Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: World War I

The Reawakening (1919)

This live-action documentary short from the Ford Motor Company is quite different from the animated political cartoons we’ve seen from them in the past, but it still has a basically political message. In this case, it’s a positive one about re-integrating wounded veterans in the workforce and American society.

The movie consists of a series of documentary images tied together with intertitles. It begins with footage of an ambulance crew on the battlefield, loading a stretcher into their (no doubt Ford-built) vehicle. This is followed by several cards worth of “purple prose” about the heroics of the men and medics of wartime, and then we see soldiers with canes being disembarked from a train and climbing into another ambulance to be shuttled to a hospital. At the hospital, the footage emphasizes occupational therapy, a relatively new idea in which recuperating men are encouraged to perform tasks to restore their muscle strength and coordination, as well as in some cases re-training skills they might be able to put to use in paid work after discharge. We see them receiving physical therapy from nurses and doing gymnastics. We also see the production of artificial limbs. A soldier with a missing leg comes in to receive his and gives a little jump for joy on the way out the door. Read the rest of this entry »

June 1918

The news round-up this month is a bit deceptive, because a lot of the important historical events of this month weren’t heavily covered at the time. The biggest event really is the escalation of the “Spanish Flu” to a pandemic, but no one knew in June that it would ultimately kill more people than the First World War. The Bolsheviks weren’t advertising the fact that they had begun killing off the Romanov royal family, either. And, the important document the British government sent to the Syrians, assuring them of the principle of national self-determination would have significant influence on the Treaty of Versailles, although it received little publicity at the time. Sometimes, we don’t know what the most significant events of our times are until we can look back at them with some perspective.

 

World War One:

The Battle of Belleau Wood begins June 1. The U.S. Army 2nd Infantry Division deployed troops, including the 5th and 6th Marine Regiments, to hold Belleau Wood near the Marne River in France after the towns of Château-Thierry and Vaux fell to the Germans.

Allied counterattacks in the Third Battle of the Aisne on June 3 halted the German advance at the Marne River. Allied casualties were massive at 127,000, including 98,000 French casualties and 29,000 British casualties. Germany suffered slightly more with 130,000 casualties

The Austro-Hungarian dreadnought battleship SMS Szent István is sunk on June 10 by two Italian MAS motor torpedo boats, off the Dalmatian coast.

The first airplane bombing raid by an American unit in France is carried out June 12.

Grand Duke Michael of Russia

Russian Revolution:

Grand Duke Michael of Russia is murdered on June 12, thereby becoming the first of the Romanovs to be murdered by the Bolsheviks.

World Health:

The “Spanish ‘flu” becomes pandemic. Over 30 million people die in the following 6 months.

Disasters:

RMS Kenilworth Castle, one of the Union-Castle Line steamships, collides with her escort destroyer HMS Rival on June 4 while trying to avoid her other escort, the cruiser HMS Kent.

Astronomy:

V603 Aquilae, the brightest nova observed since Kepler’s of 1604, is discovered June 8.

Diplomacy:

The Declaration to the Seven, a British government response to a memorandum issued anonymously by seven Syrian notables after the Balfour Declaration and the Sykes-Picot Agreement became known, is published June 16. It assures Arabs of the British government’s support of the principle of national self-determination after the war is over.

Crime:

Suspects in the Chicago Restaurant Poisonings are arrested on June 22, and more than 100 waiters are taken into custody, for poisoning restaurant customers with a lethal powder called Mickey Finn.

Film:

Marion Davies produced and starred in her second feature film Cecilia of the Pink Roses, released through Select Pictures on June 2.

Theda Bara starred in the silent drama Under the Yoke, released June 9, which became noteworthy in its controversy in later years for its depiction of Filipinos and the one-sided view of American occupation in the Philippines.

Born:

Robert Preston (actor, in “The Music Man” and “Victor/Victoria”) June 8.

Jane Bryan (actress, in “Kid Galahad” and “Brother Rat”) June 11.

Ellen Liiger (Estonian actress, known for the film adaptation of Karge meri) June 26.

United Snakes of America (1917)

This short propaganda film from the Ford Motor Company represents an interesting moment in American corporate history. It is also an example of the crossover between film and the newspaper “political cartoon,” in which the animation becomes part of the commentary.

