Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: 1914

Fatty and Minnie-He-Haw (1914)

This two-reel comedy from Keystone shows Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle as he was still honing his craft, though he tries out some gags that would be put to better use in later movies. True to the Keystone spirit, it is fast-paced and incoherent.

 

The movie begins similarly to the later movie “Out West,” with Fatty riding the roof of a train, only to be abandoned in the middle of a Western desert with no apparent resources. In this case, Slim Summerville comes along to kick him off the train, and unfortunately that’s his only appearance. Fatty spots Minnie-He-Haw (played by Minnie Devereaux), a Native American woman of about Fatty’s own girth. He decides to pretend to be dying of thirst to get her help, and she calls over some braves from a nearby camp to drag him home. Of course, since she’s now “saved his life,” she expects him to show his appreciation by marrying her. She takes him into her teepee and there’s a bit of funny business about the challenge of kissing when both have such large bellies. Then Minnie goes out to announce her betrothal to the tribe, and Fatty spots Minta Durfee having trouble with her horse nearby. He sneaks over to help her out and when Minnie finds out, the “green-eyed monster” takes over and she drags him back to a feast in their honor. Fatty eats a little and then either becomes ill or fakes it and makes another attempt at a getaway.

Minta rides into town up to the saloon and tells her father (Josef Swickard) about her adventures. He defends her from a funny drunk played by Harry McCoy, who does some good stunts, getting tossed around a bit. She then goes over to the corner to prepare dinner on a convenient stove. Fatty now arrives and also heads to the saloon and pushes McCoy down before spotting Minta and eating most of her dinner. McCoy tries to start another fight and gets shoved again, but now Swickland sees what’s going on and gets out his gun. At the same time, Minnie, also armed, shows up in town looking for Fatty. Swickard tells Fatty to keep away from Minta and shoots at his feet to make him dance, which is so amusing all the local cowhands join in. When he runs outside, Minnie is shooting at him also, so he runs back inside to further gunfire. After this has gone on awhile he runs out of town, winding up back at the Indian camp, where the Indians tie him to a stake and start a fire to punish him for his betrayal of Minnie. Minnie has a change of heart and frees him, but again he uses the opportunity to escape, and now the whole tribe mounts horses to pursue him. He evades them by crossing a skinny rope bridge that won’t hold the horses, but now they fire arrows at him. Several hit him in the behind and he runs off into the distance as the image irises in to indicate the end.

As we might expect from Keystone, the movie is short on plot and big on excesses, and your capacity to enjoy it depends on your comfort with Native American stereotypes and jokes at the expense of fat people. At least Minnie-He-Haw is a person with her own motivations, which is more than some Western dramas were managing at the time. Devereaux definitely fits right in to the madcap atmosphere at Keystone, even if she isn’t wearing bizarre facial hair, and plays her role with gusto. Arbuckle is also committed, even if we don’t get many of his famous stunts, and his run across the rope bridge looks genuinely hazardous. It was fun spotting various Keystone regulars in their Western garb, given a break from always playing cops. I sort of wanted Fatty and Minnie to end up together, but I suppose a mixed-race marriage would have been controversial in a comedy at the time.

Director: Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, Minnie Devereaux, Minta Durfee, Slim Summerville, Josef Swickard, Harry McCoy, Frank Hayes, Edward Dillon.

Run Time: 24 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

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Max and His Mother-in-Law (1914)

This short film stars Max Linder as an unfortunate husband who brings his mother-in-law along on his honeymoon, with the expected frustrations and pratfalls ensuing. It’s one of the longest (2 reels!) Linder films I’ve seen.

The movie begins just after the wedding, at home, with Max and the bride still in their wedding finery, and the new mother-in-law in tears. Each time Max tries to get his wife alone, the mother bursts in crying and clutching at her little girl. Finally, Max leads her out to the train station, apparently resolved to begin the honeymoon early, but the mother pulls her daughter off the train and Max is stuck alone, getting off at the next station and running all the way back to find them. After appearing to threaten his mother-in-law, he agrees to the three of them going together. They return, apparently the next day (Max and wife are now in appropriate travel garb) and board the train together, arriving at an alpine lodge and taking a horse-and-sleigh from the station to their destination. Because the mother-in-law is so large, Max has to sit in front, with the driver, instead of with his wife.

