Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: 1915

Toil and Tyranny (1915)

This short movie was released by Pathé as episode twelve of their series “Who Pays?” but I saw it alone and am reviewing it as a single film. The series was not linked by characters or situation, but thematically by examining problems of the time, and this one takes on the highly topical subject of labor disputes in the timber industry.

The movie begins by introducing its actors through “living credits” – each actor is depicted on a stage in costume, standing beneath a big question mark. I suspect that the question mark was a part of the “Who Pays?” branding, but unlike other credits of this nature, the actors just look out at the audience and bow, rather than depicting their characters in any way. The action begins by showing us David Powers, the “Lumber King” (Daniel Gilfether) at work in his office. He calls in his foreman, Jake Snyder, who is described as a “petty tyrant” and tells him that the unpredictable price of lumber requires that he get his shipment off as quickly as possible. “Don’t spare your men,” he advises. One of those men is Karl Hurd (Henry King), who “has known nothing but toil his whole life.” He makes the mistake of sitting down to rest soon after the conference between his bosses, and Jake decides to make an example of him. Karl fights back, however, and the fight escalates until Jake hits him on the head with a 2-by-4. The fight is observed by Powers, and by Perry Travis (Edward J. Brady), his “ruthless legal adviser,” who comments that violence is the only language the workers understand. Karl’s fellow workers carry him home, where a sickly-looking wife does piecework to help make ends meet, and a little girl plays with a single doll. A doctor makes a house call to inform Karl and his wife that he will need “several weeks” of bedrest before he can work again. The doctor refuses to accept payment from the poor family.

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Wanted: A Nurse (1915)

This short comedy from the team of Mr. & Mrs. Sidney Drew plays on stereotypes about nurses – but also pokes fun at the men who promote those stereotypes. While it’s not an especially sophisticated example of situational comedy, it does once again demonstrate that slapstick wasn’t the only option available to the silent comedian.

Sidney plays J. Robert Orr, a seemingly idle rich “club man” who spends his evenings in card games. One day, while walking down the street, he witnesses man having a medical emergency, which is attended to by a pretty young nurse, Helen Worth (Mrs. Drew). They exchange glances, but soon the ambulance arrives and she is whisked away. Orr is so obsessed with her that the four queens in his hand turn into images of the nurse. He fixes himself a drink and comes up with a plan, suddenly throwing himself across the table, convincing his friends that he needs medical attention. He is taken to the hospital, but when the doctor comes in to examine him, he cries, “I don’t want a doctor, I want a NURSE!” However, Helen is out of the hospital right now, attending a serious case. So, several other nurses are sent in, one at a time. Each of them is ugly, fat, old, or mannish, and he is increasingly agitated. Finally, he dresses as  a nurse to escape via the fire escape, and returns to the club. His friends now think he has gone nuts, so they take him to another doctor, who pronounces that he has “nurse-itis.” He goes to get Helen to help attend the case, and Orr hides beneath the covers, terrified of what he may see. When he sees it is her, he softens and smiles. A quick edit covers his recuperation, and he proposes to the girl, who gladly accepts. The end.

The fact that the stars really were married may have helped soften the blow of this premise of this movie, which essentially involves a man stalking a girl he saw once and ignoring the professional qualifications of her and her colleagues, seeing them only as “ugly” or “pretty.” For modern viewers, however, it doesn’t help that Sidney is a good 20 years older than his wife (whose name I always think of as “Nancy,” for obvious reasons, but it was really “Lucille”). He does a pretty good freak out over the disappointment, and one does laugh a bit at his antics, but as I said, it’s not terribly witty. The movie also cross-cuts between his torment and Helen’s actual work, but this serves no obvious purpose, except to remind the audience of the real object of his quest. Certainly not the worst movie of 1915, but not the best, either.

Director: Sidney Drew

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Sidney Drew, Lucille Drew, Ethel Lee, Mary Maurice

Run Time: 12 Min

I have not found the whole move for free on the Internet. You can watch a short clip of it: here.

The Hazards of Helen, episode 13 (1915)

Alternate (episode) Title: Escape on the Fast Freight

This episode of what the long-running movie serial displays Helen Holmes at the height of her powers as “Helen,” a plucky telegrapher who winds up saving the day – again. If reports are accurate, she was also an uncredited director, making this an even more important piece of the history of women in film.

