Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: Baseball

The Ball Player and the Bandit (1912)

This typical Western short from director Francis Ford has an interesting twist and nice performances by the leads. It reminded me a lot of “The Making of Broncho Billy” until the end, where things take a different turn.

The movie begins by introducing Harry Burns (played by Harold Lockwood), who is a star pitcher on a college team. We see him playing pitching a ball in an over-the-shoulder shot, and then the reaction of the crowd as he wins the game. His college life ends, however, when a letter from his uncle arrives informing him that “financial reverses” make it impossible to continue funding his education. He has set him up in a job “in the west,” however, so he’s not destitute. His teammates, along with an old professor and a man in a clerical collar (I suppose the college deacon) all shake his hand and then go to celebrate the victory, leaving Harry to bemoan the loss of his promising baseball career.

He soon recovers, however, and shows up in the typical western town of the era, taking on a job as paymaster (I suppose for the railroad, although it’s not specified). His boss is a gruff-looking cowboy and he has a cute cowgirl daughter (Helen Case). She seem somewhat taken by the handsome new arrival and starts to show him the ropes of his job, but suddenly loses interest when he refuses to carry a gun. She now goes out to a group of toughs and tells them to teach him a lesson, and when Harry comes out they menace him with their guns, even making him “dance” a-la “The Great Train Robbery.” Despite being unarmed, he stands up for himself and proceeds to beat up the lead bully with his fists – the other man tries to fight, but he does have too much honor to reach for his gun and Harry beats him fair and square. Helen takes note of this and gives the bully a bit of ribbing after the fight.

DANCE!

The next day, Harry receives a package in the mail from his old college chums – it is the ball that he pitched in his last game, a memento of his old life. He and Helen are getting closer now, to the consternation of the bully character and the concern of her father. When she sees him setting off to collect the payroll money, she decides to play another “little joke” and takes the office gun that Harry refuses to carry, sneaking out with a smile on her face. However, even as she plans to teach Harry a lesson by pretending to be a bandit, a real bandit by the name of “Red Dan” is introduced. He sees the unarmed man at the post office, picking up the money and his package and decides to follow him.

Helen, now disguised with a heavy coat and a bandana, accosts Harry on the road and threatens him with the gun, but Harry’s not afraid of this rather short bandit and he grabs her gun hand and removes the mask, finding who it really is. Just at that moment, Red Dan rushes in and holds them up. He takes Helen’s gun and searches Harry, finding only the baseball, which he throws to the ground. Then he takes the money and walks away. Thinking fast, Harry grabs the baseball and pitches it into the bandit’s head! He goes down and Harry runs over and quickly overcomes him and binds him while Helen holds his gun. Once again, Harry has proved that his physical talents can overcome a gunman.

I’m sure he’ll get a fair trial.

Now Helen and Harry bring the bandit, and the money, back into town. The gang of toughs leads the bandit away (a prominent length of rope made me think of a lynching, but nothing is shown). Helen’s father congratulates Harry. The final scene shows Helen and Harry sitting on a bench, obviously falling in love. The Pony Express man rides up with a telegram, informing Harry that he has been selected to play on the Chicago White Sox, and can move back east. At this, Helen begins to cry and Harry writes out his reply: he is “engaged for life” and will not return to ball playing. Helen looks up with surprise and embraces him.

Now you see it…

…Now you don’t.

The big surprise in this movie, which sets it apart from “The Making of Broncho Billy” and dozens of similar Westerns, is that the hero does not pick up a gun by the end of the movie. He wins the day with his baseball skills instead. Of course, when G.M. Anderson tried to respond to a bullying situation with his fists, he wasn’t given the chance, so this partly depends on the sense of honor of one’s opponents, but it’s clear that the bandit here would have had no compunctions about shooting an unarmed man or a woman. One odd “continuity error,” that probably no one cared about at the time is that the insert shot introducing the baseball doesn’t match the long shot – in the shots before and after the insert, Harry is holding the bag of money, but the insert shot shows him fondling the ball with both hands and nothing else in them. I was also struck by Helen Case’s performance, in which she frequently acts out what she’s describing to the characters. This would have been frowned on in silent films just a few years later, and usually does look like “over-acting,” but somehow she makes it seem natural, like it’s part of how her character communicates normally. I quite enjoyed her playful approach to acting.

