Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: George W Hill

His Picture in the Papers (1916)

Douglas Fairbanks returns in yet another movie in which he must face unbelievable odds and travel immense distances in order to get married. This one takes advantage of his charm and wit, and occasional doses of his physical prowess, to get a good number of laughs from the audience.

His_Picture_in_the_Papers_PosterDoug plays Pete Prindle, first son and heir of Proteus Prindle (Clarence Handyside), the magnate behind “Prindle’s Products,” a line of unappetizing vegetarian goods. One of Prindle’s “disciples” (and, evidently, employees), is a fellow named Cassius Cadwalader (Charles Butler). His young daughter, Christine, (Loretta Blake) is of marrying age, but she doesn’t seem to like the thin, effeminate specimens he brings home; it’s very important that she marry a vegetarian, you see. Pete and Christine run into one another at a non-vegetarian restaurant and share a steak together – they both share the secret of rejecting their families’ diet. But, when Pete asks to marry her, Cassius tells him he must prove his worth by getting a 50% interest in the Prindle empire, and his father tells him the only way that will happen is if he gets out and gets some publicity for the company. His daughters have managed to get a story in a Vegetarian Journal, why isn’t he in the news, too?

Doug's got an idea. Watch out, world!

Doug’s got an idea. Watch out, world!

So, Pete sets out to get himself into the papers. First, he fakes an automobile accident, but only gets a small mention, not a picture. Next, he wins a boxing match, but the police raid it before any of the photographers can submit their pictures. Then, he has the bright idea of telling the papers he was miraculously cured of being an “invalid” by taking a competitor’s product – that only gets dad madder at him. Finally, trying to cadge a dollar for a fortune teller from a buddy in a men’s club, he winds up hungover in his pajamas in Atlantic City and gets into a brawl with some policemen, but his name is withheld.

Really, it could happen to anyone!

Really, it could happen to anyone!

While all of this is going on, a gang of hoodlums (one of whom is Erich von Stroheim, still new to America at the time) is trying to threaten Cadwalader for protection money. Cadwalader doesn’t think a Prindle’s man should back down so he has the police arrest one gang member, and when another one stabs him in the chest he’s defended by his trusty tin of Prindle’s lentils that he always carries. His daughter insists on hiring detectives, so from this point he’s constantly surrounded by four of them. One gang member tries throwing a bomb, but gets blown up himself. Now Prindle orders him to go down to Atlantic City to check on a shipment of Prindle’s Products that got delayed, and the gang devises a plan to crash his train.

His Picture in the Papers2Of course, Pete is walking along that very line, and catches sight of a railman they’ve disabled in order to pull the switch that will crash the train. Without knowing who he’s saving, he heroically dashes in and fights off the gang, finding the missing railroad car and using Prindle’s Products as weapons. The next day the headlines trumpet his saving one thousand people and capturing the crooks. He and Christine kiss behind a paper.

His Picture in the Papers3It’s interesting to note how often Doug plays the spoiled son of a wealthy man (even in “The Matrimaniac,” he’s rich and unmarried, although we never see his father) who has to make good somehow. I’ve really come to enjoy the style of humor of these early Douglas Fairbanks movies. In this case, the intertitles are the source of much of the humor, but they seem to match up with the wry grins and attitude of Doug himself. A lot of the humor is at the expense of vegetarianism, which actually makes it seem more relevant today than a lot of century comedies (remember, vegetarians, these products have come a long way in 100 years!). Doug climbs up a building to visit his sweetie’s balcony, and he also boxes, wrestles a goat, beats up two policemen, and swims ashore from a cruise liner. At one point, he is thrown off of a train because his ticket apparently specifies that he is a “fat man with whiskers.” That’s why he attacks the goat – he needs the whiskers! Much of this movie was shot in Fort Lee, New Jersey, but there are some recognizable shots of New York City (especially Grand Central Station) and the Atlantic City boardwalk (the one the property in Monopoly is named for!). There is good editing and shot composure, and a strong use of close-ups. The one scene that puzzled me was the boxing scene, which looked like it had been shot for Edison in 1896. The camera never moved, there were no cuts, and the whole fight was shot at such a distance that I couldn’t tell the boxers apart. Overall, it’s a very enjoyable movie, and the Flicker Alley version comes with a lively score by Frederick Hodges.

Director: John Emerson

Camera: George W. Hill

Starring: Douglas Fairbanks, Loretta Blake, Clarence Handyside, Charles Butler, Erich von Stroheim

Run Time: 1 Hr, 2 Min

You can watch it for free: here (no music). For music, head on over to Flicker Alley and rent it, cheap!