This movie begins with Helen at work. She receives and decodes a message, then gets up and pulls a switch that brings a locomotive to a halt in the station outside. As she accepts a large strongbox of money from the conductor, two shifty-looking tramps look on. They are thrown off the train by a man with a badge, who then comes over and assists Helen with the cart carrying the money box. They get it into her office, but neglect to bring the receipt, which the tramps find, learning that there’s $1500 in the office. Helen and the sheriff are unable to get the large box into her safe, so they leave it on the floor. As soon as the sheriff leaves, the tramps rush in with a gun. A rather complex cross-cut sequence begins with the sheriff outside, the tramps in the office, and Helen inside of a closet, where the tramps have shoved her after securing the room. They find the key and open the box, but Helen starts shouting for help. The sheriff doesn’t hear, but he does hear the gunshot that the tramps respond with. Helen, we see, has ducked just in time. Whew!

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Broncho Billy’s Sentence (1915)

This short movie is supposed to reflect a more “mature” stage in Gilbert M. “Broncho Billy” Anderson’s career. At only a single reel, it doesn’t really manage the complexity Anderson probably hoped for, but it does give him a chance to display a range of emotional states and motivations, making it well ahead of “Broncho Billy and the Greaser,” for example.

Broncho Billys SentenceThe story begins with Billy on the run, apparently having stolen a cash box from a stagecoach, whose drivers are raising a posse to search for him. He picks out a few large bills from the cash box and leaves the rest, making his way through the forest until he finds the home of Virginia True Boardman and her father, Ernest Van Pelt, while the posse rides like mad through the countryside. We see the posse interrogate the local preacher and his wife, who haven’t seen Billy but offer them sandwiches. Billy busts in on Virginia and Ernest, holding them at bay with his gun when pappy makes a move for a club, and demanding bread. The posse now knocks at their door, sandwiches in hand, and Billy makes it clear what will happen to father if Virginia isn’t quiet. She tells the posse “he went thataway” and they rush off. Billy thanks her with a kiss that she doesn’t want, then runs out into the night. She follows with a rifle and manages to wing him in the head. The gunshot seems to attract no one’s attention, but Billy finds a place to hide his spoils and jumps into the preacher’s church.

Broncho Billys Sentence1In this second act, as it were, Billy is cared for by the preacher and his wife, who have no idea who he is, but see that he has been hurt. Such kindness obviously affects the desperado, and he listens attentively when the preacher’s wife reads the Bible to him. Still in hiding, he listens in on the preacher’s sermon and appears to realize that the words are spoken to him as much as any man there. He writes a note to his benefactors and goes to retrieve his booty and turn himself in to face his punishment. He does stop just long enough to take a dog-eared copy of the Bible from the old couple’s house. Now he goes to the sheriff, who is obviously surprised to see him, and nearly shoots first when Billy tries to surrender his gun. Billy just gives a kind of knowing smile, hands over the gun and the money, and is escorted to the cell, where he proceeds to start reading his Bible, from page 1. The final act begins with Billy in prison. All the the prisoners are marched into a small chapel, and Billy leads the service, still holding his Bible after many years. His service is intercut with the arrival of an important letter at the Warden’s office – obviously Billy’s release, although this is not confirmed until he has finished preaching and been escorted by a trustee to the office. Billy gives an emotional display when the Warden hands him the news, then we watch the men marched out of the chapel. Finally, Billy, now dressed in street clothes returns and asks to take his Bible with him to the new life he will make for himself. He shakes hands with the Warden and leaves.