The next day is a series of follies, similar to “Max Learns to Skate,” except this time he’s perfectly capable of snow-bound sport, but the mother-in-law is a consistent foil. First, when they go skating, Max’s skating lesson to his wife is interrupted because the mother-in-law doesn’t dare to move at all. When he tries to help, she falls over repeatedly, bringing max down with her and injuring him so he skates badly. Then, they try sleds, but Max’s wife insists that he ride with her mother and take care of her, but she keeps screaming and throwing her arms around him so he can’t see or steer. Finally, she is dumped off the sled and rides to the end on her bottom. Then, they try skiing, and once the mother-in-law has hers on, Max gives her a shove and off she goes, soon with Max and wife in pursuit (on foot). When they find her, she’s upside-down in a snowdrift. They pull her out and try to get her on to a train back to the lodge, but she still has one ski on and can’t mount the train. Max has the bright idea of putting her on a horse and tying the horse to the back of the train, but by the time they get to the lodge, the horse has freed itself and mother-in-law is dangling from a watering tower. Max helps her down and seems finally ready to lose his temper completely, but there is an unexpected reconciliation and all three hug one another.

This movie is pretty typical in terms of structure, but what makes it stand out is that Max Linder was not at the center of the physical comedy. I’ve never before seen Pâquerette, the comedienne that played the mother-in-law, but I have to say I was impressed with her frequent stage falls and deliberate clumsiness, all the more difficult to pull off because she was a large woman. Especially on the ice, she shows adequate control to make it look as if it is impossible for her to stay standing, and yet she consistently falls on cue. Max adds to the humor with his often over-the-top responses to her, and then having to suddenly change emotional registers immediately to placate his wife. Most of this is, as usual, handled in long shot more with gestures than facial expressions. The movie was apparently shot on location in Switzerland, so would have represented a bigger expense than usual for a Pathé comedy, which may explain its length as well: Having committed so much to the picture, they wanted a product that would justify the expense.

Director: Max Linder

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Max Linder, Pâquerette

Run Time: 24 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

Max and the Lady Doctor (1914)

This short from Max Linder presents his typical character with an unexpected gender reversal, far from typical in the early twentieth century. Looked at today, Max’s responses to the situation make us think about what the average woman endured at a time when all professionals were (perceived to be) men.

We see Max in a stairwell, with a letter he has written to an attractive neighbor, requesting a rendezvous. She ignores him as she walks by, but then he has a bright idea to get in legitimately – he will ask for an appointment. He preens himself a bit before ringing the bell, as usual showing the audience his anticipation of pleasure-to-come with gestures and expressions. Max walks into a nicely-appointed apartment and is greeted by a servant, who for some reason does not take his hat and coat, but merely directs him to wait. After a moment, the woman emerges from another room and invites him in. This room also looks like the typical Linder interior set, except that there is a tray, evidently with some medical implements in the center of the room. Max takes some time figuring out where he wants to stash his hat and coat, and eventually sits down to explain his ailment to the woman, who asks him to stand up again. She tries touching him in a couple of places, each time Max gestures negatively – no, that’s not where it hurts. Eventually, she tries touching him in the stomach, around where the kidneys are, but this makes him flinch. At first I thought he was in pain, but as she tries a couple more times, it becomes obvious that he’s ticklish there. Eventually, by closing his eyes, he is able to endure her touch. She writes him a prescription and he leaves.

In the next scene, Max comes rushing back into the doctor’s office. He gets down on his knee and produces a ring. She looks thrilled, and accepts it. In the next scenes, the doctor wears a bridal gown. She very chastely accepts a kiss, but will not let him remove her veil. The servant now rushes in with a note telling her of an urgent case and she runs out, still in her bridal gown and veil. We see a scene in which she assists a woman with giving a man a foot-bath. Then she returns to Max, who manages to get her veil off before the next emergency is announced. Each time, Max shows his rage at these interruptions. This time, she is called on a poisoning case, and apparently wants to induce vomiting (we see a basin, but nothing truly vulgar happens on screen). This time, when she returns and the servant walks in, Max chases him out, tossing a pillow after him. He and the lady doctor laugh.

Next, we see the waiting room, which is filled with men. The doctor comes out to call in the next patient, and we see him showing her how bad his cough is. Now Max comes in to the waiting room carrying a baby, and looks around suspiciously. He looks into the office and sees his wife encircling the man’s chest with her arms (not really an embrace – sort of like a Heimlich Manuever, but with her ear against his back). He puts down the baby and flies into a rage, running into the room and ejecting the man, then proceeding to bully and abuse all the other men into leaving. The final shot shows Max and the doctor in their bedroom, the doctor is rocking the baby, and Max contendedly smokes a cigarette.

