Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: Raymond Hatton

The Little American (1917)

The star power of Mary Pickford is teamed with the directing power of Cecil B. DeMille to produce a war propaganda picture just as the United States prepares to send its first troops to France to fight in World War One. The movie pulls no punches in showing audiences what the USA will be fighting for, but it has a reputation for being clumsy and jingoistic today.

Mary is the titular representative of the United States, Angela Moore, living a privileged and sheltered life as a socialite on a large estate. She has two suitors: the French Count Jules de Destin (Raymond Hatton) and Karl von Austreim (Jack Holt), a German. As the movie opens, it is July 4, 1914 (which just happens to be Angela’s birthday), and she receives each of them in turn. She seems to prefer Karl, although he insists on teaching her little brother how to goose step. Karl is interrupted as he proposes by an urgent secret message calling him back to serve in the German military, and he honorably releases her from any obligations before he goes. When the Count informs her about the outbreak of war, her first though is of Karl and whether he may have been hurt in the fighting. She sends letters to Karl but hears nothing. Read the rest of this entry »

Joan the Woman (1916)

Cecil B. DeMille enters the arena of the historical epic with this depiction of France’s most famous saint, starring Geraldine Farrar, who had been very successful in “Carmen” the previous year. While a bit rough in places, it is likely to be a major contender in this year’s Century Awards.

joan_the_womanThis is one of those silent movies that, unfortunately, begins with several minutes of intertitles explaining the plot. Most silent directors did their best to avoid this, but DeMille may have felt that because he was dealing with such a “serious” subject, his audiences would need a little priming to get into the mood. Anyway, after five minutes of introductory reading, we finally get to an unnecessary wraparound story. We begin in the trenches in France in 1916, where a young English soldier is digging in the dirt wall for some reason, and pulls out a sword, apparently buried there since the fifteenth century. He speculates that some “queer bloke” must have wielded it, and then responds to a call for volunteers from an officer. The officer is looking for someone to carry a very unwieldy bomb across no-man’s-land to destroy an enemy trench. He tells the soldier to think about it until midnight before making a decision whether to take on the suicide mission. Once back in his barracks, the soldier sees a vision of Joan of Arc and the real movie finally begins!

joan-the-woman2 Read the rest of this entry »

Bangville Police (1913)

I hope Lea, over at Silentology, will forgive me from piggy-backing on her review, but she inspired me to watch the movie and now I have to write about it! You should all go check out her blog, either before or after you read my article tonight. Bangville Police

First, for those of you too lazy to read her summary, here’s the basics: Mabel Normand is a young girl living on a farm with her hayseed father and salt-of-the-earth mother. She longs for a newborn calf to make the place more homey. When she hears strange noises in the barn, she sees two men lurking in the shadows and panics. She runs back to the house and calls the sheriff, who’s sound asleep in bed. He fires off some rounds to attract the attention of the local volunteer deputies and sends them off to investigate. Meanwhile, Mabel’s mom has tried to enter the house, but Mabel thinks she’s a burglar and keeps her out. Mom thinks Mabel must be held hostage by burglars and goes off to get dad, all the while Mabel keeps screaming into the phone and the sheriff thinks it must be an Indian attack or a serial killer or something. So, he rounds up every able-bodied man and the police force’s one vehicle (an old roadster like something out of the “Wacky Races”) and rushes to the rescue. Sort of. Actually, the car is much slower than the men running and it ultimately breaks down in a cloud of smoke. Meanwhile, mom and pop have so terrified Mabel that she takes the phone and hides in a closet, after barricading the door. They manage to break through and find Mabel, apparently unharmed. The police show up and appear ready to arrest pop for open-carrying his pistol, but then everyone is charmed by the newborn calf in the barn. The end. All of this, by the way, is communicated in pantomime and just two short Intertitles.

Bangville Police2 Now, this movie gets a lot of attention because of its early use of the “Keystone Kops” (or “Cops”), but that’s only incidental. Only a couple of the volunteers and the sheriff himself have any traditional accoutrements of office, the rest are just yokels with shovels, pitchforks, and rifles. The more “traditional” Keystone Kops movies, like “Fatty Joins the Force,” always take place in urban environments, and they exploit the police-as-authority-figure trope to humorous effect. This one barely scratches that surface. Forgive me, but I think something else is at work here.

Look familiar?

Look familiar?

