Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: John B OBrien

A Western Redemption (1911)

A Broncho Billy Western starring Gilbert M. Anderson that allows him to play a bad man who sees the light and goes straight, not for the first time. Interestingly, this is a rare case in which a bandit is shown in relation to his parents.

An intertitle informs us that a member of the notorious car barn gang has been apprehended and spilled the beans, and we witness the results as Broncho Billy (Identified in interititles as “Tom”) is arrested at his breakfast table in front of his parents. Shortly thereafter, his dad is fired from his job and his mother receives an eviction letter. Polite society doesn’t want the relatives of a criminal around. Years later, Billy has been released and we see him wearing cowboy gear and rolling a cigarette while talking to a cohort. Said cohort watches the stagecoach from a distance and follows it into town when it delivers a cash box to a general store. The proprietor helps a guard to set up a place to sleep next to it and the man beds down. Billy and his buddy take a couple shots of whiskey for courage and ride into town together. They put on masks and hold up the guard, tying him up and taking the key to the cash box. The other criminal goes into the sleeping quarters and holds up the proprietor. He finds a photo of Billy’s parents and realizes that is who they are robbing, deciding to conceal this from Billy. He rejoins Billy and the two ride off with sacks of loot. The second man insists that they divvy up the loot back at the hideout and each man goes his own way. Billy eventually finds a familiar pocket watch in his share, and concludes what has happened. He chases the man down and finds him sleeping by the side of the trail. The two fight, and Billy gets his guns on him before the other can draw. He holds him at gunpoint and makes him ride back to town. He brings him and the loot to the sheriff, confessing the crime and turning his partner in. They are handcuffed together and taken to a cell. A final shot shows Billy, years later, at the supper table in prayer with his aged parents, the father saying grace.

This is a pretty straightforward example of its series. It makes no effort to tie Anderson’s character in to other Broncho Billy storylines, and doesn’t even refer to him as “Billy.” It uses forward-facing intertitles that telegraph the action before you see it, in some cases spoiling or confusing the story by coming too soon before what they announce. The camera is stationary and generally at medium shot or further from the action (we can’t always see the actors’ feet, at least). Some shots are held for a very long time, even though not that much is happening – given the short run time I was surprised at how much of the guard getting ready for bed was shown. Still, Anderson tries to maximize the drama and sympathy we develop for his character in a short time, suggesting that he has a kind of code or sense of responsibility despite his villainous career. It does seem like the partner could have insisted on keeping everything he stole from the parents, giving Billy a bigger share of the payroll and prevented him discovering the watch, but I suppose it also represents how greedy he was that he didn’t do that (and it would have ruined the story).

Director: Gilbert .M. Anderson

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Gilbert M. Anderson, Arthur Mackley, Julia Mackley, John B O’Brien, Brinsley Shaw, Harry Todd, Augustus Carney

Run Time: 16 Min

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

Alkali Ike’s Auto (1911)

Cars were still a pretty new invention in 1911, especially in the more rural areas of the United States. Film was also pretty new, but with the boom of Nickelodeons opening across the country, more people of different backgrounds were going to the movies and demanding more content they could enjoy. This movie, like a number of others I’ve looked at, shows how film as a medium exploited the fascination with speed and technology in general.

Alkali Ikes AutoAlkali Ike (Augustus Carney) is a fairly typical rural “bumpkin” character – the type of Village Idiot that cityfolk think is typical of the sticks and that rural folks recognize as belonging to the neighbors. In this movie, he has a counterpart or rival, the taller “Mustang Pete” (Harry Todd). The object of their competition is a woman named Betty Brown (Margaret Joslin). First, they both try to help her with her dishes, but she is annoyed by their constant squabbling over who will dry the next dish, which sometimes leads to their pulling their guns on one another. They try to “cooperate” in carrying the basin of water, but actually their fighting over who will carry it results in Betty getting splashed with dirty dishwater. Next, Ike wants to take her for a horseback ride, but Pete wins by showing up in a horse and carriage. Betty goes off with him, and Ike, despondent, leads his horses to the general store. Now a stranger drives up in an automobile. The audience is tipped that the car is in bad shape when the store owner refuses to buy at any price, but Ike misses this key bit of information and offers to trade his horses for the car. The stranger, no doubt happy to have a reliable means of transportation to get out of this backwater, accepts, and gives Ike brief instructions on driving.

