Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: Elmer Booth

June 1915

William Jennings Bryan and his wife, shortly after his resignation as Secretary of State.

William Jennings Bryan and his wife, shortly after his resignation as Secretary of State.

This is a slightly slow news month, so far as I’ve found, but the First World War rages on in Europe and a few major political developments kept Americans buying newspapers and attending the newsreels through the month of June.

World War: The third Allied attack on Gallipolli fails, June 4, resulting in 6500 casualties plus 3000 for the Ottomans. The newly belligerent Italy attacks Austro-Hungarian forces on June 23, beginning the First Battle of the Isonzo. After suffering 14,000 casualties (to about 9,000 Austro-Hungarians), the battle ends in failure for the Italians.

Revolution: Pancho Villa’s and General Álvaro Obregón’s forces clash in the decisive engagement of the Battle of Celaya at León, June 3. Obregón loses an arm to a grenade in this battle, but he is victorious.

Suffrage: On June 5, women in Denmark and Iceland gain the right to vote in parliamentary elections.

Politics: William Jennings Bryan resigns on June 9 as Secretary of State over the handling of the Lusitania disaster. Bryan was a powerful figure in the populist wing of the Democratic Party, and had run for president unsuccessfully twice. He argued that the United States should avoid entanglements in the First World War, predicting that “if either side does win…a victory it will probably mean preparation for another war.” This view became unpopular after the German submarine attack, and he was seen as a liability to President Wilson’s cabinet.

Philanthropy: The British Women’s Institute is founded in Wales in June 16. Its purpose is to revitalize rural communities in order to increase food production during the War.

Film Industry: The Motion Picture Directors Association is founded on June 18, in Los Angeles. This confirms both the growing influence of directors in the industry and the now-established centrality of the Los Angeles area to film production. Founders include Maurice Tourneur, director of “The Wishing Ring” and “Alias Jimmy Valentine.”

Born: Priscilla Lane, actress (“Arsenic and Old Lace” and “Saboteur”) June 12.

Died: Elmer Booth, star of “Musketeers of Pig Alley” and also in “An Unseen Enemy,” on June 16.

Friends (1912)

Friends Pickford

This short by Griffith is a classic love-triangle, set in a Western context, with Mary Pickford (who was in “Coquette” and “The New York Hat”) coming between close friends Henry B. Walthall (also in “Birth of a Nation” and “Corner in Wheat”) and Lionel Barrymore (from “The Burglar’s Dilemma” and “You Can’t Take It With You”). All of this takes place in the saloon in a California mining town, where Mary lives alone in a room upstairs, and she comes across to me as rather forward by the gender standards of the day. The Intertitle refers to her as “the little orphan whose eager eyes and bright smile make Placer Gulch Haven an Earthly paradise for the rough miners,” which may not quite be a euphemism for “prostitute,” since she shows no interest in the other saloon patrons and apparently the eponymous friends intend to marry her. Walthall is her foppish beau Dandy Jack at the beginning, but when he leaves her to seek his fortune, she takes up with the grizzled and burly Barrymore, soon replacing Walthall’s picture with his in her photographic frame. This is what tips him off when he inopportunely returns, but, of course, friendship wins out and Walthall gallantly concedes the fray, apparently to Mary’s disappointment.

Director: D.W. Griffith

Camera: Billy Bitzer

Starring: Mary Pickford, Henry B. Walthall, Lionel Barrymore, Harry Carey, Elmer Booth, Robert Harron, Walter Miller.

Run Time: 12 Min, 45 seconds.

You can watch it for free: here.

Musketeers of Pig Alley (1912)

Musketeers_of_Pig_Alley

This short movie by Griffith has been credited as the “first gangster movie,” and, although other films from the period dealt with crime as a social problem, it certainly has many of the familiar tropes of later movies about criminals. Lillian Gish (from “An Unseen Enemy” and later star of “The Wind”) gets an early starring role as “the little lady,” a married woman living in a tenement over-run with gangsters, including the dapper “Snapper Kid” (played by Elmer Booth, also in “An Unseen Enemy” and “The Painted Lady”) who runs the Musketeers. She resists his advances, and later he robs her husband (Walter Miller, who’s in “The Mothering Heart” and “An Unseen Enemy”). Poor Lillian makes the mistake of attending a “gangster’s ball” with a friend, and another gangster tries to slip her a drugged drink, which Snapper Kid sees and prevents, resulting in a gang rivalry. After a very tightly-staged back alley gun battle, the husband gets his wallet back and Snapper runs to the couple’s flat for refuge from the police, learning of their married status and renouncing his interest in the little lady. The couple pay him back for his decency by giving him an alibi for the police. The complex plot and use of closeups as well as an early follow focus device demonstrate the degree to which Griffith was innovating. A brief shot of Dorothy Gish passing her sister in the street reputedly made a big hit with audiences.

Director: D.W. Griffith

Camera: Billy Bitzer

Starring: Lillian Gish, Elmer Booth, Walter Miller, Harry Carey, Robert Harron, Lionel Barrymore, Dorothy Gish.

Run Time: 18 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

Unseen Enemy (1912)

An_Unseen_Enemy

This taught little suspense thriller by Griffith introduced the world to the Gish sisters – Dorothy (who we’ll see in “The Musketeers of Pig Alley” and was later in “Orphans of the Storm”) and Lillian (later in “The Mothering Heart” and “Birth of a Nation”). What’s interesting to me is that, although they’re made up to be twins in identical wardrobe, makeup, and hair, they come across as highly individual actresses, with distinct screen presences even at this early stage (Dorothy would have been 14, and Lilian 19 at the time). The story is that they were introduced to Griffith through his leading star Mary Pickford, and he immediately signed them to work for Biograph, making them into equally big stars overnight. The story is essentially that the two are locked into a room at gunpoint while a “slattern maid” (Grace Henderson, who we’ve seen in “Corner in Wheat” and “The Usurer”) and her thieving henchman (Harry Carey, Sr. who went on to “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” and “Musketeers of Pig Alley”) attempt to break into the safe with their inheritance. Meanwhile, they manage to call their brother (Elmer Booth, from “Friends” and “The Battle at Elderbush Gulch”) on the telephone in the room and he races to their rescue in an automobile – emphasizing the fascination of film audiences with technology and speed.

Director: D.W. Griffith

Camera: Billy Bitzer

Starring: Dorothy Gish, Lillian Gish, Elmer Booth, Robert Harron, Harry Carey, Grace Henderson

Run Time: 15 Min, 20 seconds

You can watch it for free: here.