Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: Rr

The Rajah’s Dream (1900)

Georges Méliès is on familiar ground with this fantasy tale of the nighttime adventures of an exotic aristocrat. I doubt if his viewers learned much about India from this movie, but they were no doubt entertained as he intended.

The movie begins on a standard proscenium set, decorated as the sleeping chamber of a Rajah. The Rajah himself (Méliès) sits upon an elaborate bed, he yawns and lies down, still wearing his sword and all of his clothing. A butterfly swoops into the room and disturbs his nap, fluttering about his head until he gets up and tries to catch it in a net. Failing this, he lies down again, but this time the bed and the entire room disappear, and he tumbles to the ground, finding himself in a wooded area next to a stone wall. He tries to sit on a bench, but it disappears and reappears across the stage. Each time he tries to sit on it, he falls down again. Then, as he tries to approach it a dead tree appears in his path. He tries to pull it up, but a devil’s head appears on it and it starts waving its limbs like arms. He pulls out his sword to challenge it and it turns into a man with devil horns, who grabs the sword and dances around to mock the Rajah. The Rajah tries to wrestle him, but he disappears in a puff of smoke. After recovering from this, the Rajah finds himself confronted by a woman in a robe. He falls to his knees and professes love, but the woman refuses him. She summons other women, similarly skimpily attired, and they do a dance that involves twirling and knocking the Rajah to the ground. The Rajah manages to get up and run away, but even more women join the chase and soon the screen is filled with faerie-like young girls. They form a circle around the Rajah and beat his head with sticks. He is led up a scaffold to be beheaded. He fights with the executioner, but suddenly finds himself in his room, beating on a pillow. He falls to the floor once again and looks around, realizing that the entire experience has been a dream.

This is a pretty standard Méliès short, with the main character plagued by things that appear and disappear at random, unable to gain control of his situation, and frequently leaping and tumbling for comic effect. Like all of them, it has lovely sets and costumes, and a sense of playfulness that keeps it fresh. What stands out a bit is the scene at the end with all of the women running around the stage. Méliès rarely had so many extras – I think there may be more people on the stage at one time here than we saw in the parade for “Joan of Arc!” He always had an eye for spectacle, and obviously in this case, he was willing to go to the effort to achieve his vision, even for a simple trick film.

Director: Georges Méliès

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Georges Méliès

Run Time: 2 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

Rector’s to Claremont (1903)

This short movie from Edison seems to be a kind of reversal of “How a French Nobleman…” using various locations in Manhattan for a comedic chase sequence. I’m not familiar with either of the names in the title, which may mean I’m not getting the context of the movie.

The opening shot shows a busy downtown sidewalk, with an awning as of a theater or nightclub in the foreground. A large group of well-dressed women come out from the doorway under the awning and pile onto a horse-drawn carriage. Some men climb onto the sides of the carriage as well, then it takes off down the street. The carriage drives down various streets, mostly through parks and wooded areas, and the Midtown entrance to Central Park is recognizable at one point. Along the way, they pick up a pursuer. A man with a top hat and a jacket is running after the carriage. The women wave their parasols at him, but it’s hard to tell if they are encouraging or discouraging him. At one point they drive past Grant’s Tomb, and he stumbles and falls, but the camera is slightly pointed away so we miss the pratfall he does. The camera pans slightly afterward to see him get up and begin his pursuit again. Finally, the carriage arrives at a large well-appointed building like an academy or school of some kind, and the women disembark. There is no sign of the man at this point.

Although I don’t fully understand this movie, it is a good depiction of New York from the period. It’s interesting how it seems to become more suburban and woodsy as the carriage proceeds further North. Today, apart from the parks, most of this drive would be through heavily populated urban areas. Probably the movie would make more sense to an audience that knew what “Rector’s” and “Claremont” were, and I assume that the exhibitor would provide a narrative to explain the mysterious pursuer. As it is, it is of more interest in terms of architecture and fashion than filmmaking. Near the “Rector’s” opening, we see a building with a full-size ad painted on the side: a woman in Victorian dress looming several stories tall over the street. That’s an exciting image right there!