There’s a bit of a mystery about the production of this movie. On-screen credits claim it comes from “Broncho Movie Company” and there’s even an “S&A” at the end with an Indian head, giving the impression that this was released by Essanay, the company that made the Broncho Billy movies. I thought perhaps it was an early release from their studio in Niles, California. But, so far as I know Francis Ford never worked for Essanay, and the imdb (admittedly an imperfect source) lists the producer as Thomas Ince. If that’s the case, Ince may have been deliberately trying to horn in on Essanay’s success with the “Broncho” and “S&A” references. Today, that’d get you a lawsuit, but in the freewheeling early days of film, a lot of things went unchallenged!

Director: Francis Ford

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Harold Lockwood, Helen Case, Joe King

Run Time: 12 Min

I have not found this movie available for free online. However, you can see a clip from it here.

Advertisements

His Last Game (1909)

This short film from Independent Moving Pictures (the I.M.P.) has many elements that would appear in later films by D.W. Griffith, but with a somewhat surprising ending. It uses baseball to tell a story of honor and racial strife.

The movie opens by telling us that the last game of the year is impending, with the Choctaw team facing the team from Jimtown. Bill Going, an Indian, is the star pitcher for Choctaw. We see Bill standing in front of the town bar and a large sign announcing the game. His teammates, most of whom appear to be white, come up and invite him to go drinking but he refuses, perhaps wanting to stay clear for the game. Another man in Indian garb with elaborate war feathers comes up and stands in the background as the team leaves for their drinks. Now, two gamblers in traditional Western clothing come up and offer Bill a generous pile of coins in order to throw the game. Bill counts out the coins several times, only to finally refuse. The gamblers go off to the bar together, and we see them spiking a drink in an insert shot, then they come back and offer the drink to Bill, who agrees at first, but then insists on switching drinks with one of them. When that one fails to drink, Bill throws his drink at him. Now, the gambler, outraged, pulls his gun. Bill quickly disarms and shoots him. Now the sheriff suddenly comes out of the bar, to see Bill shoot down a white man. The other Indian watches as the sheriff arrests him on the spot.

The next scene is labeled “swift Western justice” by an intertitle. We see a group of grave-diggers in the background, and Bill and the sheriff in the foreground. The Indian tries to remonstrate with the sheriff to no avail, but then Bill’s team arrive and they ask the sheriff to let him live long enough to pitch for them. The sheriff agrees, but insists that the other Indian stand in his place. If Bill doesn’t come back in time, he will execute this man instead. Bill and the Indian agree to the terms. The sheriff sends a note to the judge asking for a stay of execution, if Bill keeps his word. The next sequence shows the ball game, all shot from behind the home plate. We see the Jimtown players gain several bases, but then Bill runs up and pitches a shutout. The Choctaws win. The team carries Bill back to the bar on their shoulders, then offers him a large drink to celebrate. Bill is about to drink when he remembers his promise. He throws down the bottle and runs back to the grave site. The grave diggers are now a firing squad, and are just about to shoot the Indian when Bill arrives. He takes the man’s place, but the Indian signals that he hears hoofbeats, putting his ear to the ground in cliché fashion. Intercutting shows us that the messenger is indeed running back, but the sheriff doesn’t see anything in time, so the execution proceeds. The messenger rides over the hill just as Bill is shot and his body falls into the grave. The sheriff reads the note that would have saved Bill’s life, just seconds too late, and the team arrives to mourn his loss.

