Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: Essanay Studios

Forgiven in Death (1911)

This early western from G.M. Anderson depicts honor and male bonding in uncivilized conditions, a trope that the genre will frequently return to in future decades. It also uses Native Americans as generic un-motivated villains, another aspect that would persist.

The intertitles do much of the heavy lifting in the first act, as we learn that Ned (Brinsley Shaw) and Jack (Anderson) are in love with the daughter of their employer (Gladys Field) and that she has a hard time deciding between them. She chooses Jack, but they keep the wedding secret to avoid hurting Ned, and the two men go off together on a prospecting venture, living in a small shack on the plains. Ned insists on picking up their mail every day, and he stashes all of Gladys’s letters to Jack under the floorboards, resulting in Jack being mopey and depressed. One day, on the way to the post office, he encounters an Indian war party, who are hiding in the grasses and immediately pursue him when he turns his horse back. There’s a long chase back to the shack, and then Jack and Ned try to fight off the attackers with their pistols. There are no further intertitles at this point, with the drama now playing out entirely through the action on the screen.

There are far too many Indians (and they have rifles, so should be able to hit at a greater distance, but these Indians insist on getting as close as possible and standing up to shoot so they lose a lot of men), and Jack is hit. He tries to stand once or twice, then seems to collapse in pain and despair. Ned now runs to get all the letters and starts to read one to his friend, trying to raise his spirits, and learns as a result that Gladys and Jack are married. Jack raises his pistol, and Ned holds up his hands in fear, but at the last moment, Jack shoots an Indian who was pointing his gun through the window. The two men are reconciled, but moments later Ned is hit also, and they reach out to hold hands as they both expire. We see a final shot of the warriors celebrating their victory and breaking into the shack to see their dead enemies.

The key to this movie is the gun battle, which is adequately staged for its purpose, but lacks the dynamics of later films like “The Battle at Elderbush Gulch.” The chase is typical for the period, with the camera locked down in one position as the pursued, and then all of the pursuers, race towards it and right past, then cutting to the next shot of pretty much the same thing again. The camera moves very slightly to follow the action, probably panning less than ten degrees so that it could almost be accidental. The gunfight is intercut between shots outside and those inside, showing simultaneous action but never really connecting the two locations. The “outside” action is all but forgotten while Ned and Jack have their interior confrontation, with only the resolution bringing in the Indians at all during that scene. Later film makers would probably at least shown bullets zipping around the shack to remind us that the attackers are still there. But, this is a pretty early effort, and at least the tension of “will Jack shoot Ned?” is held effectively, though the title kind of gives away the ending.

Finally, I mentioned the use of Native Americans as generic bad guys in this film. We never get any sense of why they attack our heroes – presumably they are threatened by the proximity of prospectors in their territory, possibly Ned and Jack (and their employer) are in violation of treaty agreements. But, their side is not part of the drama, so they wind up as one-dimensional villains, with rather poor tactics as well.

Director: Gilbert M. “Broncho Billy” Anderson

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Gilbert M. “Broncho Billy” Anderson, Brinsley Shaw, Gladys Field, Arthur Mackley, Harry Todd

Run Time: 15 Min, 40 secs

I have been unable to find this film for free on the Internet. If you do, please comment.

The Puncher’s New Love (1911)

This unusual film from Gilbert M. “Broncho Billy” Anderson avoids most of the usual Western tropes to tell a romantic story of love lost through selfishness. While a bit awkwardly shot and acted, it goes a long way to showing the diversity of roles Anderson did within the “Broncho Billy” umbrella.

