Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: Carl Stockdale

The Americano (1916)

A somewhat heavy-handed plot and some unfortunate ethnic representations cheapen this rather slight early effort from Douglas Fairbanks. We see little of his physicality and exuberance in this film, although he does manage to represent an optimistic view of Americans, as usual.

americanoThe movie begins in the tiny Central American nation of “Paragonia,” where an uneasy truce between a popular civilian government and a corrupt military is endangered when the Minister of War (Carl Stockdale) opposes renewing a contract with an American mining company that provides work for most of the population. The Presidente (Spottiswoode Aitken) pushes the motion through, and sends a cable to the US, requesting an American mining engineer be sent to help them oversee the complex machinery. At the same time, the Premier (Tote du Crow) and the President’s daughter Juana (Alma Rubens) head to the USA for a visit. The mining school has selected Douglas Fairbanks, of course, as the best man for the job, but he’s not interested in relocating – at least until he gets a look at Juana. Back at home, the coup d’etat has been effected and the Minister of War is in power. The Paragonians return home quickly, leaving word for Doug to stay behind, but of course that wouldn’t be right, so he takes the next boat.

Wee are a poor peeepol Senor.

Wee are a poor peeepol Senor.

On arrival in Paragonia, Doug finds that no one wants to talk about the President, the mining offices have been ransacked, and the only American left is a demeaning caricature in blackface, played by Tom Wilson. He does manage to contact the Premier, who’s in disguise as a street vendor, and to scout out the prison where the President is being held. Juana is being forced to marry the unsavory colonel Garagas (Charles Stevens), on threat of her father’s life, and the Minister of War is now splitting the army’s payroll between himself and Garagas. Doug finds that the President has been throwing papers out his window with the date November 23, 1899, and he looks in the old man’s journal to find out what happened on that day. Turns out that there was a jailbreak using a secret tunnel that has since been walled up, and that the old man is in the very cell that tunnel leads to! So, Doug organizes a hasty breakout with “Whitey” and the premier. Along the way, he is arrested by soldiers and taken to meet the Minister of War and Garagas. They try to bribe him with 1/3 of the army money to re-open the mines for them, forestalling a popular revolt. Doug takes the money and pretends to go along with them, then knocks out the soldier sent to spy on him and re-joins his friends and the mouth of the tunnel.

americano2The party makes its way through the tunnel and Doug starts chipping away at the wall with a hammer and chisel. The President, realizing what must be up, starts pounding on his cane to cover the noise, but a guard sees the tip of Doug’s chisel penetrate the wall. He holds the President at gunpoint and moves to nab whoever comes in that way. Looking through the hole he’s made, Doug figures this out and tosses the captured soldier in ahead of himself, then grabs the guard from behind. Now they make their way back to the capital, using captured guns to threaten their way into the palace, where Juana’s wedding is to take place after a speech by the Minister of War. He’s trying to placate the people, who have been told that the “Americano” is now working with him and will re-open the mine. Doug joins him on the balcony and exposes the plot. When the Minister tries to get the army to join him, saying that Doug has stolen their pay, Doug returns it, explaining that the Minister was the thief all along. The Presidente is re-instated, the mine is opened, and Doug and Juana get married (Doug now appointed the new head of the army of Paragonia).

americano3This movie is a pretty clear argument in favor of American imperialism and the Monroe Doctrine, and it gets its facts a little confused, as far as governmental instability in Latin America at the time. It’s unlikely that a coup against a popular government would be held to oppose American economic interests, usually it was the other way around. And it’s unlikely that the people would be cheering for “the Americano” to come save them. But, for the purposes of a Hollywood fantasy supervised by notorious racist D.W. Griffith, that’s pretty much par for the course. I still find Fairbanks’s “all-American” hero character charming, and reminiscent of the all-American optimist that Harold Lloyd would soon bring to life in his “glasses” character, although he’s certainly not as funny here. I was disappointed that he didn’t perform more stunts in this one. All we see him do is scale a wall to get in and out of Juana’s house, leap down some rocks by the beach, and beat up a soldier or two. Other than that, he spends a lot of the time talking to people and chiseling at a wall. There is a heavy use of close-ups, particularly of Fairbanks, suggesting that the producers thought that his face was a major selling-point of the film. There’s one interestingly shot/edited section where Fairbanks tries to bluff his way past the guards at Juana’s house: they cross their bayonets to block him and he moves back and forth between single-shots of each of them as he tries to fast-talk them, ending up in alone in a shot with the tips of their bayonets behind him. Other than that, it’s a pretty middling production overall.

Director: John Emerson

Camera: Victor Fleming

Starring: Douglas Fairbanks, Alma Rubens, Spottiswoode Aitken, Carl Stockdale, Tote Du Crow, Tom White, Charles Stevens, Mildred Harris

Run Time: 56 Min

I have not found this movie available for free online; if you do, please comment.

Intolerance (1916)

Probably the most talked about film of 1916, “Intolerance” remains a kind of enigma to film historians. Despite the large amount of ink and computer bytes shed writing about it (see the bibliography at the end of this review for a small sample), it seems no better understood than most of the more typical releases of the year. What is this movie that has inspired so much discussion and debate? Is it one of the most important movies in history or just a giant flop?