I.M.P. was one of the companies that later went into making Universal Pictures, and this movie was produced by Carl Laemmle, senior, the head of that operation. I.M.P. was also famous for defying the Edison Trust and operating independently, and this movie would have been shot in Fort Lee, New Jersey, the site of their operations and much of the American film industry at the time. They made movies for the burgeoning Nickelodeon market, and indeed Laemmle and his partners had started out as Nickelodeon theater owners. This movie demonstrates that concepts of editing which are often attributed to a later period had already come into use, if in rather primitive form, at the time. The inter-cutting between the messenger and the execution scene is reminiscent of Griffith’s 1911 film, “The Lonedale Operator,” although here the hero is unable to save the day in time. I found myself reflecting that if Bill had been white, the story probably would not have ended the same way. The “noble savage” story almost always had a tragic ending, however, and here Bill is killed by “swift Western justice” that has no sympathy for his situation or ethical behavior. Bill’s relationship with alcohol is also interesting – he never actually drinks, but is repeatedly tempted by drink and appears eager to do so, each time realizing just in time that it would be a mistake. Also interesting was the decision to shoot the entire ball game from a single angle, one in which the players frequently obscure the action from the camera. Showing baseball to audiences was still a new thing at the time, and more sophisticated ways to demonstrate it were yet to be developed. Note that the scene of the two gamblers drinking shows the I.M.P. logo prominently – still a common practice at the time to discourage film piracy.

Director: Unknown, possibly Harry Solter

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Unknown

Run Time: 12 Min

I have been unable to find this film for free on the Internet. You can see a brief segment here.

April 1916

Depiction of the James Caird arriving at South Georgia Island

Depiction of the James Caird arriving at South Georgia Island

A lot of the news this month is war news. Millions have already died, and millions more will die, in the conflict already being called “The Great War” or “The World War” on battlefields in Europe and elsewhere. In addition to that, rationing, privation, and even the formation of compulsory labor battalions has become a part of the lives of the millions more civilians among the combatant nations. The poor in the larger cities are hit especially hard – in Berlin there were riots over inadequate food and uncontrolled prices in Autumn in 1915 – but farmers also suffer as governments enforce price-controls on their products but not on necessities they need to produce them. A stationary front in the West meant that many thousands of Frenchmen and Belgians now had lived under occupation for a year and a half, while the highly mobile frontline in the East meant that some areas changed hands regularly. Within these areas, resistance movements grew up which often meant harsh reprisals against populations seen as supporting them, with collaborators now at risk of being attacked by their own people. Meanwhile, another kind of resistance is brewing in Ireland…

Specific news for the month of April includes

World War One

Egypt: The Egyptian Expeditionary Force, under the United Kingdom, begins the occupation of the Sinai Peninsula to drive out Ottoman (Turkish) forces on April 11. This action protects the Suez Canal and the power of the British Navy to travel via the Mediterranean to points in their Eastern empire.

China: The troop ship SS Hsin-Yu capsizes with a loss of over 1000 lives, April 22.

France: The Germans make one of the largest-scale attacks using chemical weapons near Hulluch on April 27 and again on April 29, although winds on this second date push the gas back towards their own lines, resulting in heavy casualties on both sides.

Iraq: The Siege of Kut ends with British forces surrendering to the Ottomans on April 29. With inadequate food supplies, the garrison and civilians there had been near starvation, surrounded by enemy forces since December. Their commanding officer, Charles Townshend, would sit out the war in relative security while thousands of his men were killed in forced labor or from disease caused by the starvation, and later denied that there had been any mistreatment of British soldiers by the Ottomans.

Diplomacy: Almost a year after the sinking of the RMS Lusitania, President Woodrow Wilson issues a warning to Germany not to continue unrestricted submarine warfare.

Easter Rising:

Ireland: Timed to coincide with Easter Week, a coalition of Irish Republican groups stages a major rebellion to demand home rule, deferred by British Parliament until after the War ends. The rising begins on April 25 and continues until its suppression by superior British Army forces on April 29, leaving 500 dead and 2600 wounded – the majority are citizens with no direct ties to the rebellion.

Sports: The first game at Weeghman Park (now known as Wrigley Field), Chicago, April 20. The Cubs beat the Cincinnati Reds.

