Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: Alvin Wyckoff

The Little American (1917)

The star power of Mary Pickford is teamed with the directing power of Cecil B. DeMille to produce a war propaganda picture just as the United States prepares to send its first troops to France to fight in World War One. The movie pulls no punches in showing audiences what the USA will be fighting for, but it has a reputation for being clumsy and jingoistic today.

Mary is the titular representative of the United States, Angela Moore, living a privileged and sheltered life as a socialite on a large estate. She has two suitors: the French Count Jules de Destin (Raymond Hatton) and Karl von Austreim (Jack Holt), a German. As the movie opens, it is July 4, 1914 (which just happens to be Angela’s birthday), and she receives each of them in turn. She seems to prefer Karl, although he insists on teaching her little brother how to goose step. Karl is interrupted as he proposes by an urgent secret message calling him back to serve in the German military, and he honorably releases her from any obligations before he goes. When the Count informs her about the outbreak of war, her first though is of Karl and whether he may have been hurt in the fighting. She sends letters to Karl but hears nothing. Read the rest of this entry »

Joan the Woman (1916)

Cecil B. DeMille enters the arena of the historical epic with this depiction of France’s most famous saint, starring Geraldine Farrar, who had been very successful in “Carmen” the previous year. While a bit rough in places, it is likely to be a major contender in this year’s Century Awards.

joan_the_womanThis is one of those silent movies that, unfortunately, begins with several minutes of intertitles explaining the plot. Most silent directors did their best to avoid this, but DeMille may have felt that because he was dealing with such a “serious” subject, his audiences would need a little priming to get into the mood. Anyway, after five minutes of introductory reading, we finally get to an unnecessary wraparound story. We begin in the trenches in France in 1916, where a young English soldier is digging in the dirt wall for some reason, and pulls out a sword, apparently buried there since the fifteenth century. He speculates that some “queer bloke” must have wielded it, and then responds to a call for volunteers from an officer. The officer is looking for someone to carry a very unwieldy bomb across no-man’s-land to destroy an enemy trench. He tells the soldier to think about it until midnight before making a decision whether to take on the suicide mission. Once back in his barracks, the soldier sees a vision of Joan of Arc and the real movie finally begins!

joan-the-woman2 Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

1915 Century Award Nominations

12068530171690234341director chair.svg.medThe nominations for the “real” Academy Awards were announced earlier today, and once again I’ve seen none of the movies up for consideration, and have only heard of about half of them. This is a recurring theme, and there’s no reason for me to be bitter about it. I just don’t go to the movies very much, and when I do, I usually don’t enjoy it much.

But…for those who are interested in my opinions of the movies of one hundred years ago, this is also the day that I announce my nominations for the Century Awards. I did a pretty good job of watching available movies from 1915 over the past year, although of course it’s not possible to see everything and I may have missed some obvious ones. I may be making some last minute additions in the next weeks, depending on how the Inter-Library Loan gods treat me.

This year, I’m sticking with the categories and rules I established last year with no significant changes. That means that “shorts” and “features” are competing in the same categories, as are “adapted” and “original” screenplays, and there are no special categories for “documentaries” or “animated” movies. In terms of movie length, I could have changed the rules this year, in light of the much higher rate of feature film production in 1915, but with Charlie Chaplin vaulting to super-stardom on the basis of two-reel releases this year, it only seemed right to let him compete with the longer movies. I think most of the “shorts” I nominated are his, though there’s probably an exception or two. I’ve never really understood the distinction between “original” (nothing is original in Hollywood) and “adapted” screenplays, and I’m too lazy to care, so there’s just one category there. As far as docs and animated, it comes down to the fact that I didn’t see enough of either to justify a separate category. The only 1915 animated movie I’ve seen is Ladislaw Starevich’s “Lily of Belgium,” so I guess it wins by default. I saw both “Over the Top” and “Mabel and Fatty Viewing the San Francisco Exposition,” both of which are sort of documentaries and sort of not, but that’s not enough to be called a representative sample of nonfiction film in 1915. (Between the two of them, “Over the Top” would win, if anyone’s interested). I still see no reason to separate “foreign language” from English-language silent films, and, yes, I’m keeping “Best Stunts.”