Broncho Billys Sentence2Ultimately, there isn’t enough to this brief morality tale to justify regarding it as substantially more “realistic” or “mature” than other Broncho Billy movies I’ve seen, although it does go in a new direction, compared to those. It resembles “His Regeneration” in that it is about a bad man going straight, but instead of doing it for a lovely girl, he does it out of a newfound religious conviction that is actually somewhat more convincing. Billy seems to convey at first that he believes the world is a tough place where you can’t trust anyone, and he’ll take what he can get along the way. After he is shot, he realizes this philosophy leaves him no recourse when he needs help, and the surprise in his face when he receives it is obvious. He then shows the effort he is making to understand why anyone would help a wretch like him, and the new faith he finds through the Bible. Trying to do this with dialogue would simply fall flat – but in silence each viewer can find his or her own voice speaking of goodness and charity in whatever words are most convincing to them. We see Billy grow from bewilderment to realization, and then finally resolve as he decides to turn himself in. The final act simply shows him as a reformed man, although his breakdown when the Warden announces his release gives him a final emotional outlet. Because he is so clearly at the center of the story, none of the other actors manages to be anything more than background in the short time they are on screen, although at first Virginia shows a feistiness that seems to portend Hollywood-style romance. In a longer version of this, we might have seen her feelings about Billy grow and develop, as she watched him transform himself through faith. The movie is shot in a very typical, rigid, often cramped style, although the tight editing makes it a bit more visually interesting.

Broncho Billys Sentence3Director: Gilbert M. “Broncho Billy” Anderson

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Gilbert M. “Broncho Billy” Anderson, Virginia True Boardman, Ernest van Pelt, Carl Stockdale

Run Time: 12 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

Fatty’s Plucky Pup (1915)

This movie is one of the more “typical” Keystones that Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle made for the studio. He’s far less likeable in this movie, although in the end, Luke the Dog does show up to save his girlfriend.

Fattys Plucky PupFatty lives with his hard-working mother (Phyllis Allen), who begins this movie by waking him, seemingly long after her working day has begun. Fatty grouses at her and stays in bed, lighting a cigarette and immediately dozing off, starting a fire on the bedsheets. Fatty does wake up and realize the situation, but his response is to leisurely walk into the kitchen and get a small cup of water. When this doesn’t work, he seems to lose interest, and moves on to other things, like combing his hair. Then, his mother comes in and sees the fire, she rushes out to get a bucket and winds up dumping it on him, because he’s too stupid to move aside. Then, once the fire is out, he tries to take the clean laundry out the yard to hang, but instead dumps it in the mud. He becomes a tad more likeable in saving Luke the Dog from Al St. John, the dogcatcher. It’s not clear to me whether Luke and Fatty are supposed to have a prior relationship, or if this is where they meet in this narrative. He also has a cute scene with the girl next door (Josephine Stevens as “Lizzie”) where they talk through a hole in the fence.

Fattys Plucky Pup1In the second reel, Fatty, Lizzie, mom and Luke go to the amusement park, and Fatty encounters Edgar Kennedy running a shell game, with Joe Bordeaux as a shill. Fatty, being an idiot, is taken in by the oldest con in the world, but then retrieves his losses by pointing a fake gun at them. To exact revenge, they kidnap Lizzie with the help of the embittered dog catchers, and take her to an abandoned shack, where they tie her to a post with a gun attached to a timer pointed at her head. Plucky pup Luke follows the crooks, chasing the dogcatchers onto the roof of a shack, and is able to warn Fatty in time to perform the last-minute rescue, with the help of the Keystone Cops. In the closing shot Fatty, Lizzie and Luke embrace in a joint kiss (and lick).

Fattys Plucky Pup2It’s probably obvious that I find Arbuckle pretty unsympathetic in this movie, and maybe it was partly because I was pretty burnt out on his Keystone comedies by the time I got to it. He’s kind to dogs, and at least makes some effort to save his girlfriend, but otherwise in this movie he’s a lazy burden on his poor mother, and even a hazard to have around. The other contrivance here is the contraption the crooks set up in order to have Lizzie shot at 3:00 PM, which is basically a variant on the girl tied to the sawmill conveyor or to the train tracks. As usual, it’s done here for exaggerated comic effect, but even in that context, it’s a cliché by 1915. This was a one-reel idea stretched out to two reels, in my opinion.

Director: Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle

Camera: Unknown

Cast: Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, Josephine Stevens, Phyllis Allen, Joe Bordeaux, Edgar Kennedy

Run Time: 27 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

Mabel’s Wilful Way (1915)

This typical Keystone “park comedy” with Mabel Normand and Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle adds to its visual interest by including a variety of amusement park attractions, and uses many of the best players in a cast that never lets up on zaniness.

