Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: World Film Company

The Delicatessen Shop (1915)

As with last week’s post, “The Conquest of Canaan,” this is a movie I watched during the Cinecon online film festival this year, and like many movies you can see there, it’s hard to find otherwise. Hence, I’ve only had the chance to see it once to prepare this review.

Delicatessen Shop

Joe Weber and Lew Fields were “Dutch” comedians from Vaudeville, who did an immigrant act based on malapropisms and misunderstandings, Lew as the smart, skinny one, and Joe as the fat, dumb one. Relatively little of this movie takes place in the delicatessen in which they apparently work together, Almost immediately after the credits, they break out into a huge fight, breaking up and throwing everything in the store at each other. This is interrupted when one of their wives shows up and says “the kids have eloped” – apparently referring to one another’s daughter and son. They go into a lengthy Keystone-style chase with cars and horse wagons, but only get there after the minister pronounces the kids man and wife. They make common cause, but somehow wind up in jail. They then go through an elaborate escape and are chased by cops until the climactic crash-up.


Joe Weber in 1901

This movie follows a pretty standard formula for slapstick, and is essentially built around two comedy chases. The action was so fast most of the time, I had a hard time getting an un-blurry screenshot. It was funny at times, if childishly so, but I would guess that Weber & Fields were better when they could use their voices. According to online sources, they had broken up in 1904, and Fields went on to become a successful theater owner and producer. There were various reunions, most famously their first one in 1912 in which they performed as a duo at one of Weber’s theaters, and presumably in 1915 they were still friendly enough to work together on this and a few other movies (I believe the intro at Cinecon said three, but I could be misremembering as I didn’t make a note). The synopsis published in “Moving Picture World” focuses on the background to the plot seen here, explaining that the two friends have run their shop for years; their friendship deteriorating into suspicion and jealousy as it became more successful: “at night each slept on one side of the cash register.” Thus, two Jewish actors used Jewish stereotypes to create comedy for a mixed audience of Jews and non-Jews.


Lew Fields in 1912.

The film making for this movie is pretty lackluster for 1915. Produced in Fort Lee at the World Film Company, it was presumably a second-string production for that short-lived but dynamic studio. Editing is minimal, and the use of the chase format allows them to re-use shots for both the pursued and pursuer, economizing on camera set ups. The sets are simplistic, reminiscent of an earlier era in cinema, and the acting is predictably too broad, as is often the case when stage actors first go on the big screen. Worth it mostly because it’s a rare chance to see old vaudevillians in action, otherwise Weber & Fields would just be fragments of old reviews and promotional posters to us now.

Director: Unknown

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Joe Weber, Lew Fields

Run Time: 8 Min

Not currently available for free online. If you find it, please comment and provide a link.

Alias Jimmy Valentine (1915)

At least since “The Musketeers of Pig Alley,” gangsters have fascinated American filmmakers, and many of the very best movies of any era have focused on crime and criminals. This despite a moral code that frowns on any attempt to “glamorize” the criminal lifestyle, and various levels of censorship, from official state boards to the Hays Code, that have discouraged it. Crime movies are hardly unique to the USA, of course, but the romance of the gangster seems to have a particularly American spirit to it. The gangster is an individual who succeeds due to toughness and a keen wit, in spite of the disapproval of society. Like the cowboy, much of his success is dependent on his readiness with a gun. Like the sports star, he often comes from humble beginnings and has limited education. Like the USA itself, he bows before no King.

This movie was remade in 1920, 1928, and 1942 (and people say there are too many remakes today!), but this was the first time the story was adapted to the screen. The director is Maurice Tourneur (father of Jacques, for those more familiar with sound classics), who had gotten his start in France, but wisely came to the US at the beginning of World War One, when the French film industry was sacrificed to the war effort. Even at that early time, Tourneur was impressed by the state of American filmmaking, saying it was at a higher level than in Europe. I’ve discussed some of his work before, in “The Wishing Ring,” from 1914. I haven’t been able to find out who his cinematographer was for this picture, which is too bad, because it includes some of the best photography I’ve seen from the period. A lot of time went in to setting up some of these shots, so they were obviously important to Tourneur, perhaps even conceived by him, but it’s a shame not to have a record of who actually crafted them.