This is a rather odd story – ultimately what I’d call “a long walk for a short laugh.” Max evidently goes to the lady doctor in the first place as a form of courtship, and is punished at the end by the fact that other men are doing the same. His resolution is to deprive her of her career and turn her into a housewife. Ultimately the movie appears to condone sexism, but it certainly also highlights it in a number of ways. When it shows Max’s discomfort with partial disrobing and being touched by the lady doctor, it calls our attention to the fact that women going to the doctor at this time had to accept the touch and gaze of a man in order to get treated. Since Max is able to overcome his ticklishness by closing his eyes, it appears that he might not have so much difficulty with a male doctor, and that also raises questions about how we respond to gender. And, to begin with, Max is not really treating her as a professional, but rather as an object of desire, highlighting the harassment that working women receive and the difficulty they have being accepted in positions of authority, no matter their qualifications. I wouldn’t call this Linder’s funniest film, but it’s an interesting one nonetheless.

Director: Max Linder

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Max Linder, Lucy d’Orbel

Run Time: 12 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

Hearts and Diamonds (1914)

This short “Bunnyfinch” from Vitagraph packs quite a lot into its half-hour run time: comedy deception, mistaken identity, generational conflict, and, oh yes, baseball, are all represented. Stars John Bunny and Flora Finch were at the height of their fame at the time: probably better-known than that Chaplin fellow still making one-reelers over at Keystone.

The movie begins with Bunny, as “Widower Tupper,” learning that a wealthy widow (Finch) will be coming to town and devising a plan to woo her. First, he has to kick out his own young daughters (Ethel Lloyd and Ethel Corcoran), since for some reason he thinks he’ll do better if he pretends to be single. However, on arriving home, he finds them entertaining a group of “young bloods” (college boys with various musical instruments), so he rages at the boys and throws them out, breaking various objects in the process. Then he makes the girls pack and takes them over to the very deaf Uncle William (William Shea). Once he manages to make William understand the situation, William’s butler shows them to their rooms. Read the rest of this entry »

His Prehistoric Past (1914)

This early Charlie Chaplin film came at the end of his short tenure at Keystone Studios, and may by the most “mature” of the movies he made for the company. This post is a part of the Time Travel Blogathon, hosted by Silver Screenings and Wide Screen World. Check out the other entries here. I hope everyone was able to safely “time travel” back from Daylight Saving Time!

We see Chaplin in his familiar “Little Tramp” getup, trying to get comfortable for a nap on a park bench. There’s a funny bit of business where he tries to straighten it our despite a broken board. Soon, he’s a asleep, and the real movie begins in the “prehistoric” era. A group of cavemen and -women surrounds the “Kink,” a chieftan-type played by Mack Swain. Another caveman does a rather swishy effeminate dance, which put an odd spin on the “Kink” intertitle for me, but probably wouldn’t have for most audiences in 1914.  We now see Chaplin in a funny variation of his outfit: he still has the hat and cane, but now his traditional too-tight jacket and baggy pants have been replaced by a frayed bearskin. He has a pipe, and fills it with tobacco, then tries striking several rocks against his leg, as if they were matches. One finally lights, and he smokes the pipe. He spots an attractive young cavewoman (I believe this is Gene Marsh), who is fetching water for the “Kink” and goes to speak with her. He does some funny business with the tail of his bearskin. The “Kink” gets tired of waiting and sends the swishy caveman off to find the water girl. He sees Chaplin and fires an arrow into his bottom. Once the cavegirl gets it out, Charlie throws a large rock at the attacker, which misses him and flies over to hit the “Kink.” The caveman chases Charlie around a boulder with a pointed stick, and the “Kink” comes over to investigate, and winds up getting stuck in the bottom by the other caveman, who is clubbed by Charlie in turn.