As the movie begins, Anderson is leaning in the window to ask out his girl (Ann Little) to an upcoming barn dance. She is happy to accept and even gives him a little kiss goodbye. Right after he departs, a rival (John O’Brien) arrives with a handbill about the same dance. Ann rightly tells John she can’t go with him, because she just agreed to go with Billy, but he doesn’t seem to get the hint until she repeats herself. Eventually, he seems to console himself by saying at least he’ll see her at the dance with Billy. Meanwhile, Billy comes across a “city girl” (Gladys Field) out riding, and is immediately infatuated. He shows her the handbill and she shows an interest in going with Billy, who seems to completely forget about Ann. On the night of the dance, John sees Billy come in with the city girl and his jaw drops. She refuses to shake hands with a man Billy introduces her to, and looks disdainfully at the whole affair, but eventually agrees to dance with Billy. John eagerly rushes off to find Ann, who is standing forlornly in front of her gate. He tells her Billy’s there with another woman, and she looks crushed, but eventually agrees to go with John. Once there, Billy appears to be about to leave with his bored date, but receives a withering stare from Ann before he gets out the door, and sees that she is with John.

Some time later, Billy pays a call on the city girl, looking about in wide-eyed wonder at her fine house and the liveried butler. Gladys seems not to remember Billy when he is announced, but eventually deigns to coldly greet him. Then a man in a tuxedo comes in and she quickly rushes up and hugs him hello. Billy expresses his jealousy and is asked to leave, which he will not do until he’s said his piece and threatened violence. Now he returns shame-faced to see Ann in her home, but she is still angry at being cast aside without even being informed that their date was off. She tells Billy to go, and this time he does so with more decency, because this is someone he can respect. John comes in a bit later with a ring and we see that Ann has transferred her feelings to him. A final intertitle (possibly added due to the loss of some footage) tells us that the couple eventually discovers Billy dead.

We can’t see you, Ann!

There are no gunfights, horseback chases or bar room brawls in this film, yet it is fundamentally about the different values of the “pure” pioneering America versus the corrupt Europeanized culture of the city. Billy and all the other “punchers” wear riding garb at all times, even at the formal dance, although the city girl wears a black gown and the other country girls are in simple dresses. The overall plot is reminiscent of F.W. Murnau’s much later movie “Sunrise,” but without the happy ending, or the attempted murder. It’s interesting that Billy is unable to redeem himself from his mistake – usually in a story like this, a man can make amends, but a “fallen woman” has to die. This movie surprised me by ending with the death of the fallen man. It’s very much a 1911 movie, with all shots taken at full-figure distance, and no camera movement or editing within scenes. The sets are often crowded, especially the dance hall set, and actors frequently pass in front of one another, obscuring  the main action. The dance begins with a little comedy about the fiddler, who is either drunk or exhausted (I couldn’t tell if he was laughing hysterically or yawning), and nearly everyone in the movie is crowded into that scene. One really unfortunate choice was to shoot the scene of John picking up Ann from behind the gate Ann is waiting at, so her face is obscured as she acts out her reaction to Billy’s betrayal. There were a lot of other angles they could have used for that scene, but it probably didn’t occur to anyone that it would be an issue.

Director: Gilbert M. “Broncho Billy” Anderson

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Gilbert M. “Broncho Billy” Anderson, Gladys Field, Ann Little, John O’Brien, Augustus, Carney, Harry Todd, Margaret Joslin, Brinsley Shaw

Run Time: 12 Min

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

Triple Trouble (1918)

This is sort of a “fake” Charlie Chaplin movie, but one which nevertheless stars Charlie Chaplin! In 1918, years after losing the star to Mutual, Essanay, his sophomore studio, stitched together this “new” film from footage he left at the studio (some already released), adding some material directed by his co-star Leo White and releasing it to a Chaplin-hungry public that didn’t know any better.

The movie begins with a random close-up of Charlie with a cigar in his mouth, but the plot begins when we see “Colonel A. Nutt,” who is building a new type of “wireless explosive.” The wartime origin of this new footage influences this plotline, which involves a spy ring led by diplomats from “Pretzelstrasse” (Leo White is the lead agent). Meanwhile, Charlie is introduced as the new janitor in the Nutt House, and there’s some good otherwise unreleased footage of his antics in the kitchen with cook Billy Armstrong and flirting with maid Edna Purviance. Charlie empties most of the food the cook has prepared into the dustbin and then proceeds to strew garbage all over the place by carrying it on his back, even dumping it on poor Edna. We see Leo White at a fence and the dustbin appears over the edge, making it seem that Charlie is dumping the remainder of the trash on him! (Close attention reveals that Charlie has four arms in this scene). Edna and Charlie get into a fight in the kitchen, but the wet rag she throws at him flies into adjoining rooms, hitting Billy and Leo instead, so they blame one another and then get into a fight as well. Soon, Billy figures out where the rag came from and goes to punish Edna, only to find himself confronted by Charlie’s wrath (a boot to the rear). The Colonel finds Leo in bad spirits after his confrontation, and ejects the man without hearing him out.