Alias Jimmy3

The story is of a man with a double life. Robert Warwick (later in “The Life of Emile Zola” and “The Awful Truth”) plays Lee Randall, “a respected citizen” whose underworld alias is “Jimmy Valentine.” I was a bit surprised at the Anglo-American name for our gangster hero, especially since Warwick looks somewhat Mediterranean in his Valentine guise, but this may have been meant to enhance audience sympathy, since audiences were generally assumed to be white (Anglo) males. His “respected citizen” persona apparently doesn’t earn much scratch, because he lives in a one-room flat in a tenement, but luckily he’s been gifted with hands that can “feel” the combinations to safes. We watch a heist in a fascinatingly labyrinthine bank from a high, diagonal angle:

Image from "Dreamland Cafe"

Image from “Dreamland Cafe

His gang gets caught by the night watchman, Jimmy/Lee manages to get away, but he gets into a fight with one of his cohorts who macks on a girl on a train, and he gets ratted out in return. Again, it’s his good fortune that the girl in question was the daughter of the Lieutenant Governor, because she arranges for his release from Sing Sing prison. But, not before we get quite a bit of footage of the place and its prisoners. During one march-past, several prisoners hold their caps over their faces, probably not wanting to be recognized on film. As a result of this genuine use of location footage, we see a much more ethnically diverse cast of extras than was usual at the time.

Alias Jimmy1

Anyway, the Lieutenant Governor gives Jimmy a job at his bank, and Jimmy convinces his friend Red to stop scamming free drinks and join him as a watchman. Pretty soon, he’s a respected cashier with responsibility for large quantities of cash. But, inspector Doyle, the man who caught him the first time, is hot on his tail for an earlier job, and soon his old buddy Avery shows up with ideas about robbing the bank he works at. Just when it seems like our hero has resisted temptation and covered up all the evidence of his past life, one of his boss’s tykes manages to get locked in a vault, the combination to which is inconveniently on a train out of town. The child is running out of air…

 Alias Jimmy Valentine

In spite of the contrived ending, I found the movie pretty enjoyable and even suspenseful at times. We’ve definitely entered a period where editing and camera movements add to the story structure. This movie actually came out only a few weeks after “The Birth of a Nation” premiered, and it is technically superior in some ways, although I should note that Tourneur considered D.W. Griffith an important inspiration and probably learned a lot of his tricks from Griffith’s early Biograph work. For example the interesting inter-cutting of Lee meeting with the respectable family and Red in a disreputable bar reminds me of Griffith and “A Corner in Wheat” in particular. I’ve already mentioned the photography; there’s a good use of light here, with an emphasis on silhouettes that is reminiscent of his son’s later film noir work. The many barred windows we see in Sing Sing add to that effect.

Director: Maurice Tourneur

Starring: Robert Warwick, Ruth Shepley, Alec B. Francis, Johnny Hines.

Run Time: 1 hr, 5 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

Wishing Ring (1914)

Wishing Ring

Although shot in New Jersey, this early American feature claims to be “an idyll of Old England,” perhaps giving us some insight as to how Americans saw Britain and the British at the time. Unsurprisingly, the story centers on class relations. The story concerns a young upper class ne’er-do-well (Chester Barnett, also in “Trilby” and “Woman”) who get expelled from college and takes on the job of tending a rose garden. He falls in love with the pastor’s daughter (Vivian Martin, later to star in “The Stronger Love” and “His Official Fiancée”) when she tries to steal some roses for the church. Of course, she is unaware that he’s rich, and of course this leads to both comedy and drama. When gypsies give her a “Wishing Ring,” he takes advantage of the situation, buying her fancy gifts after she has wished for them, and leaving notes that they are “from the Wishing Ring.” They drink tea, and dance around a maypole, the professors from the school all go around wearing their gowns, and the servants are more stuck up and rigid than their masters. Interestingly, I spotted a few “backward-facing” intertitles, suggesting that some filmmakers were beginning to experiment with different ways of telling the story than setting it up textually then showing it visually all the time. Overall, it’s light and fluffy, but interesting nonetheless.

Director: Maurice Tourneur

Camera: John van der Broek

Starring: Chester Barnett, Vivian Martin, Alec B. Francis

Run Time: 60 Mins

I couldn’t find this one for free online. Let me know in the comments if you can.