Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: Florence La Badie

The Manicure Lady (1911)

This short by Mack Sennett was produced for Biograph before he struck out on his own, and it seems he tried (or was told) to imitate D.W. Griffith, because there’s very little of the wacky chaos of a Keystone production here. We do get Griffithian conventions like contrasting scenes intercut to demonstrate opposites, and a race to the rescue at the end.

The movie begins by introducing the named character, a woman (Vivian Prescott) who works in a barber shop, as she prepares for work. The intertitles tell us, however, that this is a romance, which will prove “faint heart never won fair lady.” That situation becomes more clear, however, when we meet her coworker, the barber (Sennett). He immediately pulls out a ring and proposes to her, but she spurns him. As (male) customers come in for manicures and shaves, we see that the manicurist enjoys the intimacy of her work, and is flirtatious with the customers, which drives the barber to distraction, and makes him negligent of his own work (and a bit dangerous, with a razor in his hand). One customer in particular (Eddie Dillon) quickly shows interest in her and becomes a rival for her affections. When lunch break comes along, the barber and the manicurist prepare to go out together, but the rival shows up in a car and takes her off with him. The lunches are cut together – Vivian and Eddie are eating in refinement and luxury, while Mack is in a cheap diner, with a tough steak and a rude waitress. At the end of the day, the rival shows up in another car (possibly a taxi) but this time Mack, desperate, leaps onto the back of the vehicle. As they ride out into the country, Mack breaks through the rear window and beats up his rival, tossing him out of the car. He once again proposes, and the manicure lady, overcome by his passionate determination, finally consents.

Most of the humor of this film comes from Sennett’s distraction while the manicurist flirts. He tugs on beards, forgets to finish what he has started, and generally seems like a menace with his blade. One older customer is dragged off by the ear by his jealous wife (Kate Bruce) who refuses to pay for the shave Sennett forgot to give. Another grows tired of waiting and grabs the razor to shave himself (though he pays). The other laugh I got out of it was the final fight scene, mostly because it was so sudden and surprising. Mostly, though, this is a rather broadly-played romantic drama, and though we feel sorry for the barber, he never really comes across as the better or more deserving of love. Watching it made me think of the strange physical intimacy of this now largely lost form of grooming – few men today go to barbers for shaves and manicures. Almost the only time I am this close to a stranger is when I go to the dentist. For a society as repressed as (we think of) the early twentieth century, it’s interesting that this convention existed. It seems like early film makers, looking for places where romance could happen in nine or ten minutes, found it useful as well.

Director: Mack Sennett

Camera: Percy Higginson

Starring: Mack Sennett, Vivian Prescott, Eddie Dillon, Kate Bruce, Verner Clarges, Grace Henderson, Florence La Badie, Claire McDowell, Kate Toncray, Charles West

Run Time: 11 Min, 22 secs

You can watch it for free: here.

October 1917

Time once again for a roundup of news headlines from one century ago. A huge amount of war news dominates this month’s Century News. Some may be surprised that there’s nothing about the Russian Revolution, especially in light of the movie “October” and references to the “Red October.” The explanation for this is simple: the Russians were on a different calendar, so their “October” actually extended into our November, which is when the revolution actually occurred. Since the rest of my Century News has been based on the standard Gregorian calendar, I’m waiting for next month for that news.

Morning After the First Battle of Passchendaele.

World War One:

Battle of Broodseinde near Ypres, October 4: British Imperial forces overpower the German 4th Army‘s defences.

First Battle of Passchendaele, October 12: Allies fail to take a German defensive position with the biggest loss of life in a single day for New Zealand, over 800 of whose men and 45 officers are killed, roughly 1 in 1000 of the nation’s population at this time.

Operation Albion, October 12-19: German forces land on and capture the West Estonian archipelago.

At Vincennes outside Paris, Dutch dancer Mata Hari is executed on October 15 by firing squad for spying for Germany.

A Brazilian ship is destroyed by a German U-Boat on October 23, encouraging Brazil to enter World War I.

Brazilian President Venceslau Brás signs a declaration of war against the Central Powers.

Brazil declares war against the Central Powers on October 26.

Ottoman force attacks Desert Mounted Corps units garrisoning el Buqqar ridge on October 27 during the Battle of Buqqar Ridge fought in the last days of the Stalemate in Southern Palestine.

Battle of Beersheba, October 31: The British XX Corps and Desert Mounted Corps (Egyptian Expeditionary Force) attack and capture Beersheba ending the Stalemate in Southern Palestine.