The “Kink” is now convinced that Charlie is his friend, and he takes him back to the tribe, where everyone bows down. Charlie keeps hitting the “Kink” accidentally (or not) with his club, but manages to smooth it over or blame someone else each time. Charlie is invited in to the “Kink’s cave for a drink, but winds up spilling a lot of it when he tries to shake it like a martini inside two hollow rocks. He throws the rest of it into the face of a servant (Al St. John). The he goes out to meet the girls of the tribe. Of course, the one he met first is the only one he really wants, but he seems to enjoy the attention. Another caveman walks up and distracts them for a while, but Charlie clubs him and takes his girl over to some rocks by the seaside. When the “Kink” comes out, he sees Charlie frolicking in the waves with the girl (who seems quite close to having a wardrobe malfunction in her furs). The “Kink” finally becomes possessive and pulls her away from Charlie. He smooths things over with the “Kink” again and they have more drinks. The whole tribe starts up a dance (several girls dancing with girls here), and Charlie asks his girl to dance. They do a rather wild jitterbug-style dance, while the others look on. The “Kink” catches sight of this and challenges Charlie to prove himself as a hunter. He gives Charlie a bow and arrows, and they go out to the forest. Charlie targets a bird in a tree, but ends up hitting the nest, raining eggs down on the  “Kink” and himself. Charlie finds the girl by a cliff’s edge an starts taking to her, and when the “Kink” comes to object, he trips him over the ledge. The “Kink” falls a long way but seems fine. Charlie returns to the tribe and announces that he is the new “Kink.” Everyone bows down, but the caveman from the first dance finally gets up and helps the “Kink” climb back up the cliff. The “Kink” picks up a large rock and sneaks up behind Charlie, breaking it into fragments over his head. Suddenly we cut back to Charlie on the park bench. A police officer is smacking him with his billy club, telling the Little Tramp that it’s time to move on. The movie seems to set up an opportunity for Charlie to get the upper hand, but on current prints it cuts off before the final gag.

1918 poster that used stills from the movie.

In terms of time travel, this falls very clearly into the “dream sequence” category: the dream is clearly set up by a framing story at the beginning and the end, and the audience is never asked to accept that Charlie has actually traveled back to the Pleistocene era. Still, the majority of the movie takes place in the imagined past, and makes fun of various caveman tropes that audiences today will still recognize. Especially when Charlie deliberately plays with anachronisms like the match-rock, it reminds me of the Flintstones. Charlie has packed an awful lot of gags into this one piece, as evidenced by the length of the summary, above. I think his ambitions were probably straining the budgets, production schedules, and abilities of Keystone to keep up with, at this point, but the result stands out as a pretty impressive comedy.

Apart from time, this movie made me think a lot about space, and how it was handled in the Keystone universe. There are a limited number of locations: the tribal campground, the cave, the forest, the watering hole, the cliff, and the seaside. Each of these is a discrete unit defined by a single camera frame. The camera can zoom in on people and objects within the set, but it never moves to show us different parts of the area, or how they are related to one another. We know that all of these “sets” are near each other, because sometimes someone in one set can see what is happening in another, or even throws a rock or arrow from one to the next (or through it into another one), but when characters exit one area, they are invisible until they enter the next. In this sense, it reminds me of a classic “Interactive Fiction” computer game, like Zork, that was made up of various “rooms” the player could visit that interlocked in sometimes illogical geographies. Younger readers who’ve never experienced this might get some insight from the “Digital Antiquarian” blog, although you really need to play one of these games for yourself to understand. Anyway, this model is descriptive of a lot of Keystone’s output, and even some of the work Chaplin did at Essanay. It’s a style of filmmaking that links the early theatrical “proscenium” frames to the freer, more mobile camera of the late silent period, and I haven’t seen a lot of discussion about it, but it fascinates me.

Director: Charlie Chaplin

Camera: Frank D. Williams

Starring: Charlie Chaplin, Mack Swain, Gene Marsh, Al St. John, Fritz Schade, Cecile Arnold, Sydney Chaplin, Helen Carruthers

Run Time: 21 Min

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

The Lion, the Lamb, the Man (1914)

This short film stars Lon Chaney early in his career, and even shows of a little of his talents with makeup, for which he would later become famous. I was able to attend a rare screening at Cinecon, and so can now review the film, long thought lost and rediscovered in 2008. Note, as always in these cases, that the plot summary is based on my memory of a single viewing, and may be flawed.

Image courtesy Jon Mirsalis at http://www.lonchaney.org/filmography/37.html

The movie is a metaphorical statement on human relationships, using cavemen to represent the instinctive drives. It opens by showing a classic love-triangle in caveman form. Lon Chaney is “The Lion,” a brute who shoos off “the Lamb” (Gus Inglis) and claims “the Woman” (Pauline Bush) by brute force. Now, a new character, named “the Fox” (Millard K. Wilson) sneaks through the bushes and fires an arrow from a bow, killing the Lion, and claiming the woman for himself. This is followed by a transition to modern times.