As I said last year, the rules to the Academy Awards say that there can be “up to five” nominees for each category except Best Picture, which gets “up to ten.” If you want to weigh in on the choices I’ve made, cast your “vote” by commenting, and explain why you think your chosen film should win. I’m still the final arbiter (it’s my blog), but I’ll certainly take well-thought-out arguments into account. If I sneak any new nominees in, it will mean exceeding the maximums, but I figure I can break my own rules when I need to.

Finally, before anyone asks, “where’s ‘The Birth of a Nation,’” the answer to that is here.

 

Best Makeup/Hairstyling

  1. The Deadly Ring
  2. A Woman
  3. A Fool There Was
  4. Trilby
  5. A Night in the Show

Best Costume Design

  1. Trilby
  2. The Deadly Ring
  3. A Fool There Was
  4. The Coward
  5. Hypocrites
  6. Alice in Wonderland

Best Production Design

  1. Young Romance
  2. Daydreams
  3. Evgeni Bauer for Children of the Age
  4. The Cheat
  5. Alias Jimmy Valentine

Best Stunts

  1. Charlie Chaplin for Work
  2. Douglas Fairbanks for The Lamb
  3. Charlie Chaplin for The Champion
  4. William Sheer for Regeneration
  5. Charlie Chaplin for By the Sea
  6. Luke the dog for Fatty’s Faithful Fido
  7. Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle for Fatty’s Tintype Tangle

Best Film Editing

  1. The Coward
  2. The Italian
  3. Hypocrites
  4. Cecil B. DeMille for Golden Chance
  5. Alias Jimmy Valentine

Best Cinematography

  1. Walter Stradling for Young Romance
  2. Joseph H. August for The Italian
  3. Boris Zavelev for Daydreams
  4. Alvin Wyckoff for The Cheat
  5. Alias Jimmy Valentine

Best Visual Effects (includes animation)

  1. Regeneration
  2. Ladislaw Starevich for Lily of Belgium
  3. Frank Ormston Hypocrites
  4. Children of Eve
  5. After Death

Best Screenplay

  1. Charlie Chaplin for The Bank
  2. Carl Harbaugh and Raoul Walsh for Regeneration
  3. C. Gardner Sullivan and Thomas Ince for The Italian
  4. M. Mikhailov for Children of the Age
  5. Hector Turnbull and Jeanie MacPherson for The Cheat

Best Supporting Actress

  1. Musidora for “The Red Cryptogram
  2. Kate Toncray for “The Lamb”
  3. Marta Golden for “Work”
  4. Gertrude Claire for “The Coward”
  5. Florense Simoni for “The Red Cryptogram”

Best Supporting Actor

  1. Wilton Lackaye for “Trilby”
  2. Marcel Levésque for “The Deadly Ring”
  3. William Sheer for “Regeneration”
  4. Roy Daugherty for “Passing of the Oklahoma Outlaw
  5. Sessue Hayakawa for “The Cheat”

Best Leading Actor

  1. Henry B. Walthall for “The Raven
  2. Charlie Chaplin for “The Bank”
  3. Rockliffe Fellowes for “Regeneration”
  4. George Beban for “The Italian”
  5. Vitold Polonsky for “After Death”

Best Leading Actress

  1. Clara Kimball Young for “Trilby”
  2. Anna Q. Nilsson for “Regeneration”
  3. Vera Kholodnaia for “Children of the Age”
  4. Fanny Ward for “The Cheat”
  5. Geraldine Farrar for “Carmen”
  6. Francesca Bertini for “Assunta Spina

Best Director

  1. Cecil B. DeMille for “The Cheat”
  2. Raoul Walsh for “Regeneration”
  3. Evgeni Bauer for “After Death”
  4. Maurice Tourneur for “Alias Jimmy Valentine”
  5. Charlie Chaplin for “The Bank”

Best Picture

  1. Regeneration
  2. Children of the Age
  3. After Death
  4. The Cheat
  5. Golden Chance
  6. Carmen
  7. The Bank
  8. The Deadly Ring
  9. Alias Jimmy Valentine
  10. The Italian

Golden Chance (1915)

Golden Chance

This, along with “Carmen” and “The Cheat,” was one of the films a very busy Cecil B. DeMille made at the end of 1915. It barely managed a release date before the New Year, in fact, and was probably mostly seen by audiences of 1916. It is another small-scale domestic melodrama, not a historical epic, and explores issues of class and gender, as they were popularly understood at the time. DeMille was no radical, of course, but he seems to have wanted to appeal to a progressive spirit, and probably tailored his story to address issues that pro-censorship forces such as church activists and women’s groups considered important at the time. It also displays the growing talents of both DeMille and cameraman Alvin Wyckoff. We see taught editing, many close-ups, good use of lighting and especially darkness, and some inventive camera angles as well.