The film consists of a slow reveal, in which the cartoon is drawn for us piece by piece. At first we see blocks labeled “Army” and “Navy,” to either side of the screen, and the heads of figures representing those groups are added afterwards. Then, in the center of the screen, Uncle Sam is painstakingly drawn, apparently in the midst of some conflict, but parts of him remain blank. Finally, reasons for these blanks become clear, as serpents are drawn coiled around Uncle Sam and the two military figures, filling in the areas we could not see before. These serpents are labeled with various internal enemies, including “food speculator,” “pro-German press,” “strike,” and “people’s council,” as well as (more surprisingly) “senator,” “congressman,” and “clergeman” (sic). The whole scene is labeled “The United Snakes of America (The Copper Heads).”

Parsing a dated political cartoon can be harder than we think. When this film came out, the United States was newly committed to participation in the First World War. What is mostly going on here is that Ford is identifying various groups seen to be undermining the war effort and implying that their actions are betrayals of American soldiers and the country as a whole. That’s easy enough to understand, but some of the specifics have since become obscure. The term “Copperheads” refers to a faction of Democratic congressmen who wanted to negotiate for peace with the Confederacy during the Civil War. Ford is suggesting that the current crop of un-patriotic opponents of the war are of the same ilk (the Civil War took place in the 1860s, so this is similar to someone calling their enemies “hippies” today). Some of the groups identified are familiar – people almost always blame congress when the government doesn’t act quickly enough, and since this comes from a major corporation it’s no surprise to see labor (represented as “Strike”) represented as an enemy of American strength. The “People’s Council of America for Democracy and the Terms of Peace” was a pacifist organization active during the time, and “food speculators” were commonly accused of taking advantage of food shortages in Europe to get rich at the expense of people’s suffering (“war profiteers” would soon follow, and some would accuse Ford himself of being one). The one I’m least certain about is “clergeman,” which I assume to be a misspelling of “clergymen” and would be a criticism of Christian ministers who spoke against warfare, I guess, unless it’s the name of an individual lost to time. Its position, next to “Senator” made me think that perhaps Ford was calling out a “Senator Clergeman” at first, but now I think not.

Henry Ford was of course a famous industrialist and also very politically active. He would become associated with various far-right causes, through his paper “The Dearborn Independent” and is perhaps most noted today for being directly involved in distributing and promoting the anti-Semitic “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” in English. This cartoon is relatively mild compared with some of what the “Dearborn Independent” would later publish. Ironically, the Ford Foundation, founded by Henry and his son Edsel in 1936, today supports a variety of progressive cultural institutions through grants and has been accused by the John Birch Society of being part of the left-wing conspiracy that dominates the US.

Director: Unknown

Camera: Unknown

Run Time: 80 secs

I have not been able to locate this film for free viewing on the Internet. If you know where it is, please comment.

March 1918

The War is still at the forefront of this month’s Century News, along with the developing situation in the new Soviet Union, which is transitioning from revolution to civil war. Germany is momentarily ascendant, or at least optimistic, with the collapse of Russia and the beginning of a new offensive prior to the large-scale arrival of troops from the USA, but these hopes will soon be dashed as the offensive stalls and shortages at home raise new tensions. The United States meanwhile shows its dedication by moving its clocks forward one hour, arresting an innocent man and releasing a movie about a little girl looking for a bird.

The Paris Gun

World War One

German submarine U-19 sinks HMS Calgarian off Rathlin Island, Northern Ireland on March 1.

Battle of Tell ‘Asur launched on March 8 by units of the British Army‘s Egyptian Expeditionary Force against Ottoman defences from the Mediterranean Sea, across the Judaean Mountains to the edge of the Jordan Valley ends on March 12 with the move of much of the front line north into Ottoman territory.

Spring Offensive  launched March 21 by the German Army along the Western Front. It fails to make a breakthrough despite large losses on each side, including nearly 20,000 British Army dead on the first day, Operation Michael.

First Transjordan attack on Amman by units of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force begins with the passage of the Jordan River on March 21.

On March 23, the giant German cannon, the ‘Paris Gun‘ (Kaiser Wilhelm Geschütz), begins to shell Paris from 114 km (71 mi) away.

First Battle of Amman launched March 27 by units of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force during the First Transjordan attack on Amman, ends with their withdrawal on 31 March back to the Jordan Valley.