Director:Edwin S. Porter

Camera: Edwin S. Porter

Starring: Unknown

Run Time: 3 Min, 45 secs

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

The Return of Draw Egan (1916)

William S. Hart returns to the screen with familiar Western tropes done in a mature and morally sophisticated manner. While not as unrelentingly dark as “Hell’s Hinges,” this movie confirms that early silent audiences already knew that cowboys weren’t just kiddie fare.

return_of_draw_eganAs the movie begins, Hart is introduced as the title character, a wanted criminal with a price on his head. He has a sizeable gang of desperados with him, but he decides that the heat is too much and they should split up and “shift for themselves.” One member of the disbanding gang is Arizona Joe (Robert McKim), who “has a yellow streak a mile wide,” but hides it with bluster and bravado. Before they can go their separate ways, however, the posse catches up to them and chases them to an abandoned mountain shack they use as a hideout. There’s a pitched gun-battle, but several of the gunmen escape through a tunnel underneath the shack to a place where they’ve stashed horses. Arizona Joe is too timid to try this, and tries to sneak past the lawmen, but he’s captured on the way out.

return-of-draw-egan Read the rest of this entry »

Robin Hood (1912)

I’m writing again from Cinecon, and this is one of the movies that was presented here. As with last year, this means that I’ve only had a single viewing to work from (I usually watch films at least twice before writing a review) and have no access to the film to fact-check myself, I have to work from memory.

Robin HoodThis version of Robin Hood was made by the Éclair studios from their newly-established studio in Fort Lee, New Jersey, a major film center during the 1910’s. It foregrounds the romance between Robin and Marian, making other aspects of the story more incidental. Robin is played by Robert Frazer, who is in a love-triangle with Marian (Barbara Tennant) and Guy de Gisbourne (Lamar Johnstone), which is complicated by the fact that Marian’s father wants her to wed Guy, and conspires with the bad guys to bring this about. Robin is captured early in the film, but helped to escape by his Merry Men. The sheriff then issues a warrant for his arrest, but Robin’s men use tree branches as camouflage and ambush the sheriff’s party, tying them to trees. They perform various acts to alleviate the oppression of the people, including a raid on a nobleman’s house in which their escape is aided by Marian and her female servants flirting with the sentries. There is a great swordplay scene in which the sheriff’s men attack Robin and some of his companions in a tavern. They make their escape up the chimney. Friar Tuck saves the disguised King from molestation by the Sheriff and brings him back to Robin’s camp, where he beats Robin in duel, betraying his identity. Robin and his men pledge themselves to the King, and the King witnesses his marriage to Marian (after they rescue her once again) in a ceremony in the forest. Marian’s father protests, but must submit to the King’s will.

It was pretty clear that this was a major production for Éclair in 1912, in terms of production value and budget it is well ahead of most work of the time. For one thing, it is three reels long, which should make it about 45 minutes, although only about a half hour exists in the print I saw. Even so, that’s longer than most 1912 movies already. The costumes and multiple camera set-ups speak to the prestige of the movie as well. The fight scene in the tavern involved at least three camera angles, which is pretty rare for the period. We also get several close-ups, some scenes shot at 45-degree angles, color tinting on the print, and special effects like the fades from close-ups of the villains to animals they resemble in character. The camera is often at closer than full-length, giving us a chance to see the faces of the main characters clearly. The swordfights, while hardly Errol Flynn and Basil Rathbone, and handled well and there is a good deal of action in the picture. I was less impressed by the acting. The Éclair studio was very new, and had to hire actors from the stage or with little acting experience at this time, and it shows. There are a lot of overly broad gestures and jerky movements, especially among the supporting players. Others have noticed the oddly oversized hats that the male characters wear, though this didn’t bother me as much.

Director: Étienne Arnaud, possibly with Herbert Blaché

Camera: Unknown

Cast: Robert Frazer, Barbara Tennant, Lamar Johnstone, Alec B. Francis, Arthur Hollingsworth

Run Time: 31 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

Return of Lifeboat (1897)

This short from Edison studios is actually an early example of editing, and it also takes advantage of the mythology surrounding rescue and safety activities as well as the drama of the open sea.