Charlie now heads to a doss house to spend the night, having completed his dubious day’s work. Charlie has various comic adventures there – lighting a man’s toes on fire, conking a loud-singing drunk over the head with a bottle, and outsmarting a thief who comes in to rob the vagrants. Meanwhile, a pickpocket (Billy Armstrong in different clothes) tries to hold up Leo White and is recruited into the scheme to rob the Nutts. A nearby policeman overhears the plan and calls in other officers, busy playing craps in an abandoned lot. They rush to the Nutt House, where they explain that they are on the trail of a large crime, and occupy the living room. A riot breaks out in the dosshouse and Charlie is forced to flee, ending up with Billy, who talks him into joining the robbery of the Nutt House. The cops are all still there; lying around, smoking, waiting for something to happen. Pandemonium breaks out when the pickpocket enters the house, and amid the chaos, Colonel Nutt’s explosive device is detonated, blowing all of the cops skyward. In the aftermath, the pickpocket is buried in a heap of rubble and Charlie is seen poking his head out of the kitchen stove.

While this is far from Charlie’s best movie (or even his movie, really), it is kind of fun from a historical view to try to figure out which scenes were made when. A good portion of it (especially the dosshouse) was used in the Flicker Alley release of “Police,” and may have been shot for that movie. Or, it may have been shot for “Life,” an incomplete semi-autobiographical project Chaplin worked on at Essanay. Certainly the “janitor” sequences come from this source. Other parts, with Leo White and the “Pretzelstrasse,” were shot afterwards directed by White, and inter-cut with the Chaplin footage to appear to be part of the same movie. Some of this is laughably unsuccessful. The final explosion and head-in-stove sequence is straight from “Work.” The result of this piecemeal story engineering is a rather disjointed film which at times feels more like an anthology of very short shorts than a coherent film. The parts which include Chaplin, however, are up to his usual standards in terms of physical comedy and there are at least a few laughs to be found here. I particularly enjoy the early scenes of Charlie as a hapless janitor in a wealthy home, operating within the Upstairs/Downstairs world of the servants.

Chaplin himself was “Not Amused,” however. He sent a telegram to the “Moving Picture World” informing them of the dubious nature of the movie and asking that false advertising for it be “stamped out.” However, having already lost a legal battle to prevent Essanay from releasing the extended version of “Burlesque on Carmen,” he kept his criticism to the trades this time. Essanay defended their right to re-cut Chaplin footage and present it as “new.” After all, no one had seen this movie before, had they? It was largely academic, because it was out by this time and there was nothing anyone could do to stop it. It entered the public domain since Chaplin never reissued it with an original score, and thus it actually may have had more releases since that time than many of his early Essanays. It remains a part of his legacy, though decidedly a part he never could control.

Director: Charlie Chaplin.Leo White

Camera: Harry Ensign

Starring: Charlie Chaplin, Edna Purviance, Leo White, Billy Armstrong, Bud Jamison, Albert Austin, Snub Pollard, Wesley Ruggles

Run Time: 23 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

Max Wants a Divorce (1917)

One of three movies Max Linder made at Essanay before that studio’s final demise, this movie shows his talents and charm effectively, but apparently was not a hit with audiences of the time. Possibly its “European” themes of divorce, infidelity and jealousy did not sit well with Americans, but I found it a lot of fun.