Mabels Willful WayIt begins with Mabel out with her parents, obviously not having a good time. She sits at a table in a large dining hall with music that she mimes to us is too loud. Her father (Glen Cavender) seems to enjoy it, but her mother (Alice Davenport) is enjoying onions for lunch, making the other two hold their noses. Mabel runs away from the table at the first opportunity. Meanwhile, Fatty and his friend Edgar Kennedy have shown up and are following any unattatched young woman until Joe Bordeaux, the cop, takes an interest in them. Fatty relives some of his routine with a water fountain as seen in “Fatty’s Chance Acquaintance” and then sprays Joe in the face. After they get away, they see Mabel trying to scam some sweets off a ice cream man (Bobby Dunn), and fight over the opportunity to be her savior. Fatty wins, then steals a large coin from the cash register to pay. He and Mabel feed most of their ice cream cones to a bear in the zoo (very bad behavior, nowadays), and Fatty even manages to feed it some peanuts from his mouth! Meanwhile, Edgar Kennedy has stumbled across a baseball throwing game, with a man in very obvious (and offensive) blackface as the target. He starts throwing balls with all his might when Glen wanders up, now on the hunt for his daughter. This turns into a chase, then a battle between the two men with their canes. Edgar runs off to the merry-go-round and the chase escalates and Glen tries to catch up to his fast-moving horse, but winds up getting kicked in the pants every time Edgar comes around. Edgar makes his escape by leaping off and leaving the old man pursuing the empty horse.

Mabels Willful Way1Fatty and Mabel are now enjoying a giant slide with mats. They are knocked down by, or knock down, several other riders, including our old friend Joe the cop. This leads to a fight in which Mabel leaves Fatty and runs to Edgar, resting on a bench. They go off to play another amusement park game, while Alice takes a rest at another nearby bench, putting her umbrella up against the sun. Fatty picks some flowers, and mistakes her for Mabel (this would have made a lot more sense if they had been wearing the same dress, but oh well) and tries to kiss her. She, outraged, leaps up and starts flailing with her umbrella. Now Mabel sees her father and tries to introduce him to Edgar, which predictably does not go well, after their fight, which now breaks out anew. Fatty dusts the old man off and sympathizes with him, earning a new “introduction” to his daughter, and of course Mabel’s mom walks up and recognizes him, leading to more violence. After Fatty is chased off, he and Edgar swear off women before being chased by Joe the cop, and Mabel’s parents turn her over for a spanking.

Mabels Wilful WayThis is another movie whose direction seems to be attributed to either Mabel, Mack, or Roscoe, depending on who you ask. My go-to authority, “The Silent Era” weighs in on Arbuckle’s side, and it’s probably right, but I do have a theory that might explain the confusion. Unlike a lot of the other “park comedies” from Keystone I’ve reviewed, this one obviously took place in a location away from the Sennett studios, and it may have been a spontaneous decision to grab some actors and cameras and go there, without even a script. In that situation, and with different actors performing in groups in different parts of the park, the duties might have been split, depending on who was available at the moment. The ending strikes me as something that was dreamed up on the spot, not a planned resolution. About that ending: I suppose that the spanking of a grown woman (Mabel would have been 22 at the time) is another example of “vulgarity” in early slapstick – certainly it would have its titillating side for some members of the audience. It’s still surprising enough to get a laugh out of me, although really all Mabel did wrong was to get bored hanging out with her parents.

Director: Mabel Normand or Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle/Mack Sennett

Camera: Unknown

Cast: Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle”, Mabel Normand, Edgar Kennedy, Alice Davenport, Glen Cavender, Joe Bordeaux, Al St. John.

Run Time: 13 Min

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

 

Charlie and the Indians (1915)

This animated cartoon was included in the same DVD collection that gave me “Charlie on the Windmill,” so the same caveats apply, except that in this case I’m not certain that the title wasn’t invented for the DVD release, which only makes it harder to research. We do get an almost-complete story this time, unfortunately with typically dehumanized cartoon Native Americans as the foes.