Return of LifeboatWe see a stormy ocean, apparently shot from the beach, as breakers are visible coming towards the camera. The scene is dark, and it is difficult to make out details, but eventually a small boat becomes visible amidst the waves. A cut brings the boat closer, and into clearer focus so that we can see oars off the sides, and with another cut we can see men in raincoats sitting on the open deck, rowing against the tide. A final cut shows the boat nearly pulling into shore, with the clearest view of the men aboard, who remain indistinct in the low-exposure.

While many films up to this time had consisted of a single shot, this one stitches together several, although they are all taken from the same angle, resulting in a series of jump cuts. Each piece is only a few seconds long, resulting in much faster cutting that would be normal in the years afterward. The catalog entry for this movie emphasizes the accurate depiction of the “methods” of the Pacific Coast Life Saving Service, although all we really see is a tiny row boat being tossed about by the sea for a brief period. Presumably, it would have been shown with narration emphasizing the bravery of the men who ventured out in such conditions. Certainly, it looks like hard and dangerous work, from what we can see here.

Director: James H. White

Camera: Frederick Blechynden

Starring: Unknown

Run Time: 30 secs

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

The Rolling Bed (1907)

Alternate Title: Le lit à roulette

I found this comedy by Alice Guy a bit confusing – it could have used a few explanatory intertitles to clear things up – but it does stick to some of the themes we’ve seen before, including the plight of the poor, objects that seem to take on lives of their own, and the streets of Paris. Once again, the performance of the main actor manages to make it funny, even when it’s not entirely clear what’s going on.

Rolling BedThe movie opens on a stage depicting a poor man’s apartment. The landlord is there, and he shows him papers. When the man turns out his pockets to show he can’t pay, the landlord walks offstage and brings back a policeman and another man I think might be a bailiff. They instruct him to get out. He begins clearing away his furniture, but the largest object is a huge wooden bed. Finally, he pulls the bed offstage. The next shot shows him pulling it out the front door of a building and onto the street. It is much larger than him and difficult to move, although it is on wheels, which helps at first, until it starts rolling down the hill after him. He manages to get it to stop in front of a café, where it causes quite a commotion, with people running up to see it and pulling at the sheets, mattress, and pillows. To defend his property, the man gets into the bed, but this only seems to delight the crowd more, and it keeps growing until two policemen come up and push the bed along, seeking to clear the crowd. Once they get it going with the man on it, it keeps rolling of its own volition, with no control.  It takes the man down a staircase, knocking over a pole at the bottom, and then rushes towards a large wagon on a track, piled (I think) with coal. The man and bed roll off after the cart (you can actually see a locomotive pulling it but I’m not certain if that’s intentional), but the next cut takes us to a street where the bed is rolling alone toward a line of policemen assembled to stop it. The bed knocks them all down, and they are then chased by local dogs. The next street shows a store with various pieces of furniture out front. A man distracts the owner while a group of ruffians jump into a large cabinet, a wardrobe, and a grandfather clock. These items then begin to “walk” away, before being hit by the bed. The owner, the ruffians, and various citizens now begin to fight. The movie ends without further resolution.

Rolling Bed2At first, I was confused by the eviction scene, because I thought the men would be there to repossess the furniture, so it made no sense for the poor man to take out the bed. It still makes no sense for him to take that, but leave all his other possessions, but I assume that’s part of the comedy. The part that still makes no sense to me is the apparent “theft” by getting inside tall pieces of furniture and then walking off with them in broad daylight. Would no one in Paris have noticed a grandfather clock walking along by itself? Finally, it’s confusing that there’s no final resolution for our hero – he speeds off the screen and then the narrative of catching the thieves takes over. It’s possible that some part of this movie is lost. A narrative attributed to the “Gaumont catalog” suggests an ending in which he has managed to procure a chauffeur’s uniform, and people assume that the bed is his car. At any rate, what we do have to watch is made funnier by his flailings as the bed rolls out of control. He looks like a clown, and manages some good moves which work even at the distance the camera is generally set. I always like these movies that actually use the streets of Paris, and it’s pretty obvious that most of the crowd is not made of actors, but just from kids and people that happened to be on the street that day. At one point, a worker passes close to the camera while shooting and looks directly into it – I’m sure he wasn’t a planned part of the movie. This gives a good chance to see the styles of ordinary people on the street at the time, and also a good look at some of the more sloped streets the city had to offer. The furniture store, with its wood-framed windows, is especially appealing.

