Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: Viola Dana

A Christmas Carol (1910)

I don’t know for certain whether this was the first adaptation of Charles Dickens’s classic tale to the screen, but certainly it is the oldest I’ve seen. It wouldn’t surprise me if a British filmmaker had beaten the Americans to the punch, but this version is directed for Edison by J. Searle Dawley, the same man who brought us “Frankenstein” in the same year and directed D.W. Griffith’s performance in “Rescued from an Eagle’s Nest.”

Christmas CarolMarc McDermott chews the scenery as Ebenezer Scrooge, a tight-fisted miser without a friend in the world. We see him berate Bob Cratchit (played by Charles Ogle) at his office before he rudely receives and then turns out petitioners from a charitable society and his own nephew. He yells at Cratchit for leaving early on Christmas Eve, then goes home himself. He is confronted by the transparent face of the deceased Jacob Marley on his door knocker. Then, as he prepares for bed Marley comes to warn him that he needs to change his ways or be condemned, as he is. The “Spirit of Christmas” (singular) shows him images of his past, present, and likely future. The images of the past are quite detailed and show a young Scrooge in happier times, the present is limited to images of Cratchit’s family and his nephew’s party, and the future shows him a tombstone which reads: “Ebenezer Scrooge, He Lived and Died Without a Friend.” Scrooge awakes the next morning to children caroling at his doorstep and throws money at them. He meets the charitable society people and hands them bills. He goes to find his nephew and makes him his business partner. And he brings him and his fiancé over to Bob Cratchit’s, where he pretends to be furious, then surprises the family with a huge goose. Scrooge and nephew are invited to dinner and everyone is happy.

Christmas Carol1Like many movies of this period, the success of this one largely depends upon one’s familiarity with the story. Fortunately this story is as familiar today (especially after its many screen versions) as it was then. I thought McDermott did a great job of conveying the necessary emotions: meanness at the beginning, then fear and remorse, followed by the jolly pranksterism of his reformed self. We never got to hear, or read in Intertitles, his famous “Bah, humbug” line, but he makes up for it by curtly dismissing his visitors with a bow. At times, it looks like he might hit poor Cratchit with his cane, he’s so furious about him leaving early on Christmas Eve. We do see Tiny Tim, but only briefly. We see him limping with a crutch, but there isn’t much emphasis on him as a point of interest for Scrooge or Cratchit. We only get one ghost, but at least all aspects of the story are retained in the short run time.

Christmas Carol2The ghostly effects are probably the part of this movie that interest most viewers today (and possibly at the time as well). They are accomplished through multiple-exposure, and required fairly precise editing and staging techniques to work. Still, for 1910 they are hardly innovative; Georges Méliès had done for more complex multiple exposures well before this. They do work well enough for the story, however. The other question they raise is whether I should count this as part of my history of horror, always a tricky question in terms of this story, which is both warm hearted and filled with horrific imagery. Because fright plays such a major role in the story arc (it’s the whole reason for Scrooge’s change), I’m labeling it as such.

Christmas Carol3

Director: J. Searle Dawley

Camera: Unknown

Cast: Marc McDermott, Charles S Ogle, Viola Dana, Carey Lee

Run Time: 10 Min

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

Children of Eve (1915)

Children of EveBy the end of 1915, the Edison Company had lost its position of prominence in the film industry, and crushing losses in legal battles had guaranteed that it could no longer benefit from the work of others. Nevertheless, it still continued to release movies like this one, no longer innovating and inspiring others, but following trends established by others in the field. Apparently, it was hoped that by making “message” pictures such as this one, they could be perceived as artistic leaders if not industry chiefs. The result in fact was less box office popularity and the final decline of the studio.

a swinging joint

a swinging joint

“Children of Eve” begins by showing us the meeting of Henry Clay Madison (played by Robert Conness), a studious young man, and his flophouse neighbor, Flossie, a dancer at the Follies. Madison tries to reform Flossie (Nellie Grant), and, in doing so, falls in love with her. She returns his feelings, but fears that she will end up dragging him to her level if they marry. So, she departs, just as Madison is beginning to find some success in business. As it happens, she delivers a baby girl and dies after leaving him, and he takes on his brother’s (?) child as an adoptive son. The son (played by Robert Walker), Bert, is raised in luxury, while the daughter (Viola Dana, the real star of the movie, who went on to do “Blue Jeans” and “Naughty Nanette”), Fifty-Fifty Mamie, lives in poverty, unknown and unacknowledged by her father. She makes her living through cheap cons and winning dance contests, while he takes an interest in social reform, urging his now jaded father to reconsider his child labor practices. They meet when Mamie tries to hide out in the reform office after stealing a large feathery thing from a cart. Paralleling his father’s course, he tries to reform her and falls in love, and Mamie stays up all night with a sick woman and starts reading the Bible, showing her interest. Her real turning point comes when an old cohort shoots a policeman, and Mamie refuses to give him shelter. Meanwhile, Bert gets a fever and yells out her name. Madison affirms his belief in the moral lesson in the note Flossie wrote so long ago, and encourages Mamie to leave Bert as Flossie left him. Mamie is recruited to investigate labor conditions at Madison’s factory, but while she is there a fire breaks out and children are killed by smoke inhalation before the fire fighters can get to them. Mamie is dragged out, unconscious, and given little chance to survive. Madison discovers the old picture of her mother and learns, too late, that this was his daughter. Bert arrives just in time for Mamie to die in his arms.

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The central theme of this movie was the dangers of child labor and poor working conditions, and the fire scene was based on the famous Triangle Shirtwaist Fire of 1911, which was still a major scandal at the time. Due to lack of fire escapes and a locked shopfloor, hundreds of women and young girls were trapped in a burning building, with 146 deaths resulting. The director, John Collins, wrote the scene to evoke that event, and tied it in to a message of reform and Christian charity. However, the plot winds up being both overcomplicated and predictable at the same time, and the story never quite seems to come together. In a lot of ways, the movie is reminiscent of Raoul Walsh’s “Regeneration,” of the same year, but it never manages to be as visually or narratively compelling.

Children of Eve3

Technically, I’d rate the movie as middling for 1915. There are close-ups, cross-cutting, and some camera movement, but most of the movie suffers from being shot on small sets at 90-degree angles, with “stagey” action. Unfortunately, little of the movie was shot in the streets of New York, which were still close to the Edison home base, and most exteriors just show doorways. There are some good exterior scenes on the rooftops when the cop and the crook have their shootout, and also some visually interesting shots on a large set representing the dance hall. The windows of each tenement apartment look out onto painted flats, but at least the cinematographers thought to have a different view for each one, and also used lighting on these flats to show night- and daytime. The “big scene” of the factory fire is reasonably suspenseful, but doesn’t show any really new or exciting footage – it could almost be Edison’s “Life of an American Fireman,” with better editing.

Director: John H. Collins

Screenplay: John H. Collins

Camera: John Arnold, Ned Van Buren

Starring: Viola Dana, Robert Conness, Nellie Grant, Robert Walker, Tom Blake

Run Time: 1hr 14 Min

I have been unable to find a reliable copy for free on the Internet. If you know where one can be seen, please say so in the comments.