Charlie and the IndiansHere, the animated version of the “Little Tramp” rides into a Western town on the back of a horse. he stops in at the bar and orders a drink, but the liquid bounces from his glass into that of a grizzled fellow-patron. This fellow warns him that the locals don’t like strangers and points a gun at his feet. Charlie runs for it, leaping on his horse and riding from town. At the edge of town, he hears a mother weeping and stops to ask what is wrong. She tells him her beautiful daughter has been stolen by Indians, and Charlie offers to save her. He scouts the Indian village from a distance and loads his gun with some odd large substance. When he fires, a large square thing comes out and knocks three Indians over the cliff at once (no, I don’t get this either). Then, he is suddenly being pursued by a bear (this is where I think there’s missing footage) and climbs a tree to escape. The bear bites through the tree, felling it, but it lands bridge-like, spanning the chasm between two cliffs. Charlie faces the bear in the middle, using his cane and some fancy footwork to get to the other side. Now the bear chases him into a couple of tree trunks: the first is full of skunks, and the second turns into an unseen battle ground. The bear emerges, seemingly unhurt, but moves oddly, then takes off its head and reveals Charlie inside its skin. The Charlie-bear approaches a tree with a beehive and an Indian brave sees him and shoots the beehive, causing the bees to attack Charlie. Then he shoots an arrow into Charlie-bear’s butt. Charlie pulls it out and throws it back, hitting the Indian’s butt. Now another (female?) bear sees Charlie and pursues him. He hides in a cave and there is another unseen battle. Charlie runs out, back in his usual getup, and the bear looks out of the cave, holding the other bear’s boneless head like a mask. Charlie leaps on his horse and goes to the hills above the village, using his rope to lasso the bound and gagged woman in front of the fire. He then races back to the mother, who offers him his daughter’s hand in marriage. She removes the gag and reveals a silly-looking face, and Charlie spurs his horse and rides off into the distance.

Charlie and the Indians1With this much material to work from, it’s easy to see parallels, both with the later Felix the Cat cartoons that this team would create, and with the work of Winsor McCay, who influenced them both as well. The backgrounds tend to be undetailed, and white space fills much of the screen. I noticed less of Chaplin’s physical style in this than in “Windmill,” and a lot more of the imaginative whimsy of Felix cartoons. Although I didn’t understand how Charlie used his gun, it reminded me a lot of Felix’s magic bag. Inanimate objects will do impossible things, and animals seem to be at least as smart as the people. Unfortunate (but unsurprising) was the depiction of the Native American kidnappers. All of them seem to be identical mohawked warriors, and they show little personality (except for the mischievous one that aggravates the bees) or motivation.

Director: Otto Messmer, Pat Sullivan

Run Time: 10 Min

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

Charlie on the Windmill (1915)

This early cartoon, apparently by the team that created Felix the Cat, shows Charlie Chaplin as the established international figure he is now known as. But is it really from 1915? The evidence is unclear.

Charlie on the WindmillThis is just a fragment of less than two minutes of film. What we see, mostly, is a very large windmill going around and around with a tiny figure clinging to one of the sails. When it stops, with him at the top, a fat man on the ground blows a big wind and makes it turn around a couple more times. Then it stops again, and we get a close enough shot to see the cartoon version of Charlie’s “Little Tramp.” He gives his signature shrug, and several other familiar body movements, while the fat man, now joined by a woman, throws bricks at him! All of them miss, but when the man throws a bicycle, it knocks Charlie off. That’s all we have. Read the rest of this entry »

When Love Took Wings (1915)

This one-reel comedy from Keystone is basically a riff on the classic “elopement” plotline of “Leading Lizzie Astray” and especially “Fatty and Mabel’s Simple Life,” but with the addition of an escape by airplane to add to the excitement. Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle directed and stars in this tribute to chaos and high-speed vehicle chases.

WhenLoveTookWings1915-01The story begins in a kitchen, with Minta Durfee and Joe Bordeaux working together and Joe occasionally hitting her father (Frank Hayes) by accident. Minta has an odd Mary Pickford-like wig on that doesn’t quite seem to fit. Finally, Joe works up the courage to ask for her hand in marriage. Read the rest of this entry »

Wished on Mabel (1915)

This Keystone comedy stars Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle along with frequent co-star Mabel Normand and returns to the typical theme of the “park” comedy the so frequently did. In this case, the movie is shot in San Francisco, seemingly in Golden Gate Park near the Conservatory of Flowers, and at least gives us some different backgrounds from the many comedies they performed in LA.

