Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: Charles Ogle

The Whispering Chorus (1918)

This feature by Cecil B. DeMille shows the development of plot and acting as it was taking place in a young Hollywood. Its star, Raymond Hatton, demonstrates that silent movie performance need not be hackneyed or overstated.

The conceit of this film is a simple one – that each person carries around with them a Greek “chorus” of voices that constantly advise on every decision made or action taken. These voices may be those of someone we know – our mother’s voice, for example, might be quite influential – or just represent our idea of “society” or some part of it. Together, these voices make up a “Whispering Chorus” that echoes through our minds with good and bad advice alike, often contradicting one another as they compete for our attention. Hatton plays John Tremble, a low-ranking white collar worker for a large contracting firm. His “chorus” includes Gustav von Seyffertitz and Edna Mae Cooper, and they appear as disembodied heads behind his shoulder through the magic of double-exposure when DeMille wants us to realize that Hatton is under their sway. When he considers knocking off work early, von Seffertitz encourages him with communistic logic about the theft of his time for the profit of the company, but Cooper changes his mind, promising him that his work will ultimately be appreciated.

After finishing his tasks, Tremble goes home, where h lives with his wife Jane (Kathlyn Williams) and mother (Edythe Chapman). They are busy decorating for Christmas, but John is upset because there are bills waiting to be paid, his clothes are worn and threadbare, and his wife wants to spend money on a new dress. After being a bit of a jerk about it, he talks to his mother, who convinces him to spend the last of his money on the new dress, to make up to her. He goes out again, but before making the purchase, he runs into a friend from the office, who invites him to a poker game. At first he refuses, but his whispering chorus convinces him that he can make enough from gambling to buy the dress and a new coat for himself, so he goes along after all. Predictably, he loses all of his money, then stays out late to avoid having to admit his mistake to his family. His whispering chorus convinces him to steal money from the till at work to make up for it, and he falsifies an entry in the ledger. Then an investigation into graft arrives, in the form of George Coggeswell (Elliott Dexter), and Tremble panics, knowing his theft will be detected. He begs off a theater engagement, claiming he needs to go back to the office to lock his desk, but instead he runs out of the state and goes into hiding in an abandoned shed near a river.

One day, a body washes up on shore, and Tremble uses it to fake his own death, leaving a cryptic note about a man called “Edgar Smith” who was supposedly trying to strong-arm him into falsifying the books. Tremble now shaves off his beard with a piece of glass, giving himself a nasty scar in the process, but also altering his appearance enough to throw off any pursuer. Meanwhile, Mrs. Tremble has been comforted by Coggeswell as his investigation now focuses on “Edgar Smith” rather than her blameless husband. She falls in love with him, and he with her, but she is reluctant to re-marry, since Tremble’s mother still insists that her son is alive. John drifts aimlessly through life, taking up dock work despite being rather too small and skinny for hard labor, and he is injured in an accident, giving him a limp that also distinguishes him from his former self. On Chinese New Year, Jane finally relents and agrees to marry Coggeswell, now  a successful politician and candidate for the governorship, while at the same time John dallies with a prostitute in Shanghai.

Eventually, John goes back to see his mother, finding her alone and dying. This leads to his being caught and accused of being “Edgar Smith.” When the trial comes, his own wife does not recognize him, and he fails to put up a good defense, believing that it is impossible for a man to be convicted of killing himself. He is, however, and now the “good” side of his Whispering Chorus comes to his aid. He decides that rather than proving Jane a bigamist and showing the world his own cowardice, he will go to the electric chair as “Edgar Smith,” redeeming himself for all of his mistakes in this way. The movie concludes by showing us that John Tremble has now become a part of Jane’s Whispering Chorus, the noble version of him guides her conscience through life.