As the movie begins, Max is cuddling with a girl (Martha Mansfield) still in a bridal veil from their recent marriage. The honeymoon comes to a rapid end, however, when a maid comes in to deliver Max a letter from a lawyer telling him that he stands to inherit three million dollars if he is single on his upcoming birthday. He quickly realizes that it will be in both his and his bride’s interest if they can get a divorce, but her response is to smash various vases and other breakable objects when he proposes it, most of them by throwing them at Max himself. He calms her down by promising to buy a string of pearls and to re-marry her as soon as the money is secured. Then they have to work out a plan to establish “grounds” for the divorce. He tells her that he will seduce a woman of her choosing, and she can send in a detective to catch them in the act.

Max and his wife go out to a very stylish dance and she proposes a large, older woman as his target, but Max vetoes this and chooses a young blonde (Francine Larrimore) instead. His efforts to woo her are interrupted by bursts of his wife’s jealousy, including her throwing a pastry in his face. He manages to get rid of her long enough to at least get the young lady’s phone number. He and his wife secure an apartment for the rendezvous, and she hires a detective over the phone, confusing him slightly when she checks with Max to confirm the time of the affair. He calls from home, once again incurring the jealousy of his wife who interrupts the phone call as well, but she agrees to meet him there. Meanwhile, an “experimental psychologist (Ernest Maupain), driven from his residence by noise complaints from the neighbors, takes on the apartment across the hall. He arranges to have various lunatics come and meet him there, including a man who thinks he’s a car, a butterfly catcher, and a “ballet master” (the last is played by Leo White).

On the night of the date, Max’s wife decides she can’t bear to let this happen outside of her sight, so she puts on a silly disguise and pretends to be a maid. Each time Max and the girl start canoodling, she comes into the room and asks if they need anything. The girl gets more and more uncomfortable, but Max insists she stay until five. The detective goes into the wrong apartment and is put in the room with the “loonies.” Finally, Max, the mistress, and the wife get into a roaring argument, which gets the psychiatrist’s attendants to investigate, and they wind up getting thrown into the loony bin as well. Finally, Max winds up with a large “diva” (Mathilde Comont) and the detective takes notes for his wife. Exhausted, Max and wife return home, where they are greeted by the maid with a new letter. The lawyer apologizes for his mistake, the terms of the will state that he must be married, not single, in order to inherit. Oops!

This movie is a very good example of Linder’s more sophisticated, situational comedy style, and confirms once again that slapstick was not the only form of humor known to the early silent screen. While not as urbane and witty as an Ernst Lubitsch film, it reminded me a bit of his style. I was surprised at the quality of the cinematography, including silhouettes, clever lighting, and many close-ups. This is unusually sophisticated filmmaking for a 2-reel comedy of the time. In terms of acting, the wife’s jealousy was very over-the-top, however. I think a Lubitsch character would have chosen to get even by finding a lover of her own, rather than constantly undermining her own interests by making it harder for Max to come up with grounds for the divorce. I was also surprised when the detective pulled out a notepad rather than a camera to “catch” Max in the act – technological assumptions were different in those days, obviously! The highpoint of the humor, though, is all of the chaos the various “crazy” characters create. The fellow pretending to be a car was a riot, and the “ballet master” managed to be wonderfully incompetent in his constant pirouettes and leaps. Not especially sensitive (or realistic) in terms of its handling of mental illness, this movie manages to be quite funny as a result.

Director: Max Linder

Camera: Arthur Reeves

Starring: Max Linder, Martha Mansfield, Francine Larrimore, Ernest Maupain, Leo White, Helen Ferguson, Mathilde Comont

Run Time: 27 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

Max in a Taxi (1917)

In this short film, Max Linder plays “Max,” a rich swell who gets himself into trouble drinking, then proceeds to get into even more trouble trying to get out of trouble! Linder’s physical comedy skills are on full display, but the situational aspects of the movie are what make it work.