I doubt this guy was in the script.

I doubt this guy was in the script.

Director: Alice Guy (possibly with help from Louis Feuillade)

Camera: Unknown, possibly Alice Guy or Anatole Thiberville

Starring: Unknown

Run Time: 4 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

The Race for the Sausage (1907)

Alternate Title: La course à la saucisse

There seems to be some dispute online as to whether this was made by Louis Feuillade or Alice Guy, but Gaumont has included it on their release of Guy’s movies, so I will presume they know whereof they speak. It’s possible Feuillade was present as an assistant; this is the year that he took over production from Guy when she moved to the USA to start her Solax company.

Race for the SausageThe film is a standard “chase movie,” ala “How a French Nobleman Got a Wife…” In this case, the subject of pursuit is a small dog who grabs a link of sausage from a store and winds up dragging the whole chain of them behind as the owners and customers of the shop pursue. As he runs, his sausage links get tangled in various people’s legs and other people are knocked over by the pursuers, resulting in an ever-increasing range of characters running after the fast-moving chain. There are house painters, some people in bedclothes, a group of drunks, a farmer with a pitchfork, and a maid, as well as various non-descript citizens. The chase ends when the dog runs toward a hunter in a field, who raises his gun as if to shoot the dog, which runs past as his gun goes off and various pursuers run onto the screen. The chasers stop and pick up the sausage – the hunter has shot into the chain and allowed the dog to run off while most of the sausage stays behind. The various pursuers now begin to eat the sausage.

Race for the Sausage1The movie begins and ends with a close-up on the dog (at the end, with three sausages in his mouth). This style reminded me of the bookend close-ups of “The Great Train Robbery,” but here it serves to assure us that the dog got away all right. Most of the movie is shot on location outdoors, but it doesn’t look like the streets of Paris to me, more like a village in the French countryside, or at least a suburb. The movie is not especially brilliant – just a standard chase comedy, but it’s worth noting that only a couple of years ago most of Guy’s movies consisted of a single unedited shot with at most 5-8 actors, while now she is spending far more time and money on the product, and even hiring trained animals.

Director: Alice Guy (possibly with help from Louis Feuillade)

Camera: Unknown, possibly Alice Guy or Anatole Thiberville

Starring: Unknown

Run Time: 4 Min, 15 secs

You can watch it for free: here.

Reggie Mixes In (1916)

This early feature starring Douglas Fairbanks demonstrates his continuing development of his screen persona after “The Lamb” and his ability as both an actor and an acrobat. Produced by D.W. Griffith’s Fine Arts Film Company and directed by longtime Griffith associate and repeat Fairbanks director W. Christy Cabanne, it also shows the adaptation of the “gangster movie” to Fairbanks’s particular mix of action and comedy.

Reggie_Mixes_In1Fairbanks begins the movie, as he does in “The Lamb” (and the later “Wild and Woolly”) as a young, athletic, and handsome heir to a fortune with no particular ambitions in life. We see him sleeping in till noon and being harassed by his butler (who he calls “Old Pickleface”) to get up for breakfast. Once out of bed, he leaps over a table and does headstands, just to make sure we know he can. He takes a call from his girlfriend, a very posh-looking Alma Rubens, under his blanket in bed. She’s coming over for a party later, which motivates him to get dressed for company. At the party, she flirts with another man, but doesn’t accept his proposal for marriage, to Doug’s relief. Doug then proposes, and she accepts – Intertitles tell us that she was always more interested in his money – and he seems to have second thoughts.

Later, Doug and Old Pickleface are out for a drive and find a waif in the gutter who says she’s “losted.” Charmed, Doug pulls her aboard the car and drives her to her tenement home. We see him play with the child and try to break up a domestic squabble before he sees the girl of his dreams come down the stairs. It’s Bessie Love (still a teenager at the time), who is dancing at a place called “Gallagher’s” for pay. Of course, Doug decides he’s going to need to pay a visit, and he’s smart enough to dress down a bit to make the right impression. Despite this, he drags Old Pickleface along, maybe for moral support. They manage to get served, after Doug stops being polite and pounds his fist on the bar, and they meet the bouncer, who decides they’re OK. Tony, the head of the gas house gang (William Lowry), comes in and demonstrates his ability to push patrons around, and the bouncer talks tough but takes no action. When Tony tries to make a move on Bessie, she shows more interest in getting to know Doug at first. But when Tony roughs up the bouncer and another gangster fires his gun, Doug leaps up to hide in chandelier, and Bessie concludes that he’s chicken. He proves her wrong later by chasing the gangsters away when they try to strongarm Bessie into a car. After this display, the owner of the dance hall hires Doug to be his new bouncer, now he has an excuse to come by every night and get to know Bessie.