And, I think I know what it is. Longtime readers who were paying attention might have thought the plot outline sounded…familiar. To spell it out: It’s a very close parody of “The Unseen Enemy” by D.W. Griffith. Mabel Normand even mocks Dorothy Gish’s facial expressions in some shots, and camera set-ups are clear parallels. It should be noted that “The Unseen Enemy” triggered a series of imitations, some even by Griffith himself, including “Death’s Marathon.” Even audiences who hadn’t seen Griffith’s 1912 movie would be familiar by now with the story: a young girl, trapped alone in a house, uses the telephone to summon help, while a race to rescue her is intercut with her increasing peril. Director Henry Lehrman (mostly remembered today for not appreciating Charlie Chaplin’s talents) brilliantly turned that whole concept on its head, and used very different camera- and editing-styles from normal to make the satire work. The close-up was generally reserved for opening and closing shots at Keystone, but he needed it in the middle here. Cross-cutting rarely interrupted the story for more than a few seconds, but he needed to draw out the humorous tension of Mabel trapped by her parents while establishing the characters of the titular law enforcers. Even the car, which is now seen as the most traditionally “Keystone Kop” element in the picture, is there because it is part of the parody; unlike the original, it is slow and unreliable. Note that Lehrman, as well as Mack Sennett the producer, had gotten their start working as actors for Griffith at Biograph.

How about now?

How about now?

An_Unseen_Enemy

The one thing I can’t explain is the whole bit with the calf. Wouldn’t a farm girl know if her cow is pregnant? And who are those two guys in the barn? They didn’t look like vets to me, and I certainly didn’t see them deliver the calf. None of this seems to have anything to do with Griffith, I guess it’s just there because they needed an ending.

Director: Henry Lerhman

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Mabel Normand, Fred Mace, Raymond Hatton, Edgar Kennedy, Ford Sterling, Al St. John, Nick Cogley

Run Time: 8 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

Young Romance (1915)

Young Romance

One of the notices for this film in Moving Picture World stated that it “forever silences the claim that refined comedy cannot be conveyed via the screen.” There’s some truth in that claim, for this is certainly not a slapstick comedy, but it has elements that hearken back to “How a French Nobleman Got a Wife” (as well as its predecessor, “Personal”), and at the same time seems to prefigure the kind of situational comedy that made Clara Bow famous in the twenties.

 Young_Romance_1915

Bow would have been right at home playing our protagonist, a spunky romantic shopgirl who decides to save her money in order to masquerade as a well-to-do customer at a seaside resort in Maine, in the hopes of snagging a handsome and wealthy husband. Clara was still only nine years old when this made, though, so instead we get Edith Taliaferro, a stage actress who only made three movies (this being the only one that survives). She handles the transition to silent film well, neither over-acting nor under-acting, but she lacks Bow’s infectious vivacity. Her scheme works well, attracting not one, but two paramours, but, as silent film fans might predict, both of them are just as much imposters as she is. The nice one (Tom Forman, who appeared in the similar “A Gentleman of Leisure” that same year and later in “The Sea Wolf”) just happens to work in the hardware department of the same department store she does. The bad one is a phony count (Al Ernest Garcia, who later did quite a bit of work with Chaplin, including “City Lights” and “Modern Times”) who takes a cheap hotel room fortuitously close to the young hero. This permits him to eavesdrop and foil the plans of the Count when he plots to kidnap the phony young “heiress” in order to extort money from her.

 Young Romance1

Visually, I found this movie quite good for early 1915. Much of the movie is shot on location, presumably at a Long Island beach resort, and shots of the beach are at times spectacular. The shots often have a greater depth-of-field than others movies of the time, and even when they are limited to small “stages,” the sets are decorated in a very conscious, balanced fashion, presenting a stylish mise-en-scène, appropriate to the sophisticated storyline. The editing emphasizes contrasts and parallels. We see Edith and Tom prepare for their trips in similar tiny apartments, then arrive and move into strongly contrasting hotel rooms – his dismal and small, hers spacious and lovely. Other pieces of editing, such as the Count’s getaway on a train being intercut with Tom’s boat ride to the rescue also show good use of parallelism. We also get close ups, irises, and an interesting overhead pov shot when Tom peers through a hole in his wall to observe the Count’s nefarious actions. There are minimal special effects, but towards the end of the movie, as the two lovers realize that they must own up to their deceits, we get two interesting uses of matte shots to show their thoughts visually. This reminded me of the scene in the restaurant in “Sunrise,” not to be made for many years yet, in which the husband and wife hold each other while their thoughts hover above them. In all, it’s a nice simple comedy that presages some of the trends in later silent film.

Director: George Melford

Camera: Walter Stradling

Screenplay: William C. deMille

Starring: Edith Taliaferro, Tom Forman, Al Ernest Garcia, Raymond Hatton

Run Time: 58 Min, 30 seconds

You can watch it for free: here.

Golden Chance (1915)

Golden Chance

This, along with “Carmen” and “The Cheat,” was one of the films a very busy Cecil B. DeMille made at the end of 1915. It barely managed a release date before the New Year, in fact, and was probably mostly seen by audiences of 1916. It is another small-scale domestic melodrama, not a historical epic, and explores issues of class and gender, as they were popularly understood at the time. DeMille was no radical, of course, but he seems to have wanted to appeal to a progressive spirit, and probably tailored his story to address issues that pro-censorship forces such as church activists and women’s groups considered important at the time. It also displays the growing talents of both DeMille and cameraman Alvin Wyckoff. We see taught editing, many close-ups, good use of lighting and especially darkness, and some inventive camera angles as well.