The movie begins with Max very drunk. He and a friend have various mishaps in trying to get home. Eventually max hitches a horse to a carriage to drive them home – only he’s so drunk that he hitches it so that it’s facing the carriage. Fortunately, the horse is good at following orders, so it just trots backwards with the carriage attached. Max has further pratfalls as he bids his friend goodnight at the door and tries to go upstairs. At one point, he falls out a second-story window backward and lands on his friend as he walks out the door! Finally he makes it up the stairs to encounter a stern-looking older man in his room. I presume this is Max’s father or rich uncle or whoever supplies the money he lives on. He obviously disapproves of Max’s state, and he tosses him out with no further support.

This is not, in fact, a taxi.

Max walks the street for days, still in the finery he wore for his night of partying, but unable to come up with any money for food or other survival needs. He resolves to kill himself and tries and fails to do so in several amusing ways. He lies down in front of a train, but the train switches tracks at the last minute. He tries hanging himself, but the rope breaks. Now Max discovers an invitation in his pocket for a party at a wealthy woman’s house that very day. He rushes over there, fakes his way in past the butler, and dances up a storm, somewhat flustering the hostess. Soon, he gets to the main purpose of his visit – a large table stacked with pastries and treats. He sends the butler away so he can chow down, stuffing several into his mouth at a time. However, the hostess now brings her young daughter (Martha Mansfield) over to meet him. He’s nearly as interested in her as in the sweets, and she takes him out on the dance floor with his mouth full. He eventually comes up with the expedient of getting rid of the many cream puffs jammed into his mouth by hiding them in the piano. For some reason, he also throws a cat in after them, and of course that ruins the music. Max manages to stay sober and makes a graceful departure, shaking hands with the butler instead of giving a tip since he’s broke.

The next day, he spends his last two pennies to buy a paper and look at the want ads. He applies for a job driving a taxi, even though he doesn’t know how to drive a car. He gets a short lesson from his new employer by pretending he’s not familiar with “this model,” and gets the car a few blocks away from the station before parking it. Soon, the two ladies from the party walk up. He doesn’t want to admit he’s driving a cab for money, so he puts his top hat back on and tells them he’s just waiting for the chauffeur. They wait for a while but get bored and leave him to nap in the car. When they return, he tries to start the car, but it starts going on its own. Soon, Max is riding the driverless car on the hood, while the two women sit in the back. It hits a telephone pole and is destroyed. The women are alright, but they clothes and hair are ruined. They look for Max in the wreckage, but he has been thrown onto the telephone wires, where he does a few tumbles for the audience.

This is a taxi, but Max isn’t in it.

I’ve been somewhat remiss, up to now, in not reviewing a Max Linder movie. It’s not that I was unaware of him, or thought he was unimportant, or don’t like him. It’s just that there’s always so much to review, and until now I hadn’t gotten to it (I’ve still only reviewed one movie by Harold Lloyd, who’s actually my personal favorite of the silent clowns, so this isn’t entirely a matter of favoritism). This one seems like a good starting point, but note that Linder had been doing “Max” films for ten years already when it came out. Charlie Chaplin fans will see some similarities between the opening of this movie and Charlie’s “One A.M.” from the previous year. Chaplin was influenced by Linder’s work, and later honored him as “the professor” who had taught him the art of comedy. This movie was actually a bit of a collaboration between them, as it was shot in Hollywood and Linder met Chaplin and spoke with him about shooting it while it was in progress. There’s a lot of difference between Linder’s on-screen persona and Chaplin’s, though. When Chaplin played the “drunken swell” (as opposed to the Little Tramp), his comedy was almost entirely physical, and what little we see of the character is largely unsympathetic. Max’s “swell” is certainly dissolute and libertine, but he has a definite charm and sympathy. His character is aware of social expectations, and as a result gets into humorous situations when he doesn’t have the money people expect him to have.

Linder had recently moved to the USA from France and joined Essanay, who hoped to replace the recently departed Chaplin and make a profitable series of “Max” films. This was the third of those, and apparently the most successful, but it wasn’t enough to justify his salary, and the failing studio canceled the contract. Linder’s career went into a decline afterward, although he did make more films and film appearances periodically until his death in 1925. We still have quite a few of them to enjoy, and I trust this will not be his last appearance in this project.