Reggie_Mixes_In_(1916)_1He gets a good reputation at the bar for keeping order, and is able to fend off several efforts by the gang to put him out of the way. In one case, Doug climbs the front of a building to leap down on his assailant in an alley. Meanwhile, his Aunt is of course worried about the company he’s keeping and his neglect of his regular social calendar. He comes to a costume ball with his old crowd, dressed up as a bouncer from a dance hall, and gets complimented on his originality when he shows off the dance moves he’s learned on the job. He again sees Alma with her boyfriend, and now he gets the picture and shuns her company. She sends him a note remonstrating against his neglect, which Doug foolishly leaves on a table for Bessie to find. The gangsters make another play for her and when he intervenes, Tony challenges him to a one-on-one fight in a locked room, instructing his sidekick to scrag Doug with a “gat” should he fail, The fight involves several chairs thrown out windows and broken tables, and Doug gets his clothes torn up, but emerges a victor. Before the other gangster can shoot him, the owner shuts off the lights and Doug escapes with Bessie out a broken window. The police raid the joint and presumably take several gangsters into custody.

Finally, Doug has to figure out how to marry the girl he loves. He arranges to send a false note telling her she has inherited $100,000 so that she’ll come to a party at his Aunt’s house. He meets her outside in his bouncer clothes and asks if she would marry him and leave all this wealth behind. She says yes. Then, he sneaks into the house and puts on his tuxedo. While Bessie is trying to get out to meet her sweetheart the Aunt says “You must meet my nephew, Reggie.” Now she sees him in his real clothes and true element, and he knows that she’d marry him whether he had money or not. They live, as we assume, happily ever after, once Doug explains that she isn’t really an heiress.

Reggie_Mixes_InThis movie has somewhat more of Fairbanks’s signature stuntwork and fighting than “The Lamb” did – presumably audiences were coming to expect it by now. I particularly enjoy his penchant for going up (chandeliers, buildings) when people expect him to run or fight. He obviously enjoys his acrobatics, he always has a gleeful smile on his face when he gets to do one of these moves. The story here is pretty contrived, and even for 1916, the characters and situations are cliché. The fact that it’s at least half comedic makes up for this to some degree. I was surprised by the sparseness of the sets, particularly in the “rich” setting of Reggie’s Aunt’s mansion, and there are very few camera movements or other creative uses of the space. It didn’t help that the print I saw was old and washed out. There are a lot of close-ups, however, and we see good use of inter-cutting at moments of emotional impact, as when Bessie finds Alma’s love note. Perhaps not a major contribution to the cinematic art, this is a good piece of light entertainment with a talented performer at its center.

Director: W. Christy Cabanne

Camera: William Fildew

Cast: Douglas Fairbanks, Bessie Love, Alma Rubens, William Lowry, Joseph Singleton, Tom Wilson, Allan Sears

Run Time: 45 Min

I have been unable to find this movie for free on the Internet. If you do, please let me know in the comments.

The Rink (1916)

Rink5In one of his funniest movies of 1916, Charlie Chaplin again draws on old themes to provide a jumping-off point to demonstrate his developing talents. He also brings his audience into two worlds of his character, providing depth even without the level of sympathy seen in “The Vagabond” or “The Bank.”