Wished On Mabel 1915As the movie opens, Mabel is in the park with her mother, Alice Davenport, and the two of them stop to look at a fountain. Mabel’s mother wants to read her magazine, and Mabel spots Fatty, her sweetheart, standing nearby. She invites him over to meet mother, who positions herself between them until Fatty uses his bulk to shove her over. They shyly attempt to kiss, but mother keeps looking at them and stopping them, and ultimately they decide to go for a walk while mother reads. The action switches to a man (Joe Bordeaux) sleeping on a park bench and a large cop (Edgar Kennedy) who walks up and rousts him. After the snoozer has departed, Kennedy lies down for a nap himself. Joe spots Alice alone and sits down next to her, pretending to have found something interesting in the paper. While she’s distracted by the paper, Joe snips the ribbon holding on to her watch, and steals it. He runs off and into a plainclothes policeman (Glen Cavender), who checks to see if his own watch has been stolen. Since it hasn’t, he lets Joe go.

Wished on MabelAlice now realizes that her watch is missing and hollers for a cop, waking Edgar from his nap. He runs over, gets all the information, and rushes off in search of Joe…until he gets back to his comfy bench, where he lies down for another forty winks. Alice goes off in search of her daughter. Mabel and Fatty have found a sylvan glen in which to frolic together, but suddenly a bee lands on her nose. Fatty laughs at how funny she looks as she crosses her eyes to try to see it, but then realizes she could be stung and tries to be a hero. He carefully positions himself and flicks it off her nose, and right onto the lip of another man (Ted Edwards) sitting on a nearby bench! Fatty also laughs at him for a while before flicking it off again. During his absence, Joe spots Mabel and tries to move in, losing the stolen watch through a hole in his pocket in the process. She resists his advances, and soon Fatty comes back over and chases him off. Joe crashes into the bench with Ted on it and they both go over. Now, Fatty spots the watch, and gives it to Mabel as a present. She’s thrilled, perhaps because it’s just like the one her mother wears. He goes to a nearby kiosk to buy some sweets for her. Joe dusts himself off and realizes he’s lost the watch, and backtracks to find it, running into Mabel again. He recognizes the watch he stole and takes it away from her. Now Fatty comes over and starts fighting with him. Alice sees them and she recognizes her watch, and the chaos escalates. Finally, Edgar, rousted from his snooze by his police chief, arrives on the scene and gives the watch to Alice and chases Joe. Joe tries to escape by climbing through a hole in a rock, but Edgar walks around to the other side and conks him with his Billy club.

Wished on Mabel1Although the plot here is simple and typical, a bit more went into this one-reeler than was usually the case. There’s obvious care in positioning the camera to take advantage of the setting – locations include the fountain, a building that I think is the Conservatory of Flowers, a tunnel, and the glen where Fatty and Mabel meet the bee. There are few, if any, “generic” shots as we see in many of the LA park comedies. There are also some good close-ups, including the theft of the watch and Mabel’s face with the bee on it. This is one of those movies where sources dispute the directorship – Wikipedia gives it to Mabel, while imdb and “The Silent Era” both claim Arbuckle. I’m inclined to believe it was him, but perhaps the duties were split because of the fast work needed for a location shoot. This movie included commentary on the “Forgotten Films of Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle” disc, and it’s an example of what I said about poor preparation for the commentary tracks. One of the commenters tries to lead the other into identifying the location by saying, “So, that’s some big park in San Francisco, eh?” and the other fails to pick it up. Those of the audience who have never been to Golden Gate are left in the dark, although the location is pretty obvious, even a hundred years later. A little rehearsal or pre-writing before recording the track could have fixed this problem.

Director: Mabel Normand or Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle

Camera: Unknown

Cast: Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, Mabel Normand, Alice Davenport, Joe Bordeaux, Edgar Kennedy, Glen Cavender, Ted Edwards

Run Time: 13 Min

You can watch it for free: here (scroll to bottom of page)