Director: Max Linder

Camera: Arthur Reeves

Cast: Max Linder, Martha Mansfield, Mathilde Comont, Ernest Maupain

Run Time: 19 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

The Outlaw and the Child (1911)

This early Western from Essanay shows that Gilbert M. “Broncho Billy” Anderson’s characters weren’t always unambiguous heroes and also gives us a glimpse of work the Chicago-based company was doing in California even before opening a permanent studio in Niles.

 

Broncho Billy plays the outlaw, and as the movie opens we see him being secured in his cell by the sheriff (Arthur Mackley), arrested for we know not what crimes and awaiting trial. The sheriff heads home to see his five-year old daughter, assuring that we get to see both of the title characters in the first few minutes of the film. She does a cute bit of searching her father until she finds a bag of candy hidden under his hat. Then the sheriff puts her to bed and gets ready to sleep himself. Meanwhile, a confederate has brought Broncho Billy a file so that he can cut through the bars of his cell. He is able to do this in remarkably little screen time, and steals a saddle and horse in order to get out of town. The deputy (Harry Todd) discovers his absence and raises a posse, heading over to the sheriff’s house to rouse him and get him to lead the search. The sheriff leaves his small child alone, and when she wakes, she finds him absent and so goes out to look for him, soon blundering into the desert with her doll. The search is unsuccessful and the sheriff returns home, only to begin a new search for his missing daughter.

 

Meanwhile, the outlaw has made his way into the dessert with a full canteen, but he comes across the prostrate figure of the child. He rushes to her side and revives her with his supply of water, but while he is doing this, his horse wanders off. Now, he must carry the child back to civilization, sacrificing all his water to keep her alive. He brings her right to the door of the sheriff’s house, where the sheriff and his posse all witness his heroism before he expires.

This simple plot works well for a one-reel Western, although there is little subtlety of character or drama. We have to accept that a seasoned outlaw doesn’t know how to keep his horse under control for a couple of minutes while he attends to another concern, and also that the sheriff hasn’t been able to teach his daughter to stay put at night (I assume it’s night, because they were asleep, though the whole movie was clearly shot in broad daylight), but these are pretty minor concessions compared to the enormous coincidences audiences expected in melodrama at the time. I rather expected when the father left the girl alone that Billy would wind up taking her hostage and then having a change of heart, but this story emphasizes his redemption over his crimes. The locations, which were in Los Gatos and Redlands, California, work well for the piece, especially the desert scenes, where I found myself thinking how vast the openness looked behind our actors, while a film crew and safety lay only a few feet away. The filming and editing are pretty standard for 1911, with pretty much all scenes sequential and shot in long shot, so that we can see actors’ entire bodies as they move about the screen. A simple piece of Americana from another era.

Director: G.M. “Broncho Billy” Anderson

Camera: Unknown

Starring: G.M. “Broncho Billy” Anderson, Arthur Mackley, Harry Todd, William A. Russell

Run Time: 15 Min

I have not been able to find this movie available for free on the Internet. If you do, please comment below.

From the Submerged (1912)

This short from Essanay uses Chicago locations in a melodrama about urban poverty and redemption. While not an entirely believable story, it contains a message about the worth of every human life.

The opening shot shows a vagrant (E.H. Calvert) waking up on a park bench, assessing his surroundings, and walking away. There are two other homeless people sleeping in the background. He walks out onto a bridge and looks ready to jump when a woman (Essanay co-founder Ruth Stonehouse) restrains him. She speaks to him a bit, gesturing towards the sky, perhaps in reference to God, and the man appears grateful to her for her intervention. Now he goes to a bread line, where he collapses with hunger before he can get any food. A sympathetic fellow-bum gives him a piece of bread, a coffee, and a newspaper, then goes to the back of the line again for himself. He eats eagerly, and looks at the newspaper, spotting a small item in the personals. It is addressed to “Charlie” and says that his father is dying and that all is forgiven. Calvert leaps up and runs off to answer the ad.