The story has elements of the “Lost Girl” tale in which an innocent girl is deceived into moving from a wholesome environment to the city, only to be victimized or led into temptation. However, we begin the story not with her leaving her loving parents, but five years later, when she is living in a tenement with her alcoholic husband, a former day-laborer. The Girl in this case (the word is consistently capitalized in the titles) is Cleo Ridgely, who was in “Joan the Woman” the next year and did several “Jean – Girl Detective” shorts as well. The husband is Horace B. Carpenter, who was in DeMille’s “The Virginian” and “Carmen.” We are introduced to them, and the rest of the cast, through the device of intertitles followed by brief cameo shots not otherwise in the picture. These actually serve not only as credits, but also to kick-start the plot as well. Although Cleo is introduced as if she were a wholesome farm girl – leaning out her tenement window to catch the sun’s rays on her face and tending to a neglected potted plant on the windowsill – we learn that she is actually the fallen daughter of a judge, whose parents disowned her when she married below her station. As the story begins we see that her good-for-nothing husband is drinking up all their grocery money. So, she looks for a job.

Cleo Ridgely

And it is this which brings her “Golden Chance” to work for a society lady whose husband hopes to dupe the hero (a very handsome Wallace Reid, who had been less perfect as Don Juan in “Carmen” and had also co-starred with Ridgely in “The Chorus Lady”) into a major investment. The pair decide that if they dress up the Girl, she can charm him to the point where he doesn’t know what he’s signing, and convince her to take the chance to play Cinderella for a weekend. Here, the movie departs from the “Lost Girl” model and becomes something a bit more modern. In fact, it reminded me of many Depression-era films where poor girls are given a chance to mix with high society and daydream about being rich and glamorous, which of course gave audiences the chance to dream with them. While the teens aren’t recalled as a time of economic hardship today, the reality is that there were plenty of poverty-stricken viewers who would respond to this at the time.

Wallace_Reid

It goes all too well, with Reid proposing to Ridgely and agreeing to invest, when Ridgely’s husband shows up to rob the joint. Pretty soon, the truth is out and Reid is angry at being deceived, and poor Cleo wanders out into the night in her old clothes, sleeping on a park bench next to an old bum. When she returns home, her husband has a new idea to extort money from Reid. They send him a note telling him to come help her, which he is inclined to ignore until, paradoxically, he finds her secretly written “Don’t Come” written inside the note. This demonstrates that she is not part of the ruse. So he goes there, but takes the precaution of having his servant go for the police after five minutes. There is a tense scene, told almost entirely in a series of rapid close-ups, followed by a fight staged in a single wide-angle overhead shot. The change in visual style is jarring, and it serves well to build the audience’s excitement at this stage. The police rush in and save the day.

The “Moving Picture World” gave this movie a glowing review in its issue of January 8, 1916, and, like me, made special note of the effective lighting techniques and the “modern” melodramatic storyline. Over at Movies Silently, Fritzi Kramer has given it 81% and also noted the appealing lead actors as well as the lighting, showing that the film has held up well for the past century.

Director: Cecil B. DeMille

Camera: Alvin Wyckoff

Starring: Cleo Ridgely, Wallace Reid, Horace B. Carpenter, Ernest Joy, Edythe Chapman, Raymond Hatton

Run Time: 1 hr, 13 Mins

I have not been able to find this for free online. If you know where to find it, please comment. Otherwise, try your local library!

Carmen (1915)

Carmen_(1915)

Both Cecil B. De Mille and Raoul Walsh directed versions of this story in 1915, early in their careers as directors, but De Mille’s is the only one that survives at present, so unless Walsh’s is rediscovered and restored, only De Mille will be considered on this blog. I might as well admit right off that I’m hardly well-educated in the many versions of “Carmen.” I know the music mostly from “Gilligan’s Island,” and the story from Jack Lemmon and more significantly from Radley Metzger’s 1960s adult version. The story is pretty simple, though, a naïve young officer falls in love with a woman of low morals (here, a gypsy allied with smugglers), and is ruined, as he is dragged increasingly to her level in order to try to hold on to her. Here, the title character is played by Geraldine Farrar (later in “Joan the Woman” and “Flame of the Desert”), who approaches the role with more strength, confidence, and maturity than I expected. I say maturity not just in the sense that she’s clearly older than, let’s say, a D.W. Griffith starlet (Griffith seems to have liked them young, but Farrar was 33 when this was made), but in the sense that she brings an obvious range of emotional experience to her character. The obsessed hero is played by Wallace Reid (almost ten years her junior, he was also in “Joan the Woman” and had a small role in “The Birth of a Nation”), and typically I found him a bit less interesting to watch, though as he gets more desperate and more tormented, he does show some decent acting chops as well.