On the whole, I enjoyed this movie more than “Old Wives for New,” also made by DeMille in the same year. While both were written by a woman (Jeannie MacPherson) and intended to appeal to a female audience, this movie does rather a better job of sympathizing with the wife’s point of view. At the beginning of the movie, I was a little worried that her desire for a new dress, and apparent neglect of her husband’s appearance would be blamed for all of the hardship that followed, but the script makes it clear that it is John’s bad decisions that are blame. Jane is portrayed throughout as decent and kind. John, on the other hand, is callous regarding her to the point of psychosis. His Whispering Chorus may be giving him bad advice, but he’s the one who never considers the effect of his actions on the people who love him, almost right up to the final scenes of the movie. It seemed to me that he had the perfect “out” when he made the excuse about going back to the office – he could have replaced the money then and the whole thing would have been cleared up. If there had been a scene showing him at the office, but seeing a cop on guard or something like that, it would have made more sense for him to run away.

John Tremble may be a heel, but Raymond Hatton is outstanding. He gives Lon Chaney a run for his money in changing his face several times in the course of this movie, also developing different body language as he goes from clerical worker to fugitive to deadbeat to convict. The wife who doesn’t recognize her own husband when he shaves (or grows) a beard may be a cliché in silent movie plots, but in this case, the transformation he undergoes makes it believable. The story also gives them several years of distance to help the memory fade. It’s sort of a reversal of “The Return of Martin Guerre,” and it works, but mainly because Hatton is so convincing. This is up there with the best work I’ve seen from DeMille as well, he keeps the story moving through editing and good use of multiple angles to show scenes and simultaneous action. The one weird choice was having the wedding inter-cut with John’s infidelity, though I suppose this was to insure that the audience would sympathize with Jane, even though she was technically violating one of American cinema’s cardinal rules by re-marrying while her husband was still alive.

Director: Cecil B. DeMIlle

Camera: Alvin Wyckoff

Starring: Raymond Hatton, Kathlyn Williams, Elliott Dexter, Edythe Chapman, Gustav von Seyffertitz, Edna Mae Cooper, Julia Faye, Noah Beery, Tully Marshall, Charles Ogle

Run Time: 1 hr, 25 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

M’Liss (1918)

Mary Pickford is a feral, bratty tomboy in this comedy-western from Artcraft. While in most of the movies I reviewed in 1917 she played a little girl of ten or eleven (taking advantage of her stature to seem younger than her co-stars), here she is a girl on the cusp of woman-hood, but the movie handles this somewhat awkwardly.

The movie opens, as many silent features did, with a kind of visual credit sequence in which each actor and character is introduced with an intertitle and a brief vignette that shows them in character. Pickford is shown in a raggedy dress, firing a slingshot at a bear in the woods, and we are told that her name means “limb of Satan” to the local populace. We also meet her pappy, “Bummer” Smith (Theodore Roberts), a  bearded man who trades eggs for booze, the local judge (Tully Marshall) who also enjoys a drink, and the villain, “Mexican” Joe (Monty Blue). Shortly thereafter, the new schoolteacher (Thomas Meighan) rides into town on a stagecoach that is robbed by M’Liss at slingshot-point, largely due to the winking cooperation of the stagecoach driver, Yuba Bill (Charles Ogle). We now learn that “Bummer” Smith has a rich brother in San Francisco who has willed “Bummer” all his money, but the evil nurse (Winifred Greenwood) and her husband (Val Paul) have plans to get it for themselves. Got all that? Good.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Usurer’s Grip (1912)

This educational film from Edison was made in collaboration with a Progressive-Era nonprofit that was fighting for equitable credit for working people. It has a clear message about the “right way to get a loan,” but is rather basic in terms of film technique.