It begins by establishing Chaney once again as the Lion, showing him in a brawl with another man, winning by brute force. At the riverside, we see a sequence in which the modern Lion takes the Woman away from the Lamb through force and the Fox attempts to defeat the Lion through ingenuity (this time setting a trap by attaching a string to a rifle). During this, there are superimposed images of the cavemen characters to drive home the point. When the Lion fails to trip the trap, the Fox runs away with the Lion in pursuit, leaving the Woman (who seems rather relieved) to her own devices. She takes off her stockings and begins to wade into the water, but accidentally drops one. She tries to reach it before it floats away, and winds up falling into the river herself. Now we see the Man (William C. Dowlan), who is fishing downstream. He feels a tug at his line and reels it in, discovering the stocking. Now the Woman appears behind the rock he is sitting on, and she tries to stealthily swipe the stocking, but the Man sees her. They playfully flirt and leave together.

The final sequence shows the outcome of the various paths. The Lamb, now an elderly minister, sits among a group of spinsters sipping tea. The Fox and the Lion are together, living in poverty with a very ugly Indian woman (with a mustache) as their mutual companion. The Man and the Woman live in middle-class wedded bliss, their child running about happily as another minister comes over to visit.

Lon Chaney, sans makeup, in 1919.

This was a pretty basic little movie, rather simple for 1914, but interesting in terms of effects and the ambition of the storytelling. Essentially, it appears to argue that where brute strength and cunning were enough in the struggle for survival in “nature,” civilization benefits the person capable of empathy and understanding. It seems to me that this case would have been stronger if the Man had jumped in to save the Woman from drowning, especially if it was made clear that none of the other characters would risk their lives for her, but possibly this was beyond the capacity (or budget) of the filmmakers, or maybe I’m reading it wrong somehow. Chaney is impressive in his makeup (the woman presenting the next film commented “Wow, who knew Lon Chaney was so buff?”), and I wouldn’t be surprised if he also made up the other actors in their caveman and aged appearances (and maybe drew the mustache on the Indian). The use of multiple exposures to remind the audience of the caveman metaphor is typical of the period, but works well.

Very little of Chaney’s work from the 1910s survives today, which is one reason we’ve only seen him once before on this blog, even though he was working from at least 1914 on and made over 100 films before 1920. Most of these movies are lost, and this one was thought lost until recently, when it was discovered in the UK and sent to the Museum of Modern Art for duplication, and it was their print that I was able to see at Cinecon, apparently in the first audience to view the film for over 100 years. This is largely to the credit of Jon Mirsalis, who many of us know as an accompanist to silent movies and is also a collector and preservationist in his own right. I hope that the day will come when everyone can see it, along with the rest of our public domain film heritage, freely and easily from home.

Director: Joseph De Grasse

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Lon Chaney, Pauline Bush, Millard K. Wilson, William C. Dowlan, Gus Inglis

Run Time: 25 Min

This movie is not yet available on the Internet.

The Spoilers (1914)

This is another movie I saw at the Cinecon Film Festival in Hollywood. They did us the special favor of showing both this and the 1930 version with Gary Cooper. I took notes to keep them straight, but Coop’s voice was still in my head whenever I read William Farnum’s subtitles.

spoilers_1914_film-posterThe story of “The Spoilers” is the now-hackneyed Western theme of the man-who-lays-down-his-guns-for-the-love-of-a-woman story, which maybe was fresher in 1914. The major twist is that instead of being set in the Southwest in the nineteenth century, it’s in Alaska during the 1898 Gold Rush, which makes it much more topical for an audience who had read about it in the papers just a few years earlier. This version starts with our hero, Roy Glenister (Farnum) breaking up with his girl Cherry Malotte (played by Kathlyn Williams), the classic prostitute-with-a-heart-of-gold – actually she deals cards for a living, but close enough. We then see the “plot to spoil Alaska” being planned in Washington, D.C. by Alex McNamara (Thomas Santschi) as various folks sign documents and shake hands beneath portraits of Abraham Lincoln and George Washington. In connection with the plot, Judge Stillman sends his niece Helen Chester (Bessie Eyton) to Nome with important documents. She meets up with Glenister while trying to escape from the S.S. Ohio, which has been condemned for smallpox. Glenister and his buddy Dextry (Frank Clark) beat up the pursuing sailors so she can climb aboard the Santa Maria. They hide her out in their cabin while they sleep outside, and it’s clear that Helen and Glenister are sweet on each other, but she disapproves of his wild, rough-house ways. Read the rest of this entry »

The False Magistrate (1914)

Fantomas_1916A master criminal is helped to escape from prison by the very man who has been hunting him down and then uses his powers of disguise to become a respectable representative of law and order while his foe languishes behind bars. This final installment in the famed serial by Louis Feuillade is an exercise in reversals, deception, and brilliantly tortured logic.