 Carmen_1915 Poster

“Carmen” is once again a demonstration of how much of a game-changer the year 1915 was for film making. We get a variety of camera angles and compositions, including some judiciously used close ups and camera-masking for emphasis. Even when in two-shots or longer shots, actors’ faces are generally visible, and there’s no hesitation to cut them in half (or more) to get them on the screen. The intertitles are placed in mid-action, rather than set up to introduce what follows. Actors move upscreen and downscreen, not simply on and off stage. There’s a well-choreographed sword fight and a good crowd scene as well as bullfighting in Seville. Costumes and sets clearly took some real work and attention. The editing is tight and uses inter-cut simultaneous action to draw out tension during the climax. Unfortunately, the surviving print is a 1918 re-release, so it’s possible that some aspects, especially the editing, have been “modernized” a bit for this print.

Director: Cecil B. De Mille

Camera: Alvin Wyckoff

Starring: Geraldine Farrar, Wallace Reid, William Elmer, Raymond Hatton

Run Time: 57 Min, 15 secs

You can watch it for free: here (tinted, no music), or here (b&w, no music)

Cheat, The (1915)

Cheat_FilmPoster

Cecil B. DeMille was lucky to start making movies independently in 1914. Unlike the previous generation of directors, he didn’t have to serve a long apprenticeship making short films, and unlike directors bound to the Edison Trust, he didn’t have to fight to be able to work in feature length. He lept in with Westerns like “The Squaw Man” and “The Virginian,” then graduated in 1915 to dramas like this one (the epics he’s remembered for today don’t come along until the twenties).

Here, Fanny Ward (later in “Her Strange Wedding” and “Witchcraft”) is a young socialite with no head for money, whose husband (played by her real-life husband Jack Dean, whose credits include “The Marriage of Kitty” and “A School for Husbands”) refuses to buy her fancy gowns and lingerie while his money is tied up in an important investment. So, she wisely decides to invest the money entrusted to her by the Red Cross in a shady copper mine pushed on her by some guy at a party. Salvation comes in the form of Sessue Hayakawa (who we saw in “Last of the Line” and later got an oscar nomination for “Bridge on the River Kwai”), a wealthy Asian financier, who offers to loan her the money to save face. When Dean’s investment pays off, Fanny is jubilant, and runs over to pay off Sessue, but he’s not having it. He clearly felt he had “bought” her when he lent the money, and he proves it by taking out a wax seal and branding her with his mark! Understandably displeased, Fanny picks up a revolver and shoots him in the shoulder, running off into the night. Now hubby wanders in, no doubt wondering where his wife ran off to with $10,000 in the middle of the night. Finding the wounded man, the check, and the gun, he puts it together and confesses to the crime when the police arrive. His wife’s later efforts to buy off the scheming villain are to no avail – “You cannot cheat me twice,” he declares. This leaves her no choice but to pull a dramatic court room reveal, saving the day at the risk of her honor.

Cheat_1915

Now, a lot’s already been made about the fact that the villain is a foreigner, to the point that the intertitles were changed in 1918 to make him Burmese rather than Japanese, due to protests from the Japanese government. And it certainly fits the general racial attitudes of the day, though I would point out that Hayakawa is never held up to represent all members of his race; he appears to act as an individual. At worst, he’s sort of a “Shylock” character, who would confirm existing prejudices without necessarily promoting them to new audiences. What is interesting is that the end of the movie toys with the possibility of a bloody lynching when the white male spectators at the trial burst into an angry mob at the sight of Fanny’s brand. But it doesn’t go there. The judge insists on keeping order, and the police eventually calm things down and escort Sessue out of the room. The message does not seem to endorse lawless racist vigilantism, at least, which is more than I can say for “The Birth of a Nation.”

Since I noted the good use of darkness and shadow in Feuillade’s early work recently, I want to draw special attention to how far we’ve come by 1915. There are several darkened rooms and darkened exteriors, and especially good is the dark jail cell, with the shadows of bars striking Dean’s frame and the back wall, in a noir-like effect. When Fanny moves a practical lamp, however, its shadow is clearly visible against her, making it obvious that the light actually comes from another (off screen) source. The whole movie is shot much closer to the actors than earlier films would have been. There are few true close ups, but quite a few intimate two-shots, and shots that show only the upper half of the actors, meaning that we can see faces much more clearly and rely less on pantomime.

Director: Cecil B. DeMille

Camera: Alvin Wyckoff

Starring: Fanny Ward, Jack Dean, Sessue Hayakawa, Raymond Hatton

Run Time: 58 Min, 50 secs

You can watch it for free: here.