Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: Charles West

Tourists (1912)

 TheTourists

This short “farce comedy” is interesting for a number of reasons. Although its depiction of Native Americans is likely to make modern audiences uncomfortable, it does display an aspect of Pueblo culture that is largely forgotten today. Having had their land stolen and their way of life destroyed, many Pueblos turned to the tourist industry to make a living, working in places like the “Harvey House” in Albuquerque and selling hand-crafted blankets and other items to white people on vacation. That is the setting for Mack Sennett, then employed at Biograph Studios, to make this vehicle for the teenaged Mabel Normand, later one of his big stars at Keystone. Mabel plays a ditzy and somewhat sexually transgressive young woman who misses her train and takes a up a flirtation with the local Pueblo chief. This angers her male companion, but also the local Pueblo women, who initiate a classic Sennett chase-sequence that ends with the white folks boarding the next train and leaving empty-handed. The whole story is interspersed with images of the Pueblo people doing their schtick for the camera, and several are used as extras, although the major roles went to Biograph players in dark-face. The enraged Pueblo women referred to in the intertitles as “suffragettes,” which is simply a bad joke at the expense of early-twentieth century feminism.

Director: Mack Sennett

Camera: Percy Higginson

Starring: Mabel Normand, Charles West, Frank Evans, Kate Toncray

Run Time: 6 Min, 10 secs

You can watch it for free: here.

Mothering Heart (1913)

Mothering_Heart

This short melodrama by Griffith has certain elements of the “lost girl” melodramas of the period, and also demonstrates considerable technical sophistication, particularly in terms of camera angles and editing. Lillian Gish (we’ve seen her in several Griffith films at this point, including “An Unseen Enemy” and “The Musketeers of Pig Alley”) stars as a young woman with a “natural” mothering instinct, demonstrated by her affection for puppies and love of flowers. She is wooed, “against her better judgment,” as the intertitle says, by Walter Miller (also in “The Musketeers” and later “The Shadow of the Eagle,” with John Wayne), a young man struggling to make a living. Once he has a little success, he throws her over for a more exciting woman he meets in a restaurant/night club, and poor Lillian, pregnant, moves back in with her mother. The child becomes ill, and the husband realizes the error of his ways too late to prevent tragedy. The most remarkable scenes are those in the night club, where an Apache dance is performed. Rather than simply framing the whole thing as a stage, as would have been typical, Griffith’s cameraman shows us at least four different angles, editing them together to show the stage, close up action at two tables, and the whole place in a long shot. From what I’ve read about the technique of the time, it’s possible that they had two or three cameras running simultaneously to get this effect, similar to the way live television would be shot decades later.

Director: D.W. Griffith

Camera: Billy Bitzer

Starring: Lillian Gish, Walter Miller, Kate Bruce, Charles West.

Run Time: 23 Min.

You can watch it for free: here.

Massacre, the (1914)

Massacre_1914

Shot in 1912, this movie by Griffith had to wait almost two years for an American release, in part due to the increased acceptance of the longer (2 reel) format. It reminds me of “The Invaders” by being a Western which depicts the clash of cultures between Native and Euro-Americans without over-justifying the Settlers’ position. Events are precipitated when a troop of American cavalry makes an apparently un-provoked attack on an “Indian village,” and the camera lingers on a dead woman and her baby to make the moral point that US forces are not clean. We then move to a caravan of “innocent” settlers, escorted by General Custer to “the new country” to begin their lives, and the inevitable Native American attack begins. Among the settlers is new mother Blanche Sweet (who we know from “The Lesser Evil” and “One is Business, the Other Crime”), who, having chosen one of her two suitors earlier in the picture, must now be protected by the man she rejected. The cast includes quite a number of Griffith regulars, as you’ll see from the cast list below, perhaps most notably Alfred Paget (from “The Lesser Evil” and “The Musketeers of Pig Alley”) as the “Indian Chief.” The wide-shots of the battle scenes are complex and effective, and foreshadow Griffith’s famous battles from “The Birth of a Nation.”

Director: D.W. Griffith

Camera: Billy Bitzer

Starring: Blanche Sweet, Alfred Paget, Wilfred Lucas, Charles West, Robert Harron, Dell Henderson.

Run Time: 30 Min.

You can watch if for free: here (recommend you mute the soundtrack!)