Read the rest of this entry »

A Day of Silents (1916)

I always like to do a quick writeup when I attend a festival or event where Century Films are shown, and yesterday I flew to San Francisco for the San Francisco Silent Film Festival’sA Day of Silents” at the Castro Theater. There were six blocks of movies on the schedule, all with live musical accompaniment, and all worth seeing in themselves. There was also a book signing and a vendors’ room, conveniently located on the mezzanine level of the Castro. Overall, the event was well-managed and professional, although maybe a bit more “serious” in tone than some of the other festivals I’ve attended.

day-of-silentsThe only true Century Films to screen yesterday were the opening block of Chaplin shorts from Essanay Studios. They showed “His New Job,” “The Champion,” and “A Night in the Show,” all of which I’ve reviewed before (follow the links). In fact, they used the recent digital restorations from Blackhawk films prepared by Flicker Alley, which is exactly the prints I watched on DVD for the reviews, so there was nothing new to me. However, as I’ve long known, silent comedy always benefits from the presence of a live audience, and this was no exception. The experience was boosted by the attendance of my ten-year-old nephew Kai, who laughed and bounced in his seat throughout.

anders_als_die_andern_1919_posterOther close-to-100-year old movies included “Anders als die Andern” (“Different from the Others”) and a collection of Pathé newsclips, some of which dated as far back as 1910. “Different” was a social-reform movie made in Germany to oppose Paragraph 175 of the legal code, which made “active” homosexuality a crime. I’ll be reviewing it in 2019. The Pathé collection (1910-1925) included images from the First World War, the Mexican Revolution, and the soon-to-begin Russian Revolution, as well as uprisings in Ireland and South Africa. Anyone who thinks of the Silent Era as some kind of “simpler time” should look at these clips and think again (they didn’t even include footage of the massive KKK March on Washington in 1925).

strike

A striking image from “Strike”

The movies from the twenties were “So This is Paris” (1926), “Strike” (1925), “The Last Command” (1928) and “Sadie Thompson” (1928). Of these, special mention should go to the Alloy Orchestra for providing an appropriately bombastic score for Sergei Eisenstein’s first feature film. I generally find Eisenstein to be heavy-handed and awkward, despite his great reputation, but with the right music, the images can become an exciting ride. This was a case, for me, of the music being better than the movie. I should also mention Donald Sosin, who gave us piano scores for most of the other movies that fit the pictures nicely.

Generally, the SFSFF manages to happen at a time when I’m too busy with grading to travel, but this one-day jaunt to San Francisco was a pleasant diversion at the end of an academic term. I hope there will be more like this in the future.

Sherlock Holmes (1916)

This is my contribution to the “Beyond the Cover” blogathon, hosted by my friends at Speakeasy and Now Voyaging. Don’t forget to check out all the other entries in this very literary classic movie event!

Sherlock_HolmesLong believed lost, this early adaptation of the great detective was produced while Arthur Conan Doyle was still alive and writing. There’s no denying that William Gillette, the star of the film, had a lasting impact on the way Holmes would be performed for the next century, but the film was lost for much of that time, until rediscovered and released to new audiences about a year ago. Now it’s our chance to take a look at this seminal re-imagining of a literary figure for the silver screen. (Fair warning for those new to my blog: there will be spoilers. This is the price of reading about 100 year old films – they’ve been spoiled like crazy by now). Read the rest of this entry »

Naked Hands (1916)

Alternate Title:Humanity

This movie apparently took several years to get to the screen and may not exist in complete form today, although at half an hour long, I find it one of the most developed of the movies Gilbert M. “Broncho Billy” Anderson made in his career as a Western star. As with “Broncho Billy’s Sentence,” the story is written to allow Billy to display the full range of human emotions, but the longer run time makes this appear more natural and convincing.