Alkali Ikes Auto1Now Pete and Betty ride up in their horse & carriage. Betty is excited to be offered a ride in a horseless carriage, and climbs aboard with Ike, who drives it through town and knocks over a post in front of the store. Betty is patient, however, and he does keep it on the road for a while, before ominous steam starts coming from under the cap. The car stops, and the steam turns into a spray of water aimed at Betty. Ike gets out to look and see what he can do about it, then the car starts up on its own, tearing down the hill with Betty aboard. The car crashes at the end of the ride, and Betty is pitched across the hood into the mud. She is furious when Ike catches up and grabs him by the throat.

Alkali Ikes Auto2There are a number of interesting things about this movie. One is that Betty is not at all the typical love-object, or even any sort of movie farm girl, but rather a large, matronly type, physically larger than either of the male suitors. My initial assumption (based on my familiarity with the genre combined with my own prejudices) was that she was a wealthy widow that the men wanted to marry for land and/or money. However, the Intertitles never say any such thing. Maybe her appearance is part of the comedy, or maybe it was assumed that she was the sort of person a bumpkin would be attracted to. The movie as a whole is pretty typical of the pre-Keystone comedies of the time. We get no close-ups on anyone, relying on broad physical gestures and costume to tell us what we need to know about character and motivation. Editing is limited, usually just linking one sequence to the next rather than allowing for intercutting between scenes, and the slapstick action is mostly tame by comparison to a Keystone movie.

Alkali Ikes Auto3Carney was a well-known Essanay player, and apparently this movie was one of their biggest hit releases for 1911, leading to a remake in 1913. He and Mustang Pete would appear in a number of future shorts together as well. In 1914 Carney would go to Universal in search of higher pay as “Universal Ike,” sans Pete. Another successful series of shorts was released, but Carney still demanded more money until Universal terminated his contract and most of his career. His friend Christy Cabanne occasionally gave him supporting roles after that, as in “Martyrs of the Alamo,” in which he was a soldier. By 1916, he was out of film altogether, and he died in 1920.

Alkali Ikes Auto4Director: Billy Anderson or, possibly, E. Mason Hopper

Camera: Unknown

Cast: Augustus Carney, Harry Todd, Margaret Joslin, John B. O’Brien

Run Time: 11 Min

You can watch it for free: here (no music).

Life on the Circle Ranch in California (1912)

Life-on-the-Circle-Ranch

There’s always a danger, when watching documentaries, of imagining that we are seeing unmediated reality, rather than a filmmaker’s attempt to simulate it. All the more true when the documentary comes from a remote period or is about an exotic subject, but this movie shows certain tell-tale signs of staging and of playing to an audience’s expectations. For example, did cowboys in 1912 actually wear gunbelts while going about their daily chores, or was that an expected convention? The film purports to show two days in the life of a Western cattle ranch, and there’s no denying that the horses and cows, as well as the skills with which they are handled, are real. Most of the movie takes place on the “open range,” and a dawn shot of a campfire and a coffee pot establish the ruggedness of our heroes early on. The production company was connected with the ranch, and I suspect that the cameraman had little other experience. There is a lack of imagination in the framing, and the focal length of the camera seems to be over-estimated, resulting in several blurry backgrounds where there should be majestic backdrops. Still, for horse-lovers and cowboy historians, there will be some material of interest here.

Director: John B. O’Brien

Run Time: 12 Min

I have not been able to locate this movie online. If you know where it can be seen, please comment below.