Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: William Elmer

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!

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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)

Virginian, The (1914)

Virginian

This was Cecil B. DeMille’s second movie, coming only months after “The Squaw Man,” and it’s also a Western starring Dustin Farnum as a transplant to the West who bests all comers and upholds his dignity and honor. I found it rather less interesting by comparison. The Indians are there simply as handy adversaries to stymie the hero in his work, and the female character (an eastern schoolmarm) is a pretty bland romantic interest with little motivation or personality of her own. There’s an odd “day for night” bit in the middle of the movie – one shot is shown lit by a campfire in what seems to be real night, while other scenes, edited around it to appear simultaneous, are obviously shot during the daytime. I wonder how audiences read that at a time when night shooting was comparably rare, and most movies simply used the convention of showing everything by daylight because that’s all cameras could pick up. Anyway, our hero is something of a bully and even winds up lynching his best friend in the name of justice, but the film does end with the classic gunfight in the dusty street, and probably did help establish the visual standards of the genre, to say nothing of establishing DeMille as a major player in the medium.

Director: Cecil B. DeMille

Camera: Alvin Wyckoff

Starring: Dustin Farnum, William Elmer, Winifred Kingston

Run Time: 54 Min

You can watch it for free: here.