Naked HandsThe movie opens on Ruth Saville, who plays Billy’s wife. We are told she is an “Eastern flower” transplanted to an environment that doesn’t agree with her. We see the her framed against the empty rolling hills of Western California, and understand that she needs more company than the wilderness provides. Her old school chum (Rodney Hildebrand) is out for a visit, however. When Billy arrives home to find them talking together, Rodney suggests that he go out and look for gold on his property – he represents an Eastern mining concern that can make him rich. Billy goes out while Rodney continues to pressure Ruth to come back East with him, and he spends days scrabbling at rocks with no success. Finally, he does strike gold and rushes into town to buy finery and things Ruth would like in their shed, but it’s too late – Ruth has left with Rodney. Billy refuses to take revenge, and in a state of deep shock, he sets fire to the shed and all of his possessions. With his house burning in the background, he bids the adulterous couple go on their way – condemning them to each other’s weakness.

Naked Hands1The mine, however, continues to be prosperous, and with nothing else in his life, Billy proceeds to get rich on it. In the meantime, Rodney has set Ruth up in the city as his mistress – he has a wife already and never had any intention of giving her anything but money for her affection. With nowhere else to turn, Ruth accepts it, but she’s no happier here than she was in the West. Billy is now living with servants and a mansion – but he still allows his dog to jump up on the desk. As a new wealthy man in town he is invited to a dinner party with other men of wealth. Of course, when he arrives, the house turns out to be Rodney’s, and he refuses to dine with a lowdown snake. Rodney tries to save face with his chums by bragging about stealing Billy’s girl, which sets him off: “if you ever speak disrespectfully of her or any harm comes to her – I’ll finish you with my naked hands!” Ruth as we know is suffering from her mistake, and she finally decides to kill herself, first writing a note asking Billy to come to her. She ends up in the hospital, and Billy does come, arriving in time to be the last thing she sees on Earth. They play a touching scene at her deathbed, surrounded by doctors and nurses, and of course Billy forgives her. She dies as he kisses her.

Naked Hands2Now Billy is overcome with the desire for revenge, and to make his threat come true. He goes at once to the home of Rodney, where a butler in terrible blackface lets him in and shows him to his master. Billy and Rodney fight, Rodney tries to get a gun, then tries to run, and finally starts throwing anything he can get his hands on to try to stop Billy, smashing up his own house in the process. The fight is prolonged, and intercut with Rodney’s wife and butler trying to break down the door to get in, finally, they do and a tiny child runs in as Billy closes his hands on the throat of his nemesis: “Please don’t hurt my daddy.” Billy suddenly becomes aware of what he is doing and backs off in horror, while the family tries to revive Rodney. Billy collects his hat and coat and leaves them in the shambles of the living room.

Naked Hands3Again, I think it is Anderson’s acting that carries this movie, although compared with the shorts I’ve reviewed up to now, it is well-shot and edited, and we do get somewhat more interesting performances from the supporting cast, especially Rodney Hildebrand. I also liked how the visuals contrasted the openness of the West with the closed and sometimes claustrophobic spaces of the East. While the West is empty and spacious, the “city” is crowded with things and people. There are minimal close-ups, so Anderson must show his feelings in a big way that sometimes seems to overwhelm the moment. When he backs off from fighting Rodney at the end, for example, his stunned look and frozen body language seems to drag out the situation rather than resolve it, although we do understand how horrified he is by his own actions. That fight includes probably the best stunts I’ve seen in any Broncho Billy movie, perhaps he’d taken advantage of over a year of having Charlie Chaplin as an employee to pick up a few tricks. In some ways, this was probably the masterpiece of his career, and it does deserve a look by any fan of silent Westerns. On the other hand, I wouldn’t put it in the same category with the best work being done by DeMille, Chaplin, and others in Hollywood by this time, and it may be that Broncho Billy’s day ended about when it needed to so that others could advance the art past his level.

Director: Gilbert M. “Broncho Billy” Anderson

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Gilbert M. “Broncho Billy” Anderson, Ruth Saville, Rodney Hildebrand, Harry Todd, Lee Willard

Run Time: 30 Min

I have not found this movie on the Internet for free. If you can, please comment below.