Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: Clara Williams

The Ruse (1915)

This early short starring William S. Hart lacks the complexity of his later features, but still differs from the more generic Westerns of the era by presenting a decidedly unusual storyline for its star. Hart presents a moral tale in which the simple values of the frontier are contrasted with the corrupt climate of the urban Midwest.

The movie opens by introducing the villain (John Davidson), a crooked mine promoter and his innocent stenographer, May Dawson (Clara Williams), who Davidson seems unduly interested in. Then the scene shifts to the West, where Hart as “Bat” Peters rides into town and defends an old drunk against a bully at a bar, then goes to check his mail. He has a letter from the promoter, who is interested in buying his mine. He suggests bringing samples of the ore to Chicago with him. Bat does so, and he and May make eyes at one another when they meet, and she suggests he room at her mother’s boarding house. Meanwhile, the crook decides to swindle Bat out of his mine, and makes plans with a small gang of hoods to pull it off. However, May hears the details of their plan, so she is kidnapped and held in a small room while the plan is put into action. Bat signs over his mine in exchange for cash and a “bogus Westerner” is introduced to show him the town. He is coaxed into a crooked poker game, with the intention of cheating him out of the money he’s been paid for his property. However, Bat sees the others trading cards and holds them at gunpoint. In trying to get out, he stumbles into the room where May is held, and then a fight breaks out as he tries to rescue her. The police, summoned by gunshots and a fire Bat has started, arrive, and take the crooks into custody. Bat and May go back to her mother’s house and he invites her to join him in the clean air of “the only land I understand.” The end.

Pardon me ma’am, but is today the 23rd?

I was a bit surprised to see a story set in Chicago starring William S. Hart. He’s still an upright cowboy though, so I guess it’s OK. It’s sort of a reversal of movies like “Wild and Woolly” where Douglas Fairbanks plays an easterner who goes West to find himself. The director seems to have been concerned that we would lose track of what day it was, because there’s a large calendar on the wall at the office that shows the date clearly, and it changes as the story moves from one day to the next. This movie, like “The Arizona Wooing,” was produced by the New York Motion Picture Company’s “Broncho Films” but there’s no obvious attempt to play on Broncho Billy this time. Hart probably wouldn’t have stood for it, although it occurs to me that Billy’s Essanay Company was located in Chicago, the den of evil in this movie, so there may have been a sly comment at work there. There isn’t much going on with the filmmaking here, mostly pretty standard shots  and editing for the period, although there’s an insert shot during  the poker game of one player’s hand passing a card to another, followed  by a closeup of Hart glaring as this happens, so that at least there’s some use of technique. Bat seems to get off awful easy after shooting several men and starting a fire in the warehouse, but I suppose May’s testimony would have some influence on the police. Anyway, it’s not Hart’s best work, but it’s interesting to see where he came from.

Director: William H. Clifford , William S. Hart

Camera: Robert Doran

Starring: William S. Hart, Clara Williams, John Davidson, Gertrude Clair, Bob Kortman

Run Time: 21 Min

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

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Hell’s Hinges (1916)

Hell's_HingesI’ve been looking forward to seeing a Western starring William S. Hart for some time now, and today I got my chance, with this famous entry from 100 years ago. Hart is famous for being the “darker” “anti-hero” alternative to Gilbert M. “Broncho Billy” Anderson, but does this movie stand up to the hype?

The story begins by introducing us to Clara Williams and Jack Standing, who are brother and sister. Jack has been trained for the clergy at the instigation of “a devout and love-blinded mother,” although he is unsuited for the job. His sister, it seems, is made of sterner stuff, but, of course, she’s a girl so never mind. The church fathers decide that Jack could never stand up to “the trials and temptations” of a city parish, so they decide to send him to the countryside. Jack, with visions of worshipful señoritas dancing in his head, agrees to go and sister offers to come along to help him get established. Unfortunately, the town they send him to, Placer Center, is a wild frontier town, with just a small contingent of church-goers, derisively known as the “Pettycoat Brigade.” Most of the town spends its time drinking, gambling, whoring, brawling, and especially shooting at each other. You’d think the population would rapidly diminish. Read the rest of this entry »

Best Editing 1915

When you come right down to it, a movie is like a big jigsaw puzzle that only makes sense if you have all the pieces in the right place. Beyond building the narrative, a good editor can heighten emotion, create tension, or point out key aspects of the story to the audience which are invisible to the characters. While the basics of editing were already in place, the flowering of the feature film in 1915 gave editors a chance to really show their stuff – producers and directors finally began to learn that no one wanted to sit still for 90 minutes while a series of un-edited scenes were displayed by a static camera.

The candidates this year are among the best of this new breed. In “The Coward,” editing is used to complicate the story of a young man who flees from battle and later redeems himself, one tense scene inter-cutting as he hides in a box while enemy officers discuss battle plans. “The Italian,” which came out at the beginning of the year, already used editing to show tension as the main character runs home to try to save his baby while the wife cradles his sick child. “Hypocrites” edits between dual plotlines to show the cruelty of self-serving and dishonest people. In “The Golden Chance” we see several complex sequences in which Cecil B. DeMille brings out his characters’ conflicts and motivations. Finally, “Alias Jimmy Valentine” uses established techniques of editing to produce a tense crime drama with a race-to-save-a-life at the ending.

