Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: Augustus Phillips

A Christmas Accident (1912)

This short from Edison Studios may be the schmaltziest of the early silent Christmas movies I’ve reviewed this year, but I also found it to be emotionally effective and enjoyable to watch. It establishes a long-standing trend of the Christmas special with the basic plot of “a curmudgeonly old person learns the true meaning of Christmas.”

A mean old man.

A mean old man.

The movie begins by establishing the two neighboring resident-families of a duplex. On one side is a poor but happy family with a lot of children. On the other, a grizzled old man and his wife. The old man gets angry when the children play on his side of the back yard, or play with his dog. The poor family puts up with his abuse and remains positive. One day, a grocery order for the old couple is delivered to the family by accident. The mother cooks up the roast before the mistake is discovered, and when they offer to return the food, the old man refuses on principle. The wedge grows still deeper when the old man finds his dog dead. On Christmas Eve, the family is doing its best to celebrate with the means available, although the children must share a doll and there is no bird for the dinner. The old man is returning from the store with a turkey, but is driven, snowblind, into the wrong apartment. He is welcomed by the family as a guest, and they invite him and his wife to dinner. Embarrassed, he offers them the turkey and is charmed by a gift from the eldest girl.

A happy family.

A happy family.

I don’t usually worry about “spoilers,” but I’m leaving that final moment a bit vague because the gift from the child is the emotional “punch” that makes this movie work. If you can watch it without even a few tears…well, you have more emotional control than I do anymore. There seems to be some dispute about who directed: the “A Christmas Past” DVD credits Bannister Merwin and imdb and other online sources say it was Harold M. Shaw. Since Edison didn’t credit its directors at all at the time, this may be uncertain. The film is fairly typical – sequential editing, stationary camera, all done in medium-shot, etc. A final close-up allows us to read the note on a Christmas gift, but there are no faces shown in close-up, even where it would accent emotional situations. I did think it was an interesting (today untypical) choice to have the connection made between the mean old man and the eldest daughter, rather than the smallest and cutest available child. This may reflect a more realistic attitude or just the difficulty of getting small children to perform on cue.

Christmas Accident2Director: Uncertain (see above)

Camera: Unknown

Cast: William Wadsworth, Augustus Phillips

Run Time: 15 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

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Frankenstein (1910)

Frank-1910bis

I want to dedicate the month of October to the development of the “horror” film, although as genre, it didn’t really get going until the advent of German Expressionism after the First World War. Still, I’ve discussed a few examples and influences before, but for the theme this Edison movie is perhaps the best place to start, because, of everything made 100+ years ago, it is probably the most recognizably a horror movie. Edison no longer dominated the market at this time, but they were still producing some innovative films, as this demonstrates.  The use of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s novel would return, of course, and arguably be done better in the sound period. But, this movie is not to be underrated. I particularly enjoyed the creation sequence and the emergence of the monster through an elaborate animation sequence. The creature itself is downright creepy, although maybe the poor quality of the print explains why I was able to imagine that some of the rags it wore were actually strips of skin. The end, in which the monster looks into the mirror and fades away, leaving behind its reflection, which Dr. Frankenstein walks up and sees, may be a kind of statement about the degree to which the creature is a projection of Frankenstein’s twisted genius, which, the movie suggests, is overcome by love.

Director: J. Searle Dawley

Cast: Augustus Phillips, Charles Ogle, Mary Fuller

Run Time: 12 Min 41 seconds

You can watch it for free: here.