The story has elements of the “Lost Girl” tale in which an innocent girl is deceived into moving from a wholesome environment to the city, only to be victimized or led into temptation. However, we begin the story not with her leaving her loving parents, but five years later, when she is living in a tenement with her alcoholic husband, a former day-laborer. The Girl in this case (the word is consistently capitalized in the titles) is Cleo Ridgely, who was in “Joan the Woman” the next year and did several “Jean – Girl Detective” shorts as well. The husband is Horace B. Carpenter, who was in DeMille’s “The Virginian” and “Carmen.” We are introduced to them, and the rest of the cast, through the device of intertitles followed by brief cameo shots not otherwise in the picture. These actually serve not only as credits, but also to kick-start the plot as well. Although Cleo is introduced as if she were a wholesome farm girl – leaning out her tenement window to catch the sun’s rays on her face and tending to a neglected potted plant on the windowsill – we learn that she is actually the fallen daughter of a judge, whose parents disowned her when she married below her station. As the story begins we see that her good-for-nothing husband is drinking up all their grocery money. So, she looks for a job.

Cleo Ridgely

And it is this which brings her “Golden Chance” to work for a society lady whose husband hopes to dupe the hero (a very handsome Wallace Reid, who had been less perfect as Don Juan in “Carmen” and had also co-starred with Ridgely in “The Chorus Lady”) into a major investment. The pair decide that if they dress up the Girl, she can charm him to the point where he doesn’t know what he’s signing, and convince her to take the chance to play Cinderella for a weekend. Here, the movie departs from the “Lost Girl” model and becomes something a bit more modern. In fact, it reminded me of many Depression-era films where poor girls are given a chance to mix with high society and daydream about being rich and glamorous, which of course gave audiences the chance to dream with them. While the teens aren’t recalled as a time of economic hardship today, the reality is that there were plenty of poverty-stricken viewers who would respond to this at the time.

Wallace_Reid

It goes all too well, with Reid proposing to Ridgely and agreeing to invest, when Ridgely’s husband shows up to rob the joint. Pretty soon, the truth is out and Reid is angry at being deceived, and poor Cleo wanders out into the night in her old clothes, sleeping on a park bench next to an old bum. When she returns home, her husband has a new idea to extort money from Reid. They send him a note telling him to come help her, which he is inclined to ignore until, paradoxically, he finds her secretly written “Don’t Come” written inside the note. This demonstrates that she is not part of the ruse. So he goes there, but takes the precaution of having his servant go for the police after five minutes. There is a tense scene, told almost entirely in a series of rapid close-ups, followed by a fight staged in a single wide-angle overhead shot. The change in visual style is jarring, and it serves well to build the audience’s excitement at this stage. The police rush in and save the day.

The “Moving Picture World” gave this movie a glowing review in its issue of January 8, 1916, and, like me, made special note of the effective lighting techniques and the “modern” melodramatic storyline. Over at Movies Silently, Fritzi Kramer has given it 81% and also noted the appealing lead actors as well as the lighting, showing that the film has held up well for the past century.

Director: Cecil B. DeMille

Camera: Alvin Wyckoff

Starring: Cleo Ridgely, Wallace Reid, Horace B. Carpenter, Ernest Joy, Edythe Chapman, Raymond Hatton

Run Time: 1 hr, 13 Mins

I have not been able to find this for free online. If you know where to find it, please comment. Otherwise, try your local library!

Cheat, The (1915)

Cheat_FilmPoster

Cecil B. DeMille was lucky to start making movies independently in 1914. Unlike the previous generation of directors, he didn’t have to serve a long apprenticeship making short films, and unlike directors bound to the Edison Trust, he didn’t have to fight to be able to work in feature length. He lept in with Westerns like “The Squaw Man” and “The Virginian,” then graduated in 1915 to dramas like this one (the epics he’s remembered for today don’t come along until the twenties).

