Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: Marguerite Clayton

Broncho Billy and the Greaser (1914)

This is probably one of the most “typical” Western shorts I’ve seen from Gilbert M. “Broncho Billy” Anderson, in the sense that it could most effortlessly be substituted for the kind of kids’ Western fare of later eras of movies and television.

Broncho Billy and the GreaserBroncho Billy delivers mail by horseback, and when he rides into town he quickly greets Marguerite Clayton, apparently the only single young lady for miles around, before going into the General Store that serves as a local post office. The postmaster there is dealing with the impatience of locals who seem to have little to do but hang around the store asking him when the mail’s coming in, but he’s happy to fill Marguerite’s jug while they wait. Meanwhile, a local “half-breed,” played by Lee Willard, has been making better (or worse) use of his time at the local saloon. He saunters in just after Billy delivers the mail, blustering his way to the head of the line by displaying his six-shooter. Billy, made aware of the situation by the post master, corrects the situation by drawing his gun and escorting the bad guy out of the store. Once she has her mail, Marguerite shows her appreciation with a chaste handshake that makes both of them ride their horses backwards. The villain, of course, observes all of this with glares.

Broncho Billy and the Greaser1Lee now gives us a performance, showing off how enraged he is, riding back to his shack and drinking from a flask, snarling at the camera. He watches as Billy rides past his shack and picks up a knife, showing us what is in his mind with slashing gestures, then gets on his horse and follows. Billy stops on the road to help a man who seems to be suffering from thirst and exhaustion, stumbling down the road and trying to drink from a stream. Lee goes into a bar to get more liquor, but is treated with suspicion by the proprietor, who demands money up front. This only raises his ire, and now he pursues Billy (and his invalid discovery) back to his shack, where Billy has put the man to bed and started a pot of coffee, before taking off his own bracers and laying down for a snooze. Lee peeks into the window and sees Billy asleep, but at this moment Marguerite rides up and sees what is afoot, hastily jumping on her horse for help after the devious Mexican enters Billy’s shack without knocking. Billy fights, but Lee is able to tie him up. So, Marguerite makes her way to the Lazy X ranch, where a dance is taking place, and calls on the men to help. The invalid tries to do something, but barely manages to fall out of bed. The men from the ranch ride to the rescue while Billy struggles to keep the knife away. Once there, they grab the bad guy and drag him away, barely pausing long enough to untie Billy, who now returns to helping the old man. Marguerite comes in and makes sure Billy is OK, before they again shake hands shyly.

Broncho Billy and the Greaser2The obvious thing to comment about in this film is the racist portrayal of a “half-breed” or “greaser” villain. There are no surprises here, and certainly no subversion of American racial hierarchies, but it’s interesting to note two things: First, much of the story is told from Lee’s point of view, and he may actually get more screen time than Billy. Second, for all of the villain’s apparent evil intentions, he in no way menaces the white virginal woman, as played by Marguerite Clayton. One could argue that this threat is implicit, inasmuch as Billy’s closeness to the girl seems to be what sets him off, but it is Billy that he acts out against. Even there, he’s decent enough (or drunk enough) to wake Billy up and tie him rather than simply slitting his throat while he sleeps – although really this is a contrivance to give the girl a chance to go for help. It’s also noteworthy that Billy’s sole “heroic” act against him is to point a gun at him in the general store. If the other (white) townspeople had not come to his rescue, Billy would not have had the strength to defeat his foe alone. Billy is a gentleman toward the girl, and tries to help a wounded man, so we know he’s “good,” but he doesn’t manage to save the day.

Broncho Billy and the Greaser3One more thing I’ve been meaning to comment on is an odd bit of fashion that I mentioned briefly above – the bracers or wrist guards that all of the cowboys wear in these early Westerns. It’s universal in Essanay films, and common from what I recall in Ince pictures and in the few early Westerns of Douglas Fairbanks that I’ve seen. But, if you look at a later Western (I watched “Once Upon a Time in the West” the other night, and kept an eye out, for example), they have been abandoned. Wikipedia only lists these items as protectors for archers, but I can imagine cowboys using them to avoid chafing their wrists with rope or reins. To me, it kind of gives these early cowboy actors a Heavy Metal look (although theirs aren’t studded or spiked), and it feels somewhat more authentic than later movie fashion, but I’m no expert here.

Director: Gilbert M. “Broncho Billy” Anderson

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Gilbert M. “Broncho Billy” Anderson, Marguerite Clayton, Lee Willard, Carl Stockdale

Run Time: 15 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

The Broncho Billy Marathon

Blogathon Marathon StarsFor this “Marathon Star Blogathon” post, I’m going to binge-watch several of Gilbert “Broncho Billy” Anderson’s movies, and write about him as I go. Don’t worry, each film will get it’s own individual review in the weeks to come; in accordance with the rules of this blogathon tonight I’ll be focusing on Anderson himself and what I learn by looking at so much of him at once. Incidentally, a year or so back I watched another one: “Broncho Billy and the Schoolmistress,” and I have also watched “His Regeneration” before, in connection with my many reviews of Charlie Chaplin.