At the beginning of the movie, Fantômas is incarcerated in a Belgian prison at Louvain, but that doesn’t stop his gang from robbing a Marquis who tries to sell his wife’s jewels. The gang gets away with the jewels and the proposed payment, an amount totaling 500,000 francs. Juve is convinced that Fantômas will remain a menace until he is caught by the French police and executed for his crimes, so he hatches a plan to help Fantômas escape! He visits Belgium in the guise of an Austrian inspector of prisons and smuggles in a prison guard’s uniform for him to wear, then takes his place while Fantômas lets himself out of the prison. Read the rest of this entry »

Broncho Billy and the Greaser (1914)

This is probably one of the most “typical” Western shorts I’ve seen from Gilbert M. “Broncho Billy” Anderson, in the sense that it could most effortlessly be substituted for the kind of kids’ Western fare of later eras of movies and television.

Broncho Billy and the GreaserBroncho Billy delivers mail by horseback, and when he rides into town he quickly greets Marguerite Clayton, apparently the only single young lady for miles around, before going into the General Store that serves as a local post office. The postmaster there is dealing with the impatience of locals who seem to have little to do but hang around the store asking him when the mail’s coming in, but he’s happy to fill Marguerite’s jug while they wait. Meanwhile, a local “half-breed,” played by Lee Willard, has been making better (or worse) use of his time at the local saloon. He saunters in just after Billy delivers the mail, blustering his way to the head of the line by displaying his six-shooter. Billy, made aware of the situation by the post master, corrects the situation by drawing his gun and escorting the bad guy out of the store. Once she has her mail, Marguerite shows her appreciation with a chaste handshake that makes both of them ride their horses backwards. The villain, of course, observes all of this with glares.

Broncho Billy and the Greaser1Lee now gives us a performance, showing off how enraged he is, riding back to his shack and drinking from a flask, snarling at the camera. He watches as Billy rides past his shack and picks up a knife, showing us what is in his mind with slashing gestures, then gets on his horse and follows. Billy stops on the road to help a man who seems to be suffering from thirst and exhaustion, stumbling down the road and trying to drink from a stream. Lee goes into a bar to get more liquor, but is treated with suspicion by the proprietor, who demands money up front. This only raises his ire, and now he pursues Billy (and his invalid discovery) back to his shack, where Billy has put the man to bed and started a pot of coffee, before taking off his own bracers and laying down for a snooze. Lee peeks into the window and sees Billy asleep, but at this moment Marguerite rides up and sees what is afoot, hastily jumping on her horse for help after the devious Mexican enters Billy’s shack without knocking. Billy fights, but Lee is able to tie him up. So, Marguerite makes her way to the Lazy X ranch, where a dance is taking place, and calls on the men to help. The invalid tries to do something, but barely manages to fall out of bed. The men from the ranch ride to the rescue while Billy struggles to keep the knife away. Once there, they grab the bad guy and drag him away, barely pausing long enough to untie Billy, who now returns to helping the old man. Marguerite comes in and makes sure Billy is OK, before they again shake hands shyly.

Broncho Billy and the Greaser2The obvious thing to comment about in this film is the racist portrayal of a “half-breed” or “greaser” villain. There are no surprises here, and certainly no subversion of American racial hierarchies, but it’s interesting to note two things: First, much of the story is told from Lee’s point of view, and he may actually get more screen time than Billy. Second, for all of the villain’s apparent evil intentions, he in no way menaces the white virginal woman, as played by Marguerite Clayton. One could argue that this threat is implicit, inasmuch as Billy’s closeness to the girl seems to be what sets him off, but it is Billy that he acts out against. Even there, he’s decent enough (or drunk enough) to wake Billy up and tie him rather than simply slitting his throat while he sleeps – although really this is a contrivance to give the girl a chance to go for help. It’s also noteworthy that Billy’s sole “heroic” act against him is to point a gun at him in the general store. If the other (white) townspeople had not come to his rescue, Billy would not have had the strength to defeat his foe alone. Billy is a gentleman toward the girl, and tries to help a wounded man, so we know he’s “good,” but he doesn’t manage to save the day.