RinkThe movie opens with an indescribably cute sequence of a kitten playing on a sleeping man, waking him up by swatting at a toy on a string, which is held by Edna Purviance (more evidence that funny cat videos predate the Internet). The man is her father, but we don’t learn anything else about their relationship because the scene shifts to a restaurant, where Charlie is dressed up and working as a waiter. Eric Campbell, as a customer, asks for the check and Charlie determines what he has eaten by looking at the food he spilled on himself (every item costs $1, which seems like a lot for the time). He pays, Charlie counts out his change and then takes it all as his tip. Eric gives chase, but Charlie hides behind other customers. Charlie has several funny run-ins with fellow waiter John Rand, largely because he refuses to abide by the doors marked “In” and “Out” to the kitchen. Rand winds up serving a customer a dish with a rag and floor scrubber on it, due to one of these mishaps. Charlie also gets food on him and on the cook (played by Albert Austin). There is one great bit where the manager (Frank J Coleman) tries to catch Charlie in the act, but due to his creative use of the In/Out doors and some fancy editing, he consistently misses him.

Rink_(poster)After all this goes on for a while, Charlie opens up a stove and pulls out his “Little Tramp” outfit. He changes from the well-fitting waiter’s uniform into his usual tight vest and bowler. Then he goes to lunch (the manager warns him to come back on time). Now he goes to a skating rink, where he bypasses the admission fee and flirts with a girl on a bench. He gets some skates and goes onto the floor, where Eric Armstrong is now trying to flirt with Edna, despite his lack of skill at skating. It turns out that Charlie is very good at skating and skates circles around Eric, impressing Edna. He also causes mayhem at the rink, causing fights and tripping people, but always looking innocent when the bouncer-type fellow arrives. Eric winds up falling down several times and Edna invites Charlie to her “skating party” later that evening.

Rink1We now learn that Eric Armstrong is married to a large woman played by a man (Harry Bergman). They apparently both like to flirt with others, but don’t tell each other about this. She has gotten invited to the party by flirting with Edna’s father, and Eric crashes to flirt with Edna. They are both horrified when they see one another, and even more so when Charlie shows up! He, once again, uses his skating prowess to cause chaos, running into people and knocking over Mrs. Stout and falling on top of her repeatedly. Eventually, the situation becomes so crazy that the police are called, but Charlie continues to escape them by skating skillfully around them. Finally, he is chased by the police and most of the guests out into the street, and escapes by hooking his cane into a passing car and being pulled along on his skates.

Rink2Skating had been a popular topic for comedies since very early in moving picture history. In fact the first picture made by Charlie’s former employer  Essanay Studios was “An Awful Skate” (1907) starring Ben Turpin, and I understand that this movie was based upon a French predecessor. Putting people on wheels makes them move faster and unpredictably, so it makes sense, and of course there are always opportunities for crashing and falling down, the essences of physical comedy. This is the first time Charlie has used the concept, and he shows off his control at all times, even when he pretends to be trying catch himself or falling.

Rink3I’ve talked about a lot of aspects of Charlie’s work up to now, and I’d like to focus a bit on class this time. It is well-known that Charlie grew up in poverty in the class-conscious society of Victorian England. He made the movies he made largely for the working classes, who he knew needed entertainment, not “reform” or preaching at. There’s an interesting aspect in this film, and in a number of others that he made, which I haven’t seen discussed before. Here, he starts out as a waiter, in a working world where he obviously is not in charge, but the narrative also follows him into his private life. We also saw this in “Caught in a Cabaret” and with Bud Jamison’s character in “A Night Out,” who is also a waiter that Charlie later encounters in his personal world at a hotel. I think there’s something subtly subversive in this. Usually, a character with a menial job in a movie is just that: a menial. They don’t break out of that role or become human, they are just there to serve a purpose. Charlie reminds us that these people (his people) have real lives outside of their work roles. Sometimes, they imitate people of higher classes, as Charlie does in “Caught in a Cabaret” or here, where the Intertitles tell us he is announced at the party as “Sir Cecil Seltzer.” I won’t say that he was the only slapstick actor who ever did this, but I haven’t run across it being done by others yet, so I’m willing to call it one of his themes, probably one of the reasons he was so popular with working class audiences.

Rink4With this movie, I’m caught up on all of Chaplin’s work in 1915 and 1916, at some point hopefully later this year I can finish off my reviews of his 1914 year at Keystone Studios.

Director: Charlie Chaplin

Camera: Roland Totheroh

Cast: Charlie Chaplin, Edna Purviance, Eric Armstrong, Albert Austin, Henry Bergman, John Rand, Frank J. Coleman, Lloyd Bacon

Run Time: 24 Min

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

The Raven (1915)

This was one of the 1915 movies I wanted to make sure and see before finalizing decisions on the Century Awards for 1915. I would have preferred to watch it closer to Halloween and my history of horror, but it took this long for me to procure a copy and find time to watch it.