OK, here we go…

Making of Broncho BillyFirst up, “The Making of Broncho Billy” (1913). The DVD I bought has a nice brief introduction to the star, reminding us that he was born “Max Aronson,” a Jewish man from Arkansas, and that he finagled a job as “Max Anderson” on “The Great Train Robbery” working for Edwin S. Porter. Supposedly, his horse threw him and he never was in any of the chase scenes, since he couldn’t ride. After founding Essanay, his own production company, with George K. Spoor, he went on to make over 350 films, mostly Westerns. Anyway, this film is a kind of “origin story” for Broncho Billy, although of course there had been many movies made before it. Anderson shows up in a Western town wearing Eastern clothes (he looks sort of like a young D.W. Griffith) and is mercilessly mocked by the local cowhands. When he tries to fight one in a bar, he learns that he must learn to shoot to gain their respect. We see him attempt shooting a bottle in his Eastern garb, but he can’t hit the side of a barn until he puts on a Stetson hat and cowboy shirt. After he confronts one of the bullies, he rides to the sheriff for protection as an angry mob comes after him, but the surviving bully just wants to shake his hand. Anderson is good in this, changing his body language and his acting style as he goes from the victim to the tough guy. Read the rest of this entry »

His Regeneration (1915)

His_Regeneration_posterThis one-reel drama from Essanay stars co-owner G.M. “Broncho Billy” Anderson and features a brief cameo by Charlie Chaplin as the “Little Tramp,” which makes it an odd sort of a bird to review. At first I thought it might be intended as a kind of spoof of “Regeneration” by Raoul Walsh, but that film came several months after this one, so that’s not a likely explanation. Besides, most of it isn’t very funny (the Chaplin footage excepted).

Charlie: Whose hand am I holding?

Charlie: Whose hand am I holding?

The movie begins in a pawn shop, where the decidedly unregenerate G.M. Anderson sells some presumably ill-gotten jewelry to a proprietor of indeterminate “foreign” origin (I can’t decide whether he’s Jewish or Chinese). Then the action shifts to a dance hall/nightclub that appears to stratify its clientele. On the lower level, rough working class-types brawl and enjoy Apache dancing with their molls, while in the balcony, higher-class customers spectate at a safe distance. The Little Tramp show up at the lower level and tries to chat up a girl with a large, muscular boyfriend, gets caught up in the violent whirlwind of the dance floor, then tries to take a breath at a table before being drawn back into the flurry of dancing. Now Anderson shows up and sits with a girl dressed like Cleopatra whose boyfriend is off getting drinks. He gives her a stolen watch and then fights with the boyfriend when he comes back, to the animated interest of the balcony crew. Their amusement turns to horror when, after Anderson wins, the boyfriend pulls out a gun and shoots him. One of their number (Marguerite Clayton) rushes down to dress the wound and pour alcohol from a nearby glass over it. She turns him over to the police when they arrive.

Why does the Queen of the Nile need a wristwatch?

Why does the Queen of the Nile need a wristwatch?

Anderson, who was obviously the victim in this case, is soon on the streets again, and he breaks into a fancy home with his partner (Lee Willard). While his buddy is opening the safe, Anderson cases the place and finds Marguerite sleeping in her bedroom. He is torn by his obligations to his partner and the girl who may have saved his life. He goes back downstairs and tries to get Lee to put back the jewels he has taken from the safe. Of course, they end up fighting, and eventually Anderson has to shoot his friend to stop him from taking the jewels. That wakes up Marguerite and the neighbors and soon the cops are called. When Marguerite finds him with a gun over his dead pal’s body, he gives her back the jewels and explains what happened. She takes the gun and hides him in the kitchen, claiming that she found and shot a lone burglar when the police arrive. He appreciates what she’s done and leaves a note saying that he’ll “try to make good.”

His Regeneration2Fifteen minutes isn’t much time to develop a full story about the regeneration of a man’s spirit, and this movie takes time out for a comedy interlude that adds nothing to the story, so it doesn’t hold up all that well as a drama. What it does have in its favor is good acting by both leads, a very stylish period dance hall, and a good appearance by Charlie Chaplin. Chaplin, who is only on the screen for a minute or two, probably pleased audiences more than any other part of the movie. It is also tightly edited, and moves quickly through the storyline without a lot of repetition or over-emphasis of simple matters. There are no intertitles, apart from the close-up on the note at the end, so that we can see that the regeneration is complete. Both Anderson and Marguerite also get close-ups, and we can see the dilemma work itself out in his face at the end. Still, I’m not sure that the moral of this story really works: were these jewels really worth a man’s life and does Marguerite really owe Anderson his freedom at the end? Will he stay regenerate or has he merely learned that some rich people are good and you shouldn’t steal from them that treat you right? I expect a bit more by the standards of 1915.

Director: G.M. “Broncho Billy” Anderson

Camera: Unknown

Starring: G.M. “Broncho Billy” Anderson, Marguerite Clayton, Lee Willard, Charlie Chaplin, Lloyd Bacon, Belle Mitchell

Run Time: 15 Min

You can watch it for free: here.