Intolerance_(film)

Quick Summary

Regular readers of my blog know I usually begin each review with a recap of the action from the film – I don’t worry too much about “spoiling” 100-year-old movies, but if you want to see it first, you can always scroll down to the link and then come back and read the review. In this case, I’m going to be a bit less specific about the sequence of events and just give a summary of the stories, not accounting for the editing or sequence. In part,  this is because there are several different movies today calling themselves “Intolerance,” and deciding which is the “most authentic” is one of the sources of debate among scholars. It is complicated by the fact that the director, D.W. Griffith, kept making changes for each new re-release of the movie, beginning shortly after the premier on September 5, 1916. Some have argued that the 1917 re-release is more definitive, or even that the version Griffith reconstructed in 1922 after chopping up the print to release one of the storylines as a separate film is the most accurate. In 1990 the Museum of Modern Art attempted to reconstruct the movie based on the score written by Joseph Carl Breil for the opening night, in an attempt to get back to an “original” form, but it needs to be noted that this reconstruction is highly debated, and that it is possible that most viewers in 1916 were seeing a quite different movie. Read the rest of this entry »

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.

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.

The Bank (1915)

With “The Tramp,” it seemed Charlie Chaplin turned a corner in his comic career. With this Essanay short movie, he finally seems committed to the new direction. His character is more sympathetic and less intentionally violent, he is still clumsy and awkward, but more lovable, and where he does use violence, it is mostly in self-defense or in a good cause.

Bank_(1915_film)Charlie arrives at a bank in “Little Tramp” get up. It seems as though he is someone of importance, as he moves confidently through this space usually restricted to those in power. He reaches a giant safe and opens the door, to reveal a mop, bucket, and janitor’s uniform. At last, we understand his position in the institution. He goes to “work” mopping floors, in the process hitting employees and customers with his mop several times. His mop drips into a stovepipe hat of a wealthy customer which has been left on the floor while he sits in an easy chair. The man yells at Charlie to stop, and he politely hands him his hat…the owner puts it on and receives a deluge of dirty, soapy water. Charlie proceeds to get into a competition with his fellow janitor (Billy Armstrong), one cleaning the president’s outer office, the other the inner. They continually sweep their junk from one side to the other until there is a massive mess, made all the worse when Charlie turns a fan so it blows sheets of paper from the president’s desk to the floor.

Bank1Meanwhile, stenographer Edna Purviance arrives and she is carrying a wrapped gift and a flower. Charlie gets nosy and finds it is addressed to “Charles.” The lovely young secretary is in love with him! We soon learn that this is wrong, there is a teller named “Charles” (Carl Stockdale) whom Edna loves. Charlie rushes out to get her a bouquet of flowers, leaving a note on her desk. She thinks it’s from her Charles, of course, and thanks him, but he denies sending them. He looks at the note and tells her it’s from the janitor. She then throws away Charlie’s flowers while he watches from outside the office door. Heartbroken, Charlie heads downstairs to engage in a little more slapstick competition with Armstrong, then goes to the janitors’ station and clutches what remains of the flowers as he naps. Suddenly, a gang of robbers enters the bank, threatening all the workers and demanding to be let in to the vault. The others comply, and just as the bandits are going to force Edna into the vault, Charlie awakens and goes into action. Using all his slapstick kicks and trips, he turns the tables on the robbers, knocking two of them into the safe and closing it. Then, carrying the fainted Edna over his shoulder, he disarms the other bank robbers and saves the day. Edna awakes and kisses him…And suddenly he awakes and finds himself kissing his mop. It has all been a dream, and he kicks his sad little flowers away to symbolize moving on.

BankMuch has been made about the use of close-ups in this movie, and especially the close-up of Charlie as he watches Edna tear up his note and throw his flowers in the garbage. I don’t actually think there are more close-ups here than in previous Essanay comedies shot by Harry Ensign, or closer ones, or technically “better” ones. The difference is in Charlie’s acting. He’s finally figured out the power that the close-up gives to allow an actor to share a complex series of emotions with an audience, to make them really identify with the character and feel what he is feeling. Maybe because he was directing himself, he was able to “get” this before most other actors or directors did. You see some hints of it with Griffith and Gish, for example, but more often in the context of a simpler emotion such as fear or ecstasy. Charlie lets his face play out a scene here, something I don’t think I’ve seen another actor do up to this point.

Bank2The fantasy sequence makes a very interesting contrast to “The Tramp” as well, where Charlie actually does save Edna and her father from robbers, but loses her anyway. In both cases, the audience gets to enjoy the sense of heroism from the character they now sympathize with. Whereas in Charlie’s “park” movies, his violence is random and hard to justify, here he is able to use physical comedy and violence in a cause we feel comfortable with – these characters clearly deserve what they get. In both cases, this adds to the suffering we feel when his “reward” is taken away from him. Note that the assumption of receiving love as a “reward” for heroic acts takes the human agency away from the female character in this situation, making her an object of love rather than a participant – and it’s a familiar narrative in fairy tales, novels, and many other cultural forms. But Chaplin-as-director returns that agency to the woman, forcing Chaplin-as-Tramp (and the audience) to accept her power, however painful that misdirection may be for him (and us). Misdirection is now the key to both Charlie’s comedy (as in the opening, where we think Charlie is in charge of the bank, but discover him to be the janitor) and his more “tragic” or serious acting.

Bank3As a final note, it’s interesting that in this movie Charlie spends most of the running time out of his familiar costume, wearing a reasonably well-fitted uniform as a janitor. We’ve become so used to the iconic look that he doesn’t need to rely on it anymore. His mustache is enough to signal us to his persona, and it is the consistent thread that carries us through here, as it is in the “Burlesque on Carmen.”

Director: Charles Chaplin

Camera: Harry Ensign

Cast: Charles Chaplin, Edna Purviance, Charles Inslee, Billy Armstrong, Carl Stockdale

Run Time: 26 Min

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