Once upon a midnight dreary/while I pondered weak and weary/over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore

Once upon a midnight dreary/while I pondered weak and weary/over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore

Henry B. Walthall (who played the lead in “The Avenging Conscience,” another Poe adaptation) plays Edgar Allan Poe in a combination bio-pic and illustration of his most famous poem. It begins by showing his ancestors arriving in America, fighting in the Revolution, and performing on stage. Poe the boy is orphaned at an early age and sent to live with John and Francis Allan in the South. He grows into a young man with a taste for wine and many debts, and is sent home in shame from college. After one bout of drinking, we see Poe dreaming of killing a man in a duel with pistols. Poe meets Virginia Clemm (played by Warda Howard, who was 35 at the time, rather than the 13 or younger Clemm was when Poe met her), and the two spend a romantic day riding together in the woods and sitting beneath a tree. Poe spins a story about the two of them as Robin Hood and Maid Marion, with fairies dancing around them, and a raven sits momentarily on his shoulder. On the way home, they encounter a man beating a slave (Bert Weston in blackface), and Poe writes him an IOU to buy the slave and save him from cruelty. Allan is furious at Poe for taking on further debt and shames him in front of Virginia. There is then a brief rivalry between Poe and his friend Tony over Virginia, but she clearly prefers Poe and he “wins” her hand at a fixed game of chance. Poe, Virginia, and the slave leave the Allans’ home at John’s request.

...Suddenly there came a tapping/As of someone gently rapping/Rapping at my chamber door.

…Suddenly there came a tapping/As of someone gently rapping/Rapping at my chamber door.

The movie now shifts to Poe, alone in his quarters, drunk on wine and the recreation of “The Raven” begins. Intertitles recite most (though not all) of the stanzas, and Walthall acts the situation out with a large bird. Other fantasy sequences are added as well. At one point, he sees himself progressing up a mountain, stumbling when he reaches a large rock labeled “wine.” The image of Virginia appears and beckons him, and he climbs over the rock. Later, trying to drink from his wineglass, it turns into a human skull in his hand. The raven, of course, spreads its message of doom in oversized letters on the Intertitles. The final section of the film shows the death of Virginia and Poe’s descent into despair. Warda Howard appears again in the role of Sarah Helen Whitman, tending to an old couple, but the scene in which Poe dies while on his way to see her is missing from this print, or perhaps it was never shot, leaving a somewhat confusing resolution.

...Open here I flung the shutter/ when with many  flirt and flutter/In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore

…Open here I flung the shutter/ when with many flirt and flutter/In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore

This movie, made late in 1915, includes many of the technical advances that became common in that year. We’ve got tracking shots, and other camera movements (even re-framing when new actors enter a shot was radical the year before!), a good number of close-ups, and cutting within scenes to punch up dramatic moments. Walthall makes a good Poe, as many critics commented at the time, and he handles the tragic moments well, showing agony without overdoing it in close-up. Unfortunately, the surviving print is very washed out, making faces frequently hard to discern, and background details almost completely obscured. I was warned about this, by The Silent Era among others, so I have no one but myself to blame, but it’s too bad this movie hasn’t been considered important enough to get a good remastering and re-touching. The big problem for me in the end was the story. There’s basically two acts of Poe’s life, told fairly accurately but without any clear resolution, with a filmed version of “The Raven” sandwiched in between for no reason. As I so often do with this era, I found myself wondering whether the filmmakers wanted to make a horror movie or not. The raven sequence has horror elements, but it also has no clear connection to the plot, unless the whole thing is an alcohol-induced hallucination. Poe hasn’t even lost Clemm at this point, so there’s no reason for all his lamenting about Lenore already. In the end this was interesting, but not what I’d hoped for.

raven-scene-newspaper1916Director: Charles Brabin

Camera: Unknown

Cast: Henry B. Walthall, Warda Howard, Bert Weston, Harry Dunkinson

Run Time: 46 Min

I have not been able to find this for free on the internet, if you do, please let us know in the comments.