Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: Uu

Unseen Enemy (1912)

An_Unseen_Enemy

This taught little suspense thriller by Griffith introduced the world to the Gish sisters – Dorothy (who we’ll see in “The Musketeers of Pig Alley” and was later in “Orphans of the Storm”) and Lillian (later in “The Mothering Heart” and “Birth of a Nation”). What’s interesting to me is that, although they’re made up to be twins in identical wardrobe, makeup, and hair, they come across as highly individual actresses, with distinct screen presences even at this early stage (Dorothy would have been 14, and Lilian 19 at the time). The story is that they were introduced to Griffith through his leading star Mary Pickford, and he immediately signed them to work for Biograph, making them into equally big stars overnight. The story is essentially that the two are locked into a room at gunpoint while a “slattern maid” (Grace Henderson, who we’ve seen in “Corner in Wheat” and “The Usurer”) and her thieving henchman (Harry Carey, Sr. who went on to “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” and “Musketeers of Pig Alley”) attempt to break into the safe with their inheritance. Meanwhile, they manage to call their brother (Elmer Booth, from “Friends” and “The Battle at Elderbush Gulch”) on the telephone in the room and he races to their rescue in an automobile – emphasizing the fascination of film audiences with technology and speed.

Director: D.W. Griffith

Camera: Billy Bitzer

Starring: Dorothy Gish, Lillian Gish, Elmer Booth, Robert Harron, Harry Carey, Grace Henderson

Run Time: 15 Min, 20 seconds

You can watch it for free: here.

Unchanging Sea (1910)

1910_UnchangingSea

This Biograph picture by DW Griffith is based on the poem “The Three Fishers” by Charles Kingsley, which provides a somewhat different structure to the storyline than similar shorts of the time. At the beginning of the movie, the intertitles are almost all quotes from that poem, which manage to tell the entire poem before the movie storyline completely takes over. That story involves a fisherman in a small seaside village who leaves his pregnant wife behind to go to the sea and fails to return, leaving her and the child alone for years. His companions’ bodies are washed ashore, but the sea never gives him up, leaving the wife uncertain to his fate. It develops that he’s been in another village all this time, apparently suffering from amnesia, but he finally returns to find his wife and now-grown child – who now has a fisherman sweetheart of her own. The husband is played by Arthur V. Johnson, who we’ve seen in “The Adventures of Dollie” and “The Sealed Room” and the wife is Griffith’s real-life spouse Linda Arvidson, who was in “Corner in Wheat” as well as “The Adventures of Dollie.” Mary Pickford (from “The Usurer” and later in “Poor Little Rich Girl”), again edging toward stardom, is the grown daughter, and Charles West (whose career includes “The Redman’s View” and “In the Border States“) is her boyfriend.

Director: D.W. Griffith

Camera: Billy Bitzer

Starring: Arthur V. Johnson, Linda Arvidson, Mary Pickford, Charles West, George Nichols

Run Time: 13 Min, 30 seconds

You can watch it for free: here.

Usurer, the (1910)

Usurer

This is another early Griffith work for Biograph, with similarities to both “Corner in Wheat” and “The Sealed Room.” It portrays a greedy money-lender, contrasted with his unfortunate victims, and his ironic demise through suffocation after being sealed in his own vault. Although this one was made later, I feel that it is actually less artistically successful than “Corner in Wheat,” which included so much clever inter-cutting and fast-paced editing. Here, the approach is less successful, and Griffith appears to hope to make up for it by including more separate stories, which really only muddies the waters. The death of the villain is slow and drawn-out, lasting for almost five of the eighteen minutes, and inter-cut with scenes that don’t clearly connect, and Griffith relies more heavily on intertitles to tell the story. George Nichols (who we saw in “The Sealed Room” and “Fatty Joins the Force”) stars as the title character, with future-Keystone-founder Mack Sennett among his cohorts. Mary Pickford (who had a small role in “The Sealed Room” and was later star of “Stella Maris”) is obviously moving up in her career at this point, appearing in the important role of the “invalid daughter” whose bed is removed by strong-arm men when her mother cannot pay her debts, and Henry B. Walthall (from “Corner in Wheat” and “The Avenging Conscience”) is another unfortunate debtor.

Director: D.W. Griffith

Camera: Billy Bitzer

Starring: George Nichols, Mack Sennett, Mary Pickford, Henry B. Walthall, Grace Henderson, Linda Arvidson.

Run Time: 18 Min

You can watch it for free: here.