Signing of the armistice between Russia and Germany

Diplomacy

The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk ends Russia’s involvement in the war on March 3. This deal is engineered by the Bolsheviks, who came to power largely through the promise to end the war, however Germany treats her defeated foe shabbily, plundering territory and demanding exorbitant reparations, setting a precedent that would be raised at the time of the Treaty of Versailles.

Finland forms an alliance with Germany, formalized on March 7.

Russian Revolution and Civil War

Moscow becomes the capital of Soviet Russia on March 12.

The Belarusian People’s Republic declares independence March 25.

Bolshevik and Armenian Revolutionary Federation forces suppress a Muslim revolt in Baku, Azerbaijan, resulting in up to 30,000 deaths beginning March 30. The “March Days” will continue through April 2 (new calendar).

Karl Muck

Political Arrest

Dr. Karl Muck, music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, is arrested March 25 under the Alien Enemies Act and imprisoned for the duration of WWI. He is accused of “treason” in the press for refusing to play the “Star Spangled Banner” at the beginning of concerts, a false accusation.

Aerospace

The Finnish Army Corps of Aviation is founded March 6 as a forerunner of the Finnish Air Force to be established on 4 May 1928. The blue swastika is adopted as its symbol as a tribute to the Swedish explorer and aviator Eric von Rosen, who donated the first plane. Von Rosen had painted the Viking symbol on the plane as his personal lucky insignia.

The first pilotless drone, the Hewitt-Sperry Automatic Airplane developed by Elmer Sperry and Peter Cooper Hewitt, is test-flown on March 6 in Long Island, New York, but development is scrapped in 1925 after its guidance system proves unreliable.

Standardization

The United States Congress establishes time zones and approves daylight saving time on March 19 (DST goes into effect on March 31).

Birth Control Literature

Dr. Marie Stopes publishes her influential book Married Love in the U.K on March 26. The book is banned in the United States until 1931.

 

Film

The Blue Bird,” directed by Maurice Tourneur, released March 31.

Births

Roger Delgado, actor (played the Master on “Doctor Who”), born March 1.

Mickey Spillane, writer (created “Mike Hammer” thrillers), born March 9.

Deaths

In London at the Wood Green Empire, Chung Ling Soo (William E. Robinson, U.S.-born magician) dies on March 23 during his trick where he is supposed to “catch” two separate bullets – but one of them perforates his lung.

French composer Claude Debussy dies of colorectal cancer March 25 in Paris.

January and February 1918

I let January slip by without posting the Century News, so I’m mixing two months into this one post. After more than three years of nonstop bloodshed, hope and despair are both at all-time highs. With the collapse of the Russian Empire, there’s unrest spreading on both sides, breaking out into declarations of independence, mutinies, and strikes. There’s also the Americans on the way, and the German populace is captivated by the promises made by Woodrow Wilson on the floor of Congress. To make matters worse, a major epidemic is about to begin that kills more people than the war itself. Let’s take a look at the headlines from a century ago:

Trenches on the shore of the Dead Sea.

World War I:

The SS Tuscania is torpedoed off the Irish coast on February 5; it is the first ship carrying American troops to Europe to be torpedoed and sunk.

Capture of Jericho on February 19 by the Egyptian Expeditionary Force begins the British occupation of the Jordan Valley.

The Imperial Russian Navy evacuates Tallinn through thick ice over the Gulf of Finland during February 19-25.

Kurt Eisner

Political unrest:

Kurt Eisner, leader of the Bavarian Independent Socialists (USPD) leads an anti-war march and is arrested and imprisoned for treason. He will be jailed almost up to the end of the war.

The Cattaro Mutiny sees Austrian sailors in the Gulf of Cattaro (Kotor), led by two Czech Socialists, mutiny.

 

Demonstrators in Estonia

Russian Revolution:

The Finnish Declaration of Independence is recognized by Russia, Sweden, Germany and France on January 4.

Russian Constituent Assembly proclaims Russian Democratic Federative Republic on January 19, but is dissolved by Bolshevik government on same day.

The Ukrainian People’s Republic declares independence from Bolshevik Russia on January 22.

The Council of Lithuania adopts the Act of Independence of Lithuania, declaring Lithuania’s independence from the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic on February 16.

Estonia declares independence, February 24. German forces capture Tallinn on the next day.

Diplomacy:

Woodrow Wilson delivers his Fourteen Points speech on January 8.

 

Colonialism:

U.S. troops engage Yaqui Indian warriors in the Battle of Bