to everyone behind him. His first encounter is in fact an anti-suffrage meeting. A group of men who are just as enraged about recent events as he is are spilling out onto the street, and he tries to engage them in discussion, but the ones behind him see the sign and attack him, he runs off pursued by these erstwhile allies, and then stops to remonstrate with them in front of a news shop. Finally, he picks up his cane to defend himself, but he misses his attackers and inadvertently smashes the windows of the shop. He then runs away, now pursued by the men as well as the police.

He manages to evade pursuit somewhere near the Houses of Parliament, and leans over a railing to rest. But, when he gets up, it turns out that the chain of his stopwatch has caught and he is now “chained to the palings.” Of course, two passing policemen see his sign and take him for a protestor. They extract him in an effort to secure his arrest. At this moment, a group of marching women approaches, and sees what they take to be an ally in distress. They rush over and assault the policemen, freeing our hero and removing him from the scene. They try to convince him to join in, but he is still flustered and confused about the whole affair. Finally, one of them removes the sign from his back and shows it to him. He rushes off, humiliated.

Now he returns to his happy home. But the maid has seen him while he was with the mob of suffragettes, and takes him to be sympathetic to their cause. She puts a large sign, rolled up, just below his bar. He goes to fix a much-needed drink to calm his nerves, but the sign comes unrolled just as his wife walks in. She sees the sign and takes his drink away – evidently he’s had too much already!

Since this movie is shot in England, it makes sense that the term “suffragette” is used instead of “suffragist,” but it’s worth noting that the producers intended it for an American audience, who would have read in the papers about the much more strident activism of women’s advocates in that country. Women really were smashing windows and chaining themselves to buildings in protest there, but this movie makes fun of their opposition more than the women themselves. The hero of the movie is the ridiculous one, and the suffragettes appear as comparably sympathetic, especially the maid, who is young and pretty as opposed to mannish or old. This is emphasized by the very broad acting our hero displays as well, although for 1912, even in comedy, this has to be read as a bit too strong. I tend to see it as further evidence of the degree to which Edison directors failed to keep up with the changing standards of cinema, although there’s a nice insert shot of the watch chain when the man gets trapped. The film does avoid stereotyping feminists, but it also steers clear of endorsing them, seeming to be trying  to walk a kind of middle-line that leaves it with fairly little to do but laugh at the Mr. Magoo-ish foolishness of its star. Absent-minded people are funny enough, I suppose, but they don’t offer a lot of originality in comedy, even in 1912.

Director: Ashley Miller

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Marc McDermott, Miriam Nesbitt, Ethel Browning

Run Time: 8 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

A Lively Affair (1912)

This short anti-suffragist movie claims to show what life will be like if women get the vote. It uses gender stereotypes to suggest an upside-down world of role reversal, but the men get the last laugh.

The movie opens by showing several women, mostly wearing pants or bloomers, who are going to “a Suffragette Club meeting.” One tells a delivery man, “my husband keeps house now. Give him those bills.” Another steals a child’s bicycle in order to get to the meeting on time. Another leaves her husband in charge of a screaming baby. The ladies gather in a private residence and quickly begin a card game. Because of the stolen bike, a policeman goes to investigate the meeting. He sees the women gambling, drinking, and fighting over the outcome of a hand where someone apparently cheated. The situation is degenerating into a riot, when one of the women pulls the hair of another, pulling off a long braid and hitting her with it. The policeman rushes in to put a stop to the disorder, but is quickly overwhelmed by the violent women and tossed outside. He calls for reinforcements, and with two other men is able to arrest the suffragists. They are taken to jail, and their husbands are called. The husbands, free from their domineering wives, immediately go to a beer garden to celebrate. They then go down to the jail drunk, to parade in front of the women’s cell laughing at them. The final shots show the men in a line facing the camera, all laughing uncontrollably, then reverses to show the women behind bars and weeping.

This movie makes a fascinating contrast with “The Consequences of Feminism.” There, Alice Guy, a woman, takes the same basic theme but turns it on its head, showing that if men and women were reversed, men would have to suffer the indignities women face, and thereby making a feminist argument for equality. Here, a different (probably male) director simply argues that feminism will lead to an unnatural situation of women trying to be masculine and failing, while men are feminized. Both movies are played for laughs, but the laughs come for different reasons. This movie is missing part of the beginning, so I won’t judge it too harshly in terms of plotting, but the overall quality of filmmaking is rather weak for 1912. There is some jerky cross-cutting during the fight-and-arrest sequence, but for the most part forward-facing intertitles announce the action before it comes, and the actors perform on a proscenium-style set with no camera movement. Some of the shots of the baby crying are at least in close-up. I also found it interesting that this evidently American film used the British term “suffragette.” The term in the USA was usually “suffragist,” but maybe that wasn’t always so.

Director: Unknown

Camera: Unknown

Cast: Mabel Van Buren, Lucie K. Villa

Run Time: 7 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

The Strong Arm Squad of the Future (1912)

This short piece of animation was intended to accompany a “Mutual Weeklynewsreel and can thus be seen as a kind of animated political cartoon. It attacks the suffragist movement in through the use of readily recognizable stereotypes.

A series of women in what appear to be Salvation Army-style uniforms (or police uniforms) parade past the camera in profile. They are mostly old, masculine, and ugly, with one exception. The third woman to pass is statuesque, young, and pretty, and has adorned her uniform’s cap with an elaborate feather. The worst of the bunch is #5, a truly monstrous caricature carrying a stick, whose eyeball somehow becomes detached and flies about in a circle before coming home to roost. The final woman sums up the caricature with a word balloon stating “votes for women.”

Alas, even one hundred years later the stereotype that feminists must be too ugly to attract a man, or else too mannish to have “normal” heterosexual relations remains with us. This is simply an undisguised early version of that. The one pretty girl apparently makes the point that some idle rich young women, with more interest in fashion than politics, also attach themselves to the movement. Women’s suffrage was at a peak of interest at the time – the long lag between the few Western states that permitted votes for women at the end of the nineteenth century and the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920 saw increased activism and media coverage, as well as popular criticism like this. The uniforms and title may have been an attempt to predict a kind of feminist fascism before that term properly existed (Fascism in Italy was only coined at the end of the First World War). Even at my very liberal college in the 1990s, certain professors used the term “Femi-Nazi” to describe others, so this perception had considerable staying power as well.

Director: Unknown

Camera: Unknown

Run Time: 1 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

Flo’s Discipline (1912)

This is a movie I got to see at Cinecon in a very nice print, but which does exist on the Internet in incomplete form (see below). It was part of the collection of shorts from the Champion Studio starring Florence Lawrence at the height of her popularity.

This movie concerns “Flo’s” (Lawrence) employment at a boys’ school called Dow’s, and her efforts to get the boys to behave. At the beginning of the film, we see them at a meal, and the male headmaster (Owen Moore) pays them no mind as they scream, yell, throw food, and generally raise Hell. Flo is in the next room and when an elderly man complains to her she takes charge, firing the popular teacher and attempting to establish order. Now it becomes a war between her and the kids. When she cancels recess and sends the boys inside, locking the door after them, they climb out a window and run past her, waving their hats. Next, when Owen tries teaching class outside, she sprays them with a garden hose to get them off the lawn. They foolishly run and hide inside the ice house (not a smart move when you’re wet!) and she again locks them in. The teacher tries to rescue them by climbing a tall ladder to a window in the building (which would seem to be a bad design idea in an ice house, but whatever), but Flo removes the ladder and leaves him stranded on a ledge for an hour. Finally, she relents and lets him down and the boys out. She agrees to re-hire the teacher and the boys, sufficiently chastened, agree to follow the rules. There is a hint that she and Owen will become sweethearts.

This is a pretty silly comedy, with some elements of gender relations thrown in. It struck me again that Florence’s character was pretty determined and self-sufficient, even if the implication was that the male teacher was better able to get through to the boys (they are very well-behaved when he leads the class on the lawn). If we took the movie seriously, her act of locking a bunch of dripping wet kids into an ice house would have to be seen as abusive and possibly life-threatening (although she does give them hot coffee at one point). But, the point here really is that she doesn’t give up or get flustered just because the kids don’t respect her, and she does ultimately win their respect in this way. Although included in the Champion DVD from Milestone, there is evidence that it was actually shot at Victor (see comments). Compared to some of the other Champions shown at Cinecon, this was something of a light and simple movie, but it was an effective comedy and got some laughs from this modern audience.

Director: Unknown, possibly Harry Solter

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Florence Lawrence, Owen Moore

Run Time: 11 Min

You can watch a fragment of this film for free: here. Please let me know in the comments if it becomes available in full.

Not Like Other Girls (1912)

This short from Champion was screened at Cinecon last Sunday, and I’m reviewing it based on that viewing. I admit that my memory of this one is a bit hazy – there were four other Champion shorts at the same time and this one seems to have been the least distinctive.

Florence Lawrence and Owen Moore in another movie from 1912.

We see a young couple (Florence Lawrence and Owen Moore) out for a drive. He pulls over to pick her some flowers, but she moves over and drives the car away, ditching him. A few feet away, the car stalls and he runs over to repair it, then they go merrily on their way. When Owen drops her off, she presents the bouquet to him, again reversing the gender order. This continues in a boating trip, where Florence tips the boat over so that he falls into the water, then eagerly seizes the oars and begins rowing for herself. Somewhere in here is a bit where his father tells him that he has lost money that was put in trust to him by Florence’s family, and the only way to stay out of jail will be for the two of them to wed. Owen is pretty well ready to give up after the boating incident, and the father dies. Now Owen is the one who will go to jail if the money is not returned. Florence learns of the crime and goes to see Owen, apparently angry. It turns out she’s really mad because she has fallen in love with him, and the two are married after all.

Florence Lawrence had been in movies for several years by 1912, but her growing stardom was confirmed when Champion, now a subsidiary of Universal, created a new brand called “Victor” to showcase her specifically. If the liner notes for Cinecon are correct, this was the first of those movies. Although I had some difficulty following the plot, it was very interesting that her tomboyishness seemed to be shown as both a source for comedy and also an attractive quality. Sort of like “playing hard to get,” the fact that she’s apparently not interested in men and wants to take control of the car and the boat (and presumably her destiny) apparently made her seem “cute” to male audiences at the time. Perhaps women found the idea of a heroine not having to be subservient at all times appealing also.

Director: Harry L. Solter

Camera: Unknown

Cast: Florence Lawrence, Owen Moore

Run Time: 9 Min

This movie is not available for home viewing at this time.

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.

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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.

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The Usurer’s Grip (1912)

This educational film from Edison was made in collaboration with a Progressive-Era nonprofit that was fighting for equitable credit for working people. It has a clear message about the “right way to get a loan,” but is rather basic in terms of film technique.

The movie begins by introducing our protagonists: The “Jenks,” a middle class family with a sick daughter (Edna May Weick) on a set that appears to be a crowded urban apartment. The Intertitles inform us that they are having financial concerns due to the unexpected expense of her malady, and there is concern that they will lose their rented furniture. Then, Mr. Jenks (Water Edwin) spots an ad in the paper for a loan company that promises low rates and easy payments. The next scene shows the office of the loan company. Here, a poor woman on one side of a counter pleads for assistance, but is turned away by the female clerk on the other side. Then, our couple enters. The wife (Gertrude McCoy) takes a seat while the man goes up to the same counter the poor woman was turned away from. He is chastised when he steps a bit too far into the workspace of the clerk. She takes his information, however, and in the next scene we see the loan agent (played by Charles Ogle, who was the Frankenstein monster in the 1910 “Frankenstein”) visiting their home to make certain they have adequate collateral. He offers them a $25 loan, to be paid back in six “easy” payments of $7.50 per month – totalling $45! Mr. Jenks at first refuses, but the loan shark won’t negotiate and he needs the money, so he reluctantly signs the papers. The loan shark gives him the money, then takes a bill off the top to cover “drawing up the paperwork.”

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A Canine Sherlock Holmes (1912)

This short movie has relatively little to do with the Arthur Conan Doyle character, and is more intended for children and those fond of cute dogs than mystery fans. Despite an overall lighthearted tone, it has some elements in common with later crime serials, such as “Fantômas.”

canine_sherlock_holmes_1912A bank robbery is shown that involves the use of poison pins attached to coins that cause a clerk to collapse while the robbers hold the customers at bay with guns. They threaten the survivors, telling them that an object they are leaving behind is a bomb they can detonate with “wireless wave” if anyone moves. The clerk now calls in famous detective Hawkshaw, who bears a passing resemblance to Sherlock Holmes, though he seems to favor a cigar rather than a pipe. Hawkshaw swings into action by going out to the theater, but his dog Spot is able to use scent and track the robbers to their home, which he infiltrates by pretending to be hit by a car outside the door, and the woman with the robbers brings him in and cuddles him and gives him a saucer of water or milk to drink. As soon as he’s been left alone in the room, he starts to gather incriminating evidence from the wastebasket and the desktop, and finds a set of keys. He somehow gets out of the house without being let out by a person and runs back to Hawkshaw.

Spot's big moment

Spot’s big moment

Hawkshaw uses the address on a torn envelope Spot has brought him to track the robbers to their lair, although it’s not clear how he knows that they are guilty of anything. He uses the keys to get in, and sneaks up behind a robber, quickly disarming him, but he is overwhelmed when more robbers come into the room. However, during the struggle, he holds down a robber with one hand and writes a note to the police with the other! So, Spot quickly runs off to the police station, where several officers dressed like Keystone Kops read the note that Hawkshaw has written informing them to raid the place. They swoop in and pick up the robbers and recover the money. Once again, inspector Hawkshaw has saved the day! Hopefully, Spot gets a doggy treat, at least.

Hold still while I write!

Hold still while I write!

I wasn’t too impressed with this movie, overall, and in terms of “animal movies,” I would put it far behind “A Little Hero” in entertainment value. For one thing, the human actors are clearly inferior to Mabel Normand, which partly explains why their names have been lost to history. The dog is cute enough, but not really as impressive in his performance as the dog in that movie, let alone the awesome cat actor. The best “acting” he does is his pretense of injury, which he drags out for quite a while, but the humans have to be awful dumb not to notice that he lacks any bruises or breaks, especially when they pick him up and bring him inside. Also – what did Hawkshaw expect to accomplish by going to confront the robbers alone? Why did he write a note to the police while in physical conflict, but not bring them along in the first place? And why did he go to the theater when he was supposed to be investigating a serious crime? Obviously, a man who would go nowhere without canine support. But, the criminals don’t make much more sense: what possible advantage is there to knocking out a clerk with a complicated poisoned coin when you’re going to hold everyone up with guns in the first place? It’s a typically Feuillade-ian piece of surreal logic.

Director: Stuart Kinder

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Urbanora

Run Time: 15 Min

I have not found this for free on the Internet. It is included on the Flicker Alley release of Sherlock Holmes (1916) on DVD. If you find it available for free, please comment.

Robin Hood (1912)

I’m writing again from Cinecon, and this is one of the movies that was presented here. As with last year, this means that I’ve only had a single viewing to work from (I usually watch films at least twice before writing a review) and have no access to the film to fact-check myself, I have to work from memory.

Robin HoodThis version of Robin Hood was made by the Éclair studios from their newly-established studio in Fort Lee, New Jersey, a major film center during the 1910’s. It foregrounds the romance between Robin and Marian, making other aspects of the story more incidental. Robin is played by Robert Frazer, who is in a love-triangle with Marian (Barbara Tennant) and Guy de Gisbourne (Lamar Johnstone), which is complicated by the fact that Marian’s father wants her to wed Guy, and conspires with the bad guys to bring this about. Robin is captured early in the film, but helped to escape by his Merry Men. The sheriff then issues a warrant for his arrest, but Robin’s men use tree branches as camouflage and ambush the sheriff’s party, tying them to trees. They perform various acts to alleviate the oppression of the people, including a raid on a nobleman’s house in which their escape is aided by Marian and her female servants flirting with the sentries. There is a great swordplay scene in which the sheriff’s men attack Robin and some of his companions in a tavern. They make their escape up the chimney. Friar Tuck saves the disguised King from molestation by the Sheriff and brings him back to Robin’s camp, where he beats Robin in duel, betraying his identity. Robin and his men pledge themselves to the King, and the King witnesses his marriage to Marian (after they rescue her once again) in a ceremony in the forest. Marian’s father protests, but must submit to the King’s will.

It was pretty clear that this was a major production for Éclair in 1912, in terms of production value and budget it is well ahead of most work of the time. For one thing, it is three reels long, which should make it about 45 minutes, although only about a half hour exists in the print I saw. Even so, that’s longer than most 1912 movies already. The costumes and multiple camera set-ups speak to the prestige of the movie as well. The fight scene in the tavern involved at least three camera angles, which is pretty rare for the period. We also get several close-ups, some scenes shot at 45-degree angles, color tinting on the print, and special effects like the fades from close-ups of the villains to animals they resemble in character. The camera is often at closer than full-length, giving us a chance to see the faces of the main characters clearly. The swordfights, while hardly Errol Flynn and Basil Rathbone, and handled well and there is a good deal of action in the picture. I was less impressed by the acting. The Éclair studio was very new, and had to hire actors from the stage or with little acting experience at this time, and it shows. There are a lot of overly broad gestures and jerky movements, especially among the supporting players. Others have noticed the oddly oversized hats that the male characters wear, though this didn’t bother me as much.

Director: Étienne Arnaud, possibly with Herbert Blaché

Camera: Unknown

Cast: Robert Frazer, Barbara Tennant, Lamar Johnstone, Alec B. Francis, Arthur Hollingsworth

Run Time: 31 Min

This movie is not available on the Internet at this time.