Here, Fanny Ward (later in “Her Strange Wedding” and “Witchcraft”) is a young socialite with no head for money, whose husband (played by her real-life husband Jack Dean, whose credits include “The Marriage of Kitty” and “A School for Husbands”) refuses to buy her fancy gowns and lingerie while his money is tied up in an important investment. So, she wisely decides to invest the money entrusted to her by the Red Cross in a shady copper mine pushed on her by some guy at a party. Salvation comes in the form of Sessue Hayakawa (who we saw in “Last of the Line” and later got an oscar nomination for “Bridge on the River Kwai”), a wealthy Asian financier, who offers to loan her the money to save face. When Dean’s investment pays off, Fanny is jubilant, and runs over to pay off Sessue, but he’s not having it. He clearly felt he had “bought” her when he lent the money, and he proves it by taking out a wax seal and branding her with his mark! Understandably displeased, Fanny picks up a revolver and shoots him in the shoulder, running off into the night. Now hubby wanders in, no doubt wondering where his wife ran off to with $10,000 in the middle of the night. Finding the wounded man, the check, and the gun, he puts it together and confesses to the crime when the police arrive. His wife’s later efforts to buy off the scheming villain are to no avail – “You cannot cheat me twice,” he declares. This leaves her no choice but to pull a dramatic court room reveal, saving the day at the risk of her honor.

Cheat_1915

Now, a lot’s already been made about the fact that the villain is a foreigner, to the point that the intertitles were changed in 1918 to make him Burmese rather than Japanese, due to protests from the Japanese government. And it certainly fits the general racial attitudes of the day, though I would point out that Hayakawa is never held up to represent all members of his race; he appears to act as an individual. At worst, he’s sort of a “Shylock” character, who would confirm existing prejudices without necessarily promoting them to new audiences. What is interesting is that the end of the movie toys with the possibility of a bloody lynching when the white male spectators at the trial burst into an angry mob at the sight of Fanny’s brand. But it doesn’t go there. The judge insists on keeping order, and the police eventually calm things down and escort Sessue out of the room. The message does not seem to endorse lawless racist vigilantism, at least, which is more than I can say for “The Birth of a Nation.”

Since I noted the good use of darkness and shadow in Feuillade’s early work recently, I want to draw special attention to how far we’ve come by 1915. There are several darkened rooms and darkened exteriors, and especially good is the dark jail cell, with the shadows of bars striking Dean’s frame and the back wall, in a noir-like effect. When Fanny moves a practical lamp, however, its shadow is clearly visible against her, making it obvious that the light actually comes from another (off screen) source. The whole movie is shot much closer to the actors than earlier films would have been. There are few true close ups, but quite a few intimate two-shots, and shots that show only the upper half of the actors, meaning that we can see faces much more clearly and rely less on pantomime.

Director: Cecil B. DeMille

Camera: Alvin Wyckoff

Starring: Fanny Ward, Jack Dean, Sessue Hayakawa, Raymond Hatton

Run Time: 58 Min, 50 secs

You can watch it for free: here.

Virginian, The (1914)

Virginian

This was Cecil B. DeMille’s second movie, coming only months after “The Squaw Man,” and it’s also a Western starring Dustin Farnum as a transplant to the West who bests all comers and upholds his dignity and honor. I found it rather less interesting by comparison. The Indians are there simply as handy adversaries to stymie the hero in his work, and the female character (an eastern schoolmarm) is a pretty bland romantic interest with little motivation or personality of her own. There’s an odd “day for night” bit in the middle of the movie – one shot is shown lit by a campfire in what seems to be real night, while other scenes, edited around it to appear simultaneous, are obviously shot during the daytime. I wonder how audiences read that at a time when night shooting was comparably rare, and most movies simply used the convention of showing everything by daylight because that’s all cameras could pick up. Anyway, our hero is something of a bully and even winds up lynching his best friend in the name of justice, but the film does end with the classic gunfight in the dusty street, and probably did help establish the visual standards of the genre, to say nothing of establishing DeMille as a major player in the medium.

Director: Cecil B. DeMille

Camera: Alvin Wyckoff

Starring: Dustin Farnum, William Elmer, Winifred Kingston

Run Time: 54 Min

You can watch it for free: here.