The Miracle of the Sun is reported on October 13 at Fátima, Portugal. Thousands of people gathered to see a prophecy fulfilled of miracles performed by the Blessed Virgin Mary. They reported to have witnessed extraordinary solar activity, such as the sun appearing to “dance” or zig-zag in the sky, careen towards the earth, or emit multicolored light and radiant colors. According to these reports, the event lasted approximately ten minutes.


Carl Swartz leaves office as Prime Minister of Sweden on October 19 after dismal election results for the right-wing in the Riksdag elections in September. He is replaced by liberal leader and history professor Nils Edén.


Dallas Love Field airport is opened October 19.


Cleopatra,” starring Theda Bara released October 14. This (mostly) lost film is among the most iconic of 1917, and images of Bara from the film still circulate on the Internet.

Satan Triumphant” (Satana likuyushchiy) released October 21. One of the last movies of the pre-Soviet Russian Empire.

The Adventurer,” a Charlie Chaplin short is released on October 22. This was the last of the films Chaplin produced under his contract with Mutual Studios, and for the first time since he started making movies, it left him with no contractual obligations to fulfill. He would soon sign for a million dollars to First National.

Coney Island,” a ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle / Buster Keaton short is released October 29.


Helmut Dantine, actor (in “Mrs. Miniver” and “Casablanca”), born October 7.

June Allyson, actress (in the 1948 version of “The Three Musketeers” and “The Glenn Miller Story”), born October 7.

Alice Pearce, actress (in “On the Town” and TV’s “Bewitched”), born October 16

Marsha Hunt, U.S. actress (in 1940’s “Pride and Prejudice” and “Johnny Got His Gun”), born October 17. Apparently she’s still alive! Happy birthday Marsha!

Joan Fontaine, actress (in “Suspicion” and “Rebecca”), born October 22.

Florence La Badie


Movie star Florence La Badie dies on October 13, from septicemia as a result of injuries sustained from a car crash in August. Several of her movies have been reviewed on this blog.

The Voice of Conscience (1912)

This short from Thanhouser features its major star, Florence LaBadie, only in a supporting role, but makes use of locations to free up the cinematography somewhat. It’s the story of a typical love-triangle and the rivalry that it calls into being.

Voice of ConscienceThe movie opens with the death of a loving father, who puts his daughter (Jean Darnell) into the care of his best friend (Henry Benham) upon his death bed. The friend puts the “orphan” (as she’s known throughout the movie) up with his mother, presumably because it would be unseemly for a bachelor to live with a young woman. She nevertheless falls for him, and swoons visibly when he gives her a small flower from the garden. Then, some “friends from the city” come to visit the mother. One of them is Florence LaBadie, who immediately captures Henry’s attentions, resulting in dark sulks from the orphan. The three go out driving together, and the driver manages to hit a tiny rock and come to an immediate halt, which somehow knocks out the two women (perhaps because of their delicate constitutions, cough). They are rushed to the hospital and given a “powerful heart stimulant.” Jean then has the clever idea of pouring an overdose into her rival’s medicine, but the doctor sees her through the window (which he apparently routinely peers through to spy on female patients). He prevents the OD, but allows the orphan to believe she has killed Florence. Now, wracked with guilt, the orphan begins to have visions of the dead girl haunting her. After allowing this to go on for a month, the doctor finally shows her that Florence is fine. Jean is repentant, and all is fine.

Watch out for that HUGE ROCK!!!

Watch out for that HUGE ROCK!!!

I think this movie could have been a lot better if Florence had played the orphan. Jean Darnell overacts painfully, particularly when she’s writhing around in bed over her guilty conscience, but really at pretty much any chance she gets. Florence mostly looks on embarrassed, although she manages to display some real chemistry with Henry on the car ride. Admittedly, the premise was silly and likely to call for overly emotional performances, but I think Florence might have saved it, given the chance. As it is, I spent more time appreciating the outdoor locations, reportedly in New Rochelle, New York, and the occasional tilts of camera to keep the players in frame. The shot through the window was an interesting choice – we just see Darnell’s arms as she puts the poison in, the curtains drawn so that we don’t see her face or body. The special effect of the transparent ghostly Florence was pretty typical for 1912. The copy Thanhouser has put up on vimeo includes a nice organ score by Ben Model.

Director: Unknown

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Jean Darnell, Henry Benham, Florence LaBadie, Edmund J. Hayes

Run Time: 14 Min, 30 secs

You can watch it for free: here.