Broncho Billy and the Greaser3One more thing I’ve been meaning to comment on is an odd bit of fashion that I mentioned briefly above – the bracers or wrist guards that all of the cowboys wear in these early Westerns. It’s universal in Essanay films, and common from what I recall in Ince pictures and in the few early Westerns of Douglas Fairbanks that I’ve seen. But, if you look at a later Western (I watched “Once Upon a Time in the West” the other night, and kept an eye out, for example), they have been abandoned. Wikipedia only lists these items as protectors for archers, but I can imagine cowboys using them to avoid chafing their wrists with rope or reins. To me, it kind of gives these early cowboy actors a Heavy Metal look (although theirs aren’t studded or spiked), and it feels somewhat more authentic than later movie fashion, but I’m no expert here.

Director: Gilbert M. “Broncho Billy” Anderson

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Gilbert M. “Broncho Billy” Anderson, Marguerite Clayton, Lee Willard, Carl Stockdale

Run Time: 15 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

Adventure of the Wrong Santa Claus (1914)

This is a somewhat sophisticated Edison short release, timed to coincide with the story’s appearance in the December issue of “Pictorial Review.” It appears to be part of a series of movies starring “Octavius, Amateur Detective,” a sort of spoiled American Sherlock Holmes.

Wrong Santa Claus1At the beginning, Octavius (Barry O’Moore) is taking tea when his butler arrives with an invitation to attend a party and play Santa Claus for the children. The butler seems quite concerned about Octavius’s reaction, and looks relieved when his master laughs. Octavius goes to a store and buys a Santa Claus suit, although when he arrives, the wife tells him they already have one. After hanging around for a while, meeting the children and a pretty young woman who was also invited to the party, Octavius goes upstairs to change. Meanwhile, a burglar has entered the home and scouted it out a bit. He changes into the spare Santa Claus suit and knocks Octavius out. He goes downstairs, is seen by the wife and is able to steal all the presents (apparently they look like the most expensive things in the house, even though they’re wrapped and he has no idea what they are). Then he leaves the house, just as Octavius wakes up.

Wrong Santa ClausOctavius finds the wife and the looted Christmas tree, and quickly figures out what happened. Undeterred by the fact that he is wearing a Santa suit, Octavius begins the chase! He tracks the thief to a train station, just barely managing to board the train before it pulls away. He confronts the other Santa, but is deterred by the conductor. Then, when they reach the next station, the thief gets off, and Octavius tries telling his story to a police officer. The other Santa shows him a name written on a package, and presumably convinces the cop it’s his name. Octavius follows the burglar until he goes into a store and puts his basket down while shopping. Octavius grabs the basket and runs back to the cop. The cop, who had prevented one Santa Claus from taking a basket away from another once before, assumes that the two Santas are in the same roles again, and arrests the man trying to take the basket away from Octavius. Octavius rides the train back to the previous town, and brings the basket of toys just like a real Santa Claus, distributing toys to the family’s children. Then there’s an extended ending in which Octavius and the pretty young woman try to get away from the kids to smooch. Ultimately, Octavius has to give them hush money.

Wrong Santa Claus2I haven’t seen any other Octavius, Amateur Detective films, but I wasn’t too taken with the character here. He does manage to recover the stolen goods, but more through doggedness and deception than through brilliant deduction and insights. He comes across as sort of a doof, if not an idiot. His success seems to rely on an opponent dumb enough to rob a house while people are home and wear a highly-visible getup in his escape. I was somewhat impressed by the editing, which made good use of cross-cutting, especially during the initial break-in sequence and the chase. The camera was set quite close to the actors as well, not just cutting off feet but entire legs and sometimes the tops of heads. This seemed especially unusual for the conservative Edison Studios, where we expect entire bodies to be shown. On the whole, it’s a technically proficient, but narratively lightweight Christmas piece.

Wrong Santa Claus3Director: Charles M. Seay

Camera: Unknown

Cast: Barry O’Moore, Julian Reed, John Sturgeon

Run Time: 15 Min

You can watch it for free: here.