The nominees for Best Editing in 1915 are…

  1. The Coward
  2. The Italian
  3. Hypocrites
  4. Golden Chance
  5. Alias Jimmy Valentine

And the winner is… “The Italian!”

George_Beban_(The_Italian)It surprised me to find after a year of great editing that I returned to a movie I watched back in 2014 for this award, but I feel that the editing of this movie contributes greatly to its success. George Beban’s close-up symbolizes the drama and how dynamically it unfolds – but it would be meaningless without all the other shots before and after that make up a story.

Red Saunders’ Sacrifice (1912)

Clara Williams

Clara Williams

There’s surprisingly little gunplay in this Western short from Lubin. We do, however, get three-way cross-cutting and melodramatic romance story worthy of D.W. Griffith. Mary, played by Clara Williams (who we’ve seen in “The Italian” and who went on to star in “Hell’s Hinges”), meets a charming and very clean-shaven “outlaw” near her frontier home. The “outlaw” in question is the eponymous Red Saunders, played by Edgar Jones, who made quite a few Westerns at Lubin, most of which are now lost. To me, he looks more like a Mountie than an outlaw. When Mary’s house catches fire, he takes her and her aging mother in at his mountain hideaway, but then mom falls sick and he must go fetch a doctor. At first reluctant, knowing that he’s a wanted man and will be spotted in town, his inner decency gets the better of him and he goes for the doctor. He makes the mistake of asking the local deputy where he can find a doctor, and the deputy interrupts the sheriff, who’s busy reminiscing about a lost love, to tell him there’s an outlaw in town. The doctor tries to capture Red for the bounty, but Red disarms him and forces him to return to the cabin. The doctor quickly ascertains that the woman has been dead for hours and there was no reason to get a doctor in the first place. Red gives him back his gun and sends him on his way while Mary grieves. Now the sheriff and the deputy ride up, having tracked the doctor to the mountains. The sheriff bushwhacks Red and handcuffs him, but he does stop long enough to hear Mary’s story. When he goes into the death room, he recognizes the corpse – it’s the woman he was pining over in the earlier scene. Mary is his daughter! The three talk things out and the sheriff takes off the handcuffs and gives Red back his gun on his word of honor that he’ll turn himself in. Red serves his time and returns to marry Mary.

Red Saunders SacrificeOn the whole, I found this a pretty typical Western for its day, well-made, but nothing really special. Clara Williams is the best actor in the piece, although the doctor and the deputy are both satisfyingly oily and untrustworthy. The whole bit with the sheriff mooning over his memorabilia makes no sense until we get to the denouement. Edgar Jones, as I’ve mentioned above, just doesn’t come across as a desperado or a fugitive, although he’s a handsome enough side of beef for a Western hero. Tinting was used for the scene with the burning cabin, and we get an interesting close-up on the deputy and the wanted poster to make sure we know it’s Red they’re after – never mind the improbability of reproducing photographs of a random outlaw on posters in the 1860s. The cross-cutting I mentioned gives us Mary fretting over her dead mother while Red gets the doctor and the deputy and sheriff pursue. It’s not a tense sequence (we already know mom’s dead), but it is effective in terms of moving the story forward. There is some lush countryside footage, presumably taken near Lubin’s Philadelphia headquarters, but all made up to be passably Western.

Director Francis J Grandon

Director Francis J Grandon

One final note: I saw this movie screened with a live audience at the Cinecon film festival in Los Angeles. I mention this because my readers might be interested in Cinecon (I’ll do a more complete writeup of the festival when it’s over) and also because it has affected my review process. Normally, I’ll watch a short at least twice before writing it up, features I go back to key scenes for. Since this was a live screening, it means I had no such opportunities, so any errors that took place can be chalked up to a failing memory.

Director: Francis J. Grandon

Camera: unknown

Starring: Edgar Jones, Clara Williams

Run Time: 10 Min

I cannot find this to watch for free on the Internet. If you find it, please let me know in the comments.

Italian, The (1915)

George_Beban_(The_Italian)

OK, I admit, I goofed and watched this one a little early. Some source I read referred to this as a 1914 film, probably because it was shot in November, 1914, but it wasn’t actually in theaters until January, 1915 (hence, it would not qualify for a Century Award until next year). I have to say, though, this has me excitedly anticipating next year, because the technical sophistication of this film is far above anything I’ve reviewed so far. It’s also a powerful tear-jerker, telling the story of a hopeful young immigrant whose dreams are thwarted in the New World, and his determination to take revenge on the family of the man he thinks has wronged him. George Beban apparently had a previous successful career playing “ethnic” characters on stage, but this was his first break into movies. His portrayal is ultimately a caricature (emphasized by intertitles with typical Italian broken English), but it is sympathetic almost to a fault. No doubt producers at Paramount were aware that much of the audience for silent films came from immigrant groups, including many Italians, and a hateful portrayal would have worked against them. If you stop to think about it, the portrayal of Italians in later films, including “Marty” and “The Godfather” would be similarly stereotypical, but would nevertheless appeal to Italian Americans’ sense of identity.

Director: Reginald Barker

Starring: George Beban, Clara Williams

Run Time: 74 Min

You can watch it for free: here.