Portrait of Lady Anne (1912)

Florence LaBadie has the title role in this one-reel morality play and costume drama from Thanhouser. Her acting presence shines through, and we get a look at what made her one of the first movie stars.

Portrait of Lady AnneThe movie begins in 1770, when the portrait is first hung in the home of a genteel colonial family. White men in blackface play the servants, and Florence takes center stage as she watches her own image hung in a prominent part of the house. Her suitor comes over, and, with her father’s indulgent permission, they take a walk together on the grounds. While they are out together, however, another woman rides up on horseback and greets them. An intertitle tells us that Anne is unreasonably jealous when her fiancé goes over to speak to this other woman and returns her dropped riding crop to her. Once the other woman has ridden off, she removes her engagement ring and throws it on the ground, walking off in a huff while her beau looks despondent. Soon, she’s entertaining another man and receives a note from the first telling her of his intention to go off to war with a broken heart. She immediately agrees when the new man proposes. The next scene shows her rocking the cradle of their child, but a scene of her first fiancé’s presumed death on the battlefield plays as a superimposition over her shoulder. She collapses from regret.

Portrait of Lady Anne1Now, the scene moves to modern times, and Florence plays an ancestor of the original Lady Anne. She shows off her resemblance to the portrait at a large party, and invites all the other girls to put on period costumes from the wardrobe. She dresses like her own ancestor in the portrait. The 140-year-old problem begins again when she sees her new boyfriend dancing with another woman, and she runs upstairs. While she’s sulking, the “spirit of Lady Anne” comes down from the portrait and dances with her man, now wanting to heal the mistake made so long ago. Modern Florence climbs down the trestle and sees him kiss the image of herself, then sees the portrait without its picture and somehow figures out what it going on. She manages to forgive him and the spirit is able to rest once again.

Portrait of Lady Anne2This very simple little film actually shows how sophisticated movies were getting by 1912. The story is simple enough, but here we see special effects, cross-cutting, and creative camera work, just to get across a very simple idea. The costumes may well have eaten up much of the budget, and I almost get the sense that this story was written to justify using as many colonial-era costumes (especially women’s costumes) as possible. The actors all seem to enjoy the opportunity to dress up and show their ability to act in the unfamiliar garb. I was impressed by the number of camera set-ups as well. The ballroom is actually seen from several angles, including from outside the window, signaling a very sophisticated approach to space, as opposed to the usual stages with entrances and exits that we see from this period. Finally, while most of the editing is chronological, the sequence in which the spirit of Lady Anne comes out of the portrait and is observed by her descendant is edited in simultaneous time, and this allows the tension to build as we wonder if the two Florences will somehow meet and interact.

Portrait of Lady Anne3Beyond the technical aspects, the other thing this movie highlights is the star power of Florence LaBadie, who truly lights up the screen in each scene. She goes through several challenging emotional shifts, as she has to become “insanely jealous” quite rapidly after being happy and contented, then show us her regrets and her sorrow, as well as keeping the two characters reasonably clear for the audience. She pulls all of it off well, using expressions and body language to express what words cannot. I only thought she was a bit overstated at one point – when the modern descendant sees the black portrait and mouths “Oh! I get it” to the camera, but on the whole she is a model of the best in silent film acting. It’s easy to see how her fans came to know and love her, even though Thanhouser refused to credit their actors publicly at the time.

Director: Lloyd Lonergan

Camera: Unknown

Cast: Florence LaBadie, William Russell, Harry Benham

Run Time: 15 Min

You can watch it for free: here (also on vimeo: here).

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1912)

This one-reel version of the oft-filmed story from Thanhouser represents an early effort to bring horror and special effects to the service of a sophisticated narrative, but uncertain history swirls around the movie nonetheless. Florence LaBadie and James Cruze star in this version of a man who separates the good and evil of his own nature with tragic results.

Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde MPWThe movie opens with a shot of what seems to be a medical journal, citing a doctor who claims that drugs can be used to “separate man into two beings,” one good and the other evil. Then an intertitle tells us that Dr. Jekyll plans to confirm this before we’ve been introduced to any of the characters. Finally, we see Jekyll at work in his laboratory, mixing chemicals. When he’s finished, he tries the brew and (no surprise to us) a dissolve replaces the kindly old doctor with a monstrous brute. Hyde, however, doesn’t seem to want to hang around and celebrate his success. He just takes a drink from another beaker and turns back into Jekyll. The next intertitle sets up his betrothal to Florence LaBadie, “the minister’s daughter,” and, indeed, we see the two of them out for a stroll on a lovely Spring day. Read the rest of this entry »

Cinderella (1911)

I’ve been meaning for some time to get around to looking at the movies thanhouser.org has made available from the original films of the Thanhouser Film Company, especially those starring Florence La Badie, one of America’s first major movie stars, but, with one thing and another, it hasn’t happened until now. Here, I’ll take a look at one of the most beloved of her films – a version of the famous fairy tale of a girl magically saved from a life of hardship by a simple wish for one of romance and fantasy.