Lesser Evil (1912)

Lesser Evil1

The beginning of this Griffith short looks somewhat like “The Unchanging Sea,” suggesting that it may have been shot in the same area of California where he made that one, but I have no definite information about this. Unlike that movie, this is not a story of love parted by the sea, but rather a classic “damsel in distress” scenario, in which Blanche Sweet (who was in “The Painted Lady” and later starred in “Anna Christie”) is abducted by a rowdy crew of smugglers, while her beau (Edwin August, who we’ve seen in “One is Business, the Other Crime” and also appeared in “The Girl and Her Trust”) rushes to the rescue. Griffith shows he has mastered cinematic tension at this point, putting the girl into additional peril by having the crew decide to take advantage of her, while the gruff but gallant captain (Alfred Paget, from “The Musketeers of Pig Alley” and “The New York Hat”) tries to hold them off with two pistols. He’s a notably bad shot, however, and soon he’s down to his last bullet, which he offers to use on Blanche as a “lesser” evil than the loss of her honor. Even as the police, along with the hero, are climbing aboard the ship, his hand trembles on the trigger…

Director:D.W. Griffith

Camera: Billy Bitzer

Starring: Blanche Sweet, Edwin August, Alfred Paget, Charles West, Robert Harron, Mae Marsh.

Run Time: 13 Min, 20 seconds.

You can watch it for free: here.

One is Business, the Other Crime (1912)

One is Business

In classic Griffith fashion, this short film uses cross-cutting to contrast the lives of two newlywed couples, one rich, one poor, in order to make a social comment about the way we treat dishonesty at different ends of the income spectrum. When the poor man (Charles West, who we’ve seen in “The Unchanging Sea” and “The Burglar’s Dilemma”) cannot find a job, he finally breaks and tries to steal from the rich man’s (Edwin August, also in “The Eternal Mother” and later appeared in “The Magnificent Ambersons”) home. Said rich man has just accepted an offer of a bribe for his “vote” (I assume on a committee of some kind, since surely his vote on a ballot measure wouldn’t count for more than anyone else’s) in favor of a new railroad. Rich wife Blanche Sweet (from “The Painted Lady” and “Judith of Bethulia”) catches the would-be robber and holds him at gun-point, but, finding out about her husband’s illicit dealings, lets him go and upbraids her spouse. Chastised, the rich husband returns the money and offers poor Charles a job, apparently in a brickyard he owns. The happy ending probably pleased both working class viewers, who enjoyed seeing the rich man shamed, and the more middle class of film audiences, who wanted to believe that honesty pays off.

Director: D.W. Griffith

Camera: Billy Bitzer

Starring: Charles West, Dorothy Bernard, Edwin August, Blanche Sweet.

Run Time: 15 Min, 22 seconds.

You can watch it for free: here.

Burglar’s Dilemma (1912)

Burglars Dilemma

DW Griffith directed this short crime-melodrama that, typically, has a hint of social message to it. In this case, a young man (Robert Harron, who we’ve seen in “The Musketeers of Pig Alley” and “Enoch Arden”) is nearly framed for a murder he didn’t commit when he conveniently breaks into the owner’s house to steal, at the behest of an older criminal (Harry Carey, Sr., also in “The Musketeers of Pig Alley” and “An Unseen Enemy”). The younger brother (Henry B. Walthall, later known for “The Birth of a Nation” and also in “The Avenging Conscience”), who is really guilty, turns him over to the police, who grill him mercilessly. The victim, the older brother (Lionel Barrymore, also in “The New York Hat” and later known for his series of “Dr. Kildare” movies), eventually revives and sets things straight, even getting his kid brother off the hook for good measure. The Gish sisters show up briefly before the heist goes down, but are barely in the movie. This seems like one of Griffith’s less innovative pieces, being constructed in a fairly linear fashion with minimal cross-cutting, and nearly all on square internal sets (often with the prominent “AB” for American Biograph visible on a wall!). No doubt audiences went more to see the now-familiar cast and simple morality play than for great originality.

Director: D.W. Griffith

Camera: Billy Bitzer

Starring: Lionel Barrymore, Henry B. Walthall, Harry Carey, Dorothy Gish, Lillian Gish, Robert Harron, Charles West.

Run Time: 15 Min, 22 seconds

You can watch it for free: here.

Last Drop of Water

Blanche Sweet

Blanche Sweet

This movie, along with several others we’ve looked at from Griffith in the same year, was shot during a special trip to California. The Biograph company was located in New York City, but the executives were starting to see the advantages of shooting in an area with a great deal of visual diversity and few rainy days, and Griffith took full advantage of the location. This story concerns a wagon train in the desert, which runs out of water due to an “Indian” attack. The Indians in this movie are stereotypical villains, who attack without apparent motivation and are simply an evil which must be vanquished by the heroic settlers, unlike the more nuanced characters of “The Invaders” or Griffith’s own “The Red Man’s View.” The movie is nevertheless impressive, in the scope of storytelling that Griffith managed to accomplish in only 13 minutes, and the attack, as well as the inevitable rescue by the cavalry, are filmed on a larger scale than most pictures of the time. Blanche Sweet, who’s been in several supporting roles (for example in “The Miser’s Heart” and “Enoch Arden”) finally gets a lead romantic role, and Charles West (from “The Unchanging Sea” and “Enoch Arden”) is her husband, who redeems himself after being a drunken slob by saving the settlers with his last water.