The movie begins by introducing our protagonists: The “Jenks,” a middle class family with a sick daughter (Edna May Weick) on a set that appears to be a crowded urban apartment. The Intertitles inform us that they are having financial concerns due to the unexpected expense of her malady, and there is concern that they will lose their rented furniture. Then, Mr. Jenks (Water Edwin) spots an ad in the paper for a loan company that promises low rates and easy payments. The next scene shows the office of the loan company. Here, a poor woman on one side of a counter pleads for assistance, but is turned away by the female clerk on the other side. Then, our couple enters. The wife (Gertrude McCoy) takes a seat while the man goes up to the same counter the poor woman was turned away from. He is chastised when he steps a bit too far into the workspace of the clerk. She takes his information, however, and in the next scene we see the loan agent (played by Charles Ogle, who was the Frankenstein monster in the 1910 “Frankenstein”) visiting their home to make certain they have adequate collateral. He offers them a $25 loan, to be paid back in six “easy” payments of $7.50 per month – totalling $45! Mr. Jenks at first refuses, but the loan shark won’t negotiate and he needs the money, so he reluctantly signs the papers. The loan shark gives him the money, then takes a bill off the top to cover “drawing up the paperwork.”

Read the rest of this entry »

A Christmas Carol (1910)

I don’t know for certain whether this was the first adaptation of Charles Dickens’s classic tale to the screen, but certainly it is the oldest I’ve seen. It wouldn’t surprise me if a British filmmaker had beaten the Americans to the punch, but this version is directed for Edison by J. Searle Dawley, the same man who brought us “Frankenstein” in the same year and directed D.W. Griffith’s performance in “Rescued from an Eagle’s Nest.”

Christmas CarolMarc McDermott chews the scenery as Ebenezer Scrooge, a tight-fisted miser without a friend in the world. We see him berate Bob Cratchit (played by Charles Ogle) at his office before he rudely receives and then turns out petitioners from a charitable society and his own nephew. He yells at Cratchit for leaving early on Christmas Eve, then goes home himself. He is confronted by the transparent face of the deceased Jacob Marley on his door knocker. Then, as he prepares for bed Marley comes to warn him that he needs to change his ways or be condemned, as he is. The “Spirit of Christmas” (singular) shows him images of his past, present, and likely future. The images of the past are quite detailed and show a young Scrooge in happier times, the present is limited to images of Cratchit’s family and his nephew’s party, and the future shows him a tombstone which reads: “Ebenezer Scrooge, He Lived and Died Without a Friend.” Scrooge awakes the next morning to children caroling at his doorstep and throws money at them. He meets the charitable society people and hands them bills. He goes to find his nephew and makes him his business partner. And he brings him and his fiancé over to Bob Cratchit’s, where he pretends to be furious, then surprises the family with a huge goose. Scrooge and nephew are invited to dinner and everyone is happy.

Christmas Carol1Like many movies of this period, the success of this one largely depends upon one’s familiarity with the story. Fortunately this story is as familiar today (especially after its many screen versions) as it was then. I thought McDermott did a great job of conveying the necessary emotions: meanness at the beginning, then fear and remorse, followed by the jolly pranksterism of his reformed self. We never got to hear, or read in Intertitles, his famous “Bah, humbug” line, but he makes up for it by curtly dismissing his visitors with a bow. At times, it looks like he might hit poor Cratchit with his cane, he’s so furious about him leaving early on Christmas Eve. We do see Tiny Tim, but only briefly. We see him limping with a crutch, but there isn’t much emphasis on him as a point of interest for Scrooge or Cratchit. We only get one ghost, but at least all aspects of the story are retained in the short run time.

Christmas Carol2The ghostly effects are probably the part of this movie that interest most viewers today (and possibly at the time as well). They are accomplished through multiple-exposure, and required fairly precise editing and staging techniques to work. Still, for 1910 they are hardly innovative; Georges Méliès had done for more complex multiple exposures well before this. They do work well enough for the story, however. The other question they raise is whether I should count this as part of my history of horror, always a tricky question in terms of this story, which is both warm hearted and filled with horrific imagery. Because fright plays such a major role in the story arc (it’s the whole reason for Scrooge’s change), I’m labeling it as such.

Christmas Carol3

Director: J. Searle Dawley

Camera: Unknown

Cast: Marc McDermott, Charles S Ogle, Viola Dana, Carey Lee

Run Time: 10 Min

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

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.