Not just no, HELL NO!

Not just no, HELL NO!

The movie manages to tell the story pretty effectively in a short time and with only three Intertitles. In the first sequence, Florence, as Cinderella, is made to help her sisters get ready for the Prince’s ball, only to be told summarily that she cannot go. Then, alone in the kitchen, she makes her wish and a Fairy Godmother appears, who turns various ordinary items into her coach and liveried servants, and then transforms her into a beautiful princess before sending her to the ball. The next sequence shows the ball, including her glamorous arrival, her meeting and dancing with the Prince, and her losing track of time until the last moment before midnight, when she rushes down the stairs, losing a slipper along the way. Finally, we see the search and trying-on of the shoe by Cinderella’s sisters, and their failure to make the grade, followed by Cinderella putting on the slipper, and even producing its mate from her pocket to verify that it really was her. The Fairy Godmother reappears and turns her back into a princess, whereupon she is taken to the castle and marries the Prince. The End.

Cinderella1 1911The version available on Vimeo can be viewed both with and without historical commentary, which is a nice touch, and it has a simple but appropriate organ score as well. I found the character of the father interesting; while he’s usually left out of this story, here he is a kind-hearted weakling, dominated by Cinderella’s step-mother and step-sisters. It’s also interesting that, even after all of the other magic has turned back to normal, both of the glass slippers remain in their “magical” state, although that’s basically necessary for the narrative. LaBadie is very good as the innocent, hard working Cinderella, but the evil step-sisters also deserve praise for communicating their meanness so effectively without words or sound. Unlike the 1914 Mary Pickford version, there are no added scenes or sub-plots, just the basic fairy tale that continues to be told in much the same way today. There are the expected camera-stop effects, with objects transformed before our eyes, and Cinderella’s dress appearing by magic, and the story is told by editing various scenes in chronological order, but there is minimal cross-cutting and no camera movement.

Director: George Nichols

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Florence La Badie, Harry Benham, Anna Rosemond, Frank H. Crane, Alphonse Ethier, Isabelle Daintry

Run Time: 14 Min, 30 secs

You can watch it for free: here.

August, 1914

The challenge of the news roundup this month is that most of the news one finds is just a blow-by-blow history of the First World War, and frankly, I’m not interested in going into that level of detail about the war. So, let’s start with a few highlights and then move on to other news.

World War I: On August 2, the German Army, in line with the Schlieffen Plan, occupies Luxembourg. They proceed to attack Belgium on August 4. The plan is to circumvent the bulk of French forces on the German-French border by going through the northern countries. The plan is quite effective at first, and by August 16, the Battle of Liège has ended in German victory over Belgium. On the Eastern Front, the Battle of Tannenberg results in the surrounding and defeat of the Second Russian Army by German forces by August 30.

Race: on August 1 Marcus Garvey founds the Universal Negro Improvement Association, a movement to “uplift people of African ancestry throughout the world” and which also worked to arrange for the migration of African Americans who wished to return to Africa.

Technology: The first traffic light was installed on August 5 between Euclid Avenue and East 105 Street in Cleveland, Ohio.

Exploration: On August 8, the Endurance sets sail for Antarctica from England under Ernest Shackleton. The ship will be crushed by ice after being trapped in the Weddell Sea. Shackleton is able to rescue most of his men using lifeboats.

Transportation: The inauguration of the Panama Canal occurs on August 15 with the passage of the USS Ancon.

Revolution: Mexico City falls on August 15 to the troops of Venustiano Carranza under the leadership of Álavaro Obregón. Obregón will enforce punitive measures against the Catholic Church, foreign businessmen and wealthy citizens of Mexico City.

Releases: The movie “Call of the North” is released August 10, starring Robert Edeson.

Born: August 31, Richard Basehart, star of “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea” television series.

Died: Charles J. Hite, CEO of the Thanhouser Film Corporation died August 21 in a car crash. Hite and Thanhouser had made a star of Florence La Badie, herself to die in a automobile accident three years later.