Director: D.W. Griffith

Camera: Billy Bitzer

Starring: Charles West, Blanche Sweet, Robert Harron, Dell Henderson, Linda Arvidson, Francis J. Grandon

Run Time: 13 Min, 15 seconds

You can watch it for free: here.

Enoch Arden (1911)

Enoch_Arden_(1911_film)

This two-part “featurette” by Griffith has a lot in common with his earlier film “The Unchanging Sea.” First of all, it’s based on a poem of the same name, in this case by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, who was read by all educated people at school at the time. Secondly, it follows the story of a couple, separated when the husband goes to sea to seek his fortune, and shows their seaside romance as well as images of the abandoned wife staring out to sea forlornly while she waits for her husband’s return. Unlike that story, however, it does not end in reconciliation, but rather in tragedy, as the wife finally relents and marries her other suitor (a remarkably persistent fellow, who continues to court her as her children grow from babies to adulthood). It’s obvious that Griffith was becoming interested in more complex storylines and storytelling techniques: we see closeups, and there’s a pretty impressive ship, either built or hired for the shoot. The story stars and was written by Griffith’s wife Linda Arvidson, who we’ve seen in “Corner in Wheat” and “The Adventures of Dollie,” with Enoch portrayed by Wilfred Lucas, from “His Trust” and “The Girl and Her Trust.” The rival is Francis J. Grandon, who would soon turn to directing movies like “To Be Called For” and “The Adventures of Kathlyn.”

Director: D. W. Griffith

Camera: Billy Bitzer

Starring: Wilfred Lucas, Linda Arvidson, Francis J. Grandon, George Nichols, Grace Henderson, Blanche Sweet, Dell Henderson, Charles West.

Run Time: 33 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

His Trust (1911)

His Trust

This early melodrama is a good example of why modern audiences can have a hard time with Griffith, and with early film in general. It has many of the same problems for us as “Birth of a Nation” does, although it is much shorter and refrains, at least, from glorifying the Ku Klux Klan. The subtitle alone: “The Faithful Devotion and Self-Sacrifice of an Old Negro Servant” is enough to set our teeth on edge, although “Negro” was not considered an insulting term at the time, nor even a few generations ago. “Servant” here is, of course, a euphemism for “slave,” as the movie is set in the South during the Civil War, a period that lived in the memory of the older and the myths of the younger generations at the time (it was as distant to them as the Kennedy assassination is to us today). The “servant” is played by a white man (Wilfred Lucas, also in “The Girl and Her Trust” and later “Modern Times” with Chaplin) in black face, another practice that is no longer acceptable. I would encourage viewers, not to ignore their sense of discomfort with this movie, but to regard it as evidence of an important shift in American history. One African American commentator on film I heard observed that stories like “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” were popular among black audiences of the time, because, in spite of the stereotypes, they at least suggested the possibility of noble action on the part of black people, and this movie falls into that category as well. Today, the stereotypes are no longer acceptable, and I’d say that’s a good thing, but this phase in history remains significant in understanding race in America.

Director: D.W. Griffith

Camera: Billy Bitzer

Starring: Wilfred Lucas, Dell Henderson, Claire McDowell, Linda Arvidson, Mack Sennett, Charles West, Grace Henderson.

Run Time: 14 Min

You can watch it for free: here. (Along with the sequel, “His Trust Fulfilled”)

Unchanging Sea (1910)

1910_UnchangingSea

This Biograph picture by DW Griffith is based on the poem “The Three Fishers” by Charles Kingsley, which provides a somewhat different structure to the storyline than similar shorts of the time. At the beginning of the movie, the intertitles are almost all quotes from that poem, which manage to tell the entire poem before the movie storyline completely takes over. That story involves a fisherman in a small seaside village who leaves his pregnant wife behind to go to the sea and fails to return, leaving her and the child alone for years. His companions’ bodies are washed ashore, but the sea never gives him up, leaving the wife uncertain to his fate. It develops that he’s been in another village all this time, apparently suffering from amnesia, but he finally returns to find his wife and now-grown child – who now has a fisherman sweetheart of her own. The husband is played by Arthur V. Johnson, who we’ve seen in “The Adventures of Dollie” and “The Sealed Room” and the wife is Griffith’s real-life spouse Linda Arvidson, who was in “Corner in Wheat” as well as “The Adventures of Dollie.” Mary Pickford (from “The Usurer” and later in “Poor Little Rich Girl”), again edging toward stardom, is the grown daughter, and Charles West (whose career includes “The Redman’s View” and “In the Border States“) is her boyfriend.

Director: D.W. Griffith

Camera: Billy Bitzer

Starring: Arthur V. Johnson, Linda Arvidson, Mary Pickford, Charles West, George Nichols

Run Time: 13 Min, 30 seconds

You can watch it for free: here.