Exploration: In Antarctica, Ernest Shackleton and five companions board the lifeboat James Caird on April 24, making for South Georgia Island in search of rescue after the sinking of the Endurance. While they will make the island May 10, they are unable to reach any of the whaling communities and several survivors must make a difficult overland journey, the first to cross the island successfully.

Births: Gregory Peck, actor (“To Kill a Mockingbird” and “The Boys from Brazil”), April 5; Vic Perrin, actor (radio, “Gunsmoke”, television, “The Outer Limits:” “control voice” ), April 26.

May 1915

Once again, it’s time for a roundup of headlines from 100 years ago. At this point, the “war in Europe” has ramped up to where people are seeing it as a “World War.” No one is expecting a quick end, and the horrors of the trenches have become facts of life for thousands of young men. The movies are an important escape, but European film production is suffering from the economic pressures and sheer mass of manpower diverted to war-production. The United States is increasingly entrenched as the world’s major film-exporting country, as it will be for many years after the war ends.

Clara Hagen (nee Immerwahr), the first female PhD in Chemistry

Clara Hagen (nee Immerwahr), the first female PhD in Chemistry

Science: On May 2, Clara Immerwahr commits suicide. She was the first woman to earn a PhD in Chemistry and an advocate of women’s rights. She was married to Fritz Haber, another chemist, and was known to have helped him in his work. Haber was a staunch supporter of the German military, while Clara was more pacifist in outlook. Haber’s work (and, presumably, Clara’s) contributed to the gas attack in Flanders in April, 1914, and it was clear that his career would be dedicated to Chemical Warfare for years to come. This may have influenced Clara’s decision to take her life, using her husband’s service revolver, before a second planned gas attack on the Russian Front.

Literature: Canadian soldier Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae writes the poem “In Flanders Fields” on May 3. It begins with the refrain “In Flanders fields the poppies blow/Between the crosses, row on row.” Poppies will become symbolic of Remembrance Day in Canada and other Dominion countries for at least the next 100 years.

Sports: Babe Ruth hits his first career home run, May 6. Although he is mostly remembered for his long tenure with the New York Yankees, at this time he plays for their arch-rivals, the Boston Red Sox.

Artist's conception of the sinking of RMS Lusitania

Artist’s conception of the sinking of RMS Lusitania

World War: On May 7, a German submarine sinks the RMS Lusitania with a torpedo. The ship, which was believed to be carrying military supplies to Britain, was also a commercial liner loaded with civilian passengers bound for Liverpool. Of these, 1,198 died, with 768 rescued. 128 of the dead were American citizens, and the sinking of the Lusitania became a major diplomatic dispute between the US and Germany, with American sentiment shifting increasingly toward the Allies after this point.

Accidents: On May 22, five trains collide near Quintinshill in Scotland, claiming 226 lives, mostly troops headed for the front. This remains the worst rail disaster in UK history.

Eruption of Lassen Peak.

Eruption of Lassen Peak.

Natural Disasters: In California Lassen Peak erupts, May 22, following more than a year of rumblings and several days of minor explosions. A huge plume of volcanic ash rose 30,000 feet into the air and was visible from 150 miles away.

Diplomacy: Italy declares war on Austria, May 24. By this time the Fasci d’Azione Revoluzionaria, allied with Benito Mussolini, have been agitating for war for six months.

Politics: The Liberal government of Prime Minister H.H. Asquith ends in the UK on May 17, when he arranges a coalition government with leaders of the Conservative Party. This is ultimately not enough to stop his decline in power, and he resigns in 1916. The Liberals will never hold power outside a coalition in the UK national government again.

Births: Alice Faye, May 5 (she would appear in “Hello, Frisco, Hello” and “Four Jills in a Jeep”); Orson Welles, May 6 (who went on to make “Citizen Kane” after scaring the bejeepers out of people with his radio version of “War of the Worlds”); Renee Asherson, May 19 (who was in “Henry V” with Lawrence Olivier and “Theatre of Blood” with Vincent Price).