Hypocrites (1915)

Lois_Weber_1914_Hypocrites

One thing that often surprises people about the early period of film history is that there were women in positions of authority and artistic control. The common assumption is that gender relations were so fixed in the late-19th and early-20th centuries that women were only there to be exploited and displayed for male pleasure. While there’s plenty to be critical of in terms of gender in front of and behind the screen, an accurate narrative is of course more complex. I’ve mentioned before some of the work of the woman who was a true pioneer of the cinema – Alice Guy-Blaché (and I hope to review more of her works soon), but I hadn’t yet had a chance to speak about her American protégé, Lois Weber. This post will correct that.

However shocked audiences are today or then by Weber’s gender, they were even more shocked by this movie’s content, which includes full-frontal female nudity, possibly the first time that occurred in a non-pornographic context in American film. Its inclusion emphasizes the fact that Weber clearly considered the cinema to be an art form (contrary to those who insist that no one but D.W. Griffith saw this at the time), and its use is deliberate to jolt a complacent audience into awareness of the movie’s message. This film is in that sense simultaneously subversive and also supportive of morality as it was understood by elite classes at the time. The fact that its “shocking” content was used to support a Christian message is precisely why it was able to succeed where a more explicit challenge to social order would have been completely suppressed.

 Hypocrites

The movie consists of a short series of overlapping vignettes. First, we are introduced to the actors in both medieval and modern dress through a series of dissolves. Then, we see the “naked truth” (and she is), who opens a gate, symbolically raising the curtain on the film. “Naked truth” is transparent due to traveling double exposure shots, but we can make her out pretty well. Our characters are then shown to us in a “modern church.” Gabriel, the pastor (Courtenay Foote, who would appear in “His Parisian Wife” and “Tess of the D’Urbervilles”), speaks to them all about hypocrisy, and through a series of close-ups and pans, we get a clear sense that his message is not understood by most of the listeners. This is emphasized when a group of wealthy-looking parishioners outside the church speak of asking for his resignation (“but keep my name out of it”) after congratulating him on a great sermon to his face. Gabriel reads about a statue in Paris representing “Truth” that has been censored, and he imagines himself transformed into a medieval monk. The next sequence involves him, still in monk’s garb, leading his flock on a path through the forest. He comes to a narrow path which breaks off from the main road and is steep to climb, and begins climbing it, urging the others to follow. Only a few do (or can). The message here is made clear when one of the wealthy parishioners refuses to put down a large bag of gold in order to climb the path.

 Hypocrites1

The “meat” of the story begins when Gabriel finds the naked Truth in the forest, having left all of his followers behind, in part because he refuses to assist the one who seems truly sincere – a young woman who may or may not have a crush on him (Myrtle Stedman, later in “Peer Gynt” and “The American Beauty”). Since he cannot bring them to her, he resolves to bring her back to them. Suddenly he is in a medieval monastery, and “after meditation and fasting,” begins work on a secret statue. The one other monk who peeks at it is horrified, but says nothing. On the day of its unveiling, the entire town turns out in its finery. It is, of course, the nude. Everyone is shocked, and riot breaks out. Gabriel is killed. Then, back in modern times, he, accompanied by the naked truth, goes to various places in town representing “politics,” “society,” “the family,” etc. and the Truth holds up a mirror, showing him the base motives behind the apparently upright behavior of the citizens.

 Hypocrites_1915_Naked_Truth

Modern viewers may find this heavy-handed or moralizing, or even funny at times – as when “immodesty” is represented by a group of young bathers in full-length bathing suits that cover them almost to their knees. Even I don’t really get the attitude taken toward “the Woman,” who clearly wants to do right but is consistently abandoned by Gabriel. But it is a very effective and surprisingly creative film. Camera angles and editing are quite modern – ahead, I would say of “The Birth of a Nation,” which was released in the same month. She uses close-ups frequently to bring us intimacy with her characters, and her use of panning cameras is well in advance of anything of the time, including “Cabiria,” whose pans famously inspired “Intolerance.” In the scene with the riot, the camera pans past each group of citizens, allowing them to have their personal reactions to the statue, and growing more chaotic with each movement.

It’s not surprising that this movie resulted in cries for censorship (it was banned in Ohio) and, it is rumored, even “riots” in some places. What is surprising is that it apparently didn’t hurt Weber’s career. The Moving Picture World gave it a very generous review and predicted “a long and emphatic popularity” for the movie. This seems to be correct, as Weber reputedly went on to work at Universal as one of their highest-paid directors and later was the first (and for a long time only) woman to be inducted into the Motion Picture Directors Association in 1916.

Director: Lois Weber

Camera: Dal Clawson, George W. Hill

Starring: Courtenay Foote, Myrtle Stedman

Run Time: 49 Min

I have not been able to find this for free on the Internet. A clip is here.