October, 1914

Belgian troops defend Antwerp

Belgian troops defend Antwerp

The news 100 years ago was pretty dominated by the First World War (especially in participating countries), which was underway for good by now.

As usual, let’s start by getting war news out of the way. Much of it can be summarized by saying that things weren’t going as well for either side as their military experts had predicted only two months earlier:

World War One: After a long siege, the city of Antwerp in Belgium falls to German troops, October 9-10.

The Battle of the Yser, from October 16-31, in which Belgian troops make a heroic stand against the German invaders, tying up troops that had been intended to fight in France.

The First Battle of Ypres, also in Belgium, breaks out on October 19, between German and Allied troops, significantly including much of the British regular army, which suffered crushing losses.

On the Eastern front, the Battle of the Vistula River ends in Russian victory at Warsaw.

In the Balkans, Greek forces, with Allied encouragement, invade and occupy the short-lived Autonomous Republic of Northern Epirus.

Religion: October 2, the first date predicted by the Watchtower Society (or Jehovah’s Witnesses) comes and goes without witnessing the end of the world or the coming of Christ’s Kingdom on Earth. The Society will begin its long-standing practice of reinterpreting its own interpretations of scripture to explain this

Disasters: in Turkey near Lake Burdur, an earthquake estimated as 7.0 on the Richter scale hits on October 7, starting fires that will destroy 17,000 homes.

Crime: Gavrilo Princip is sentenced for the Assassination of Archduke Ferdinand on October 28. Because he was a minor at the time, he receives 20 years imprisonment instead of the death sentence.

Sports: the Boston Braves beat the Philadelphia Athletics in a four-game World Series, from October 9-13.

Movies: releases of “His Majesty, the Scarecrow of Oz” (October 14), “Mabel’s Blunder” (October 14) and “What’s Her Name,” directed by Cecil B. DeMille (October 22).

Births: Actor Jackie Coogan (who starred with Chaplin in the title role of “The Kid” and would grow up to be Uncle Fester on the original “Addams Family” TV show) is born on October 26. Anna Wing (from Britain’s “EastEnders” and also a small role in the “Doctor Who” episode “Kinda”) and Ruth Hussey (best known for her role in “The Philadelphia Story” and who also starred in “The Uninvited,” a 40’s ghost story) are both born on October 30.

Deaths: Gustav Wied, Danish writer, died on October 24.

June, 1914

Pro-Constitutional forces pose in Mexico, 1914.

Pro-Constitutional forces pose in Mexico, 1914.

Our monthly century news roundup has some interesting items this week.

World War: One June 28, Archduke Franz Ferdinand is assassinated. Expect a future “context” post devoted entirely to this event.

War Crimes: On June 12, Ottoman forces begin the “Greek Genocide,” in which Christian Greeks living in Turkey are slaughtered. Over the course of the next ten years, the number of Greeks killed will enter the hundreds of thousands.

Revolution: Mexican “Constitutional Army” forces under Carranza take San Luis Potosi, demanding the surrender of President Victoriano Huerta, whose increasingly dictatorial regime has lost support both at home and abroad.

Diplomacy: June 1, US President Woodrow Wilson’s envoy Edward Mandell House meets with Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany. This can be seen as the first of many efforts by the President to prevent or end the First World War.

Disasters: June 24, a major fire guts downtown Manchester, New Hampshire, causing $400,000 damage and injuring 19 firemen.

Sports: June 9, Honus Wagner makes his 3000’th career hit for the Pittsburgh Pirates, the first player to achieve that record in the twentieth century.

Movies: Movies released this month include “The Wrath of the Gods,” “The Only Son” and “The Million Dollar Mystery.”

Births: June 7, Indian director Kwaja Ahmed Abbas (who made “Shehar Aur Sapna” and “Pardesi”), June 18, actor E.G. Marshall (memorable in “12 Angry Men” and also TV’s “Defenders”).

Addendum/Errata: Last month, I failed to note the founding of Paramount Studios on May 8. Many apologies to the future producers of the “Star Trek” and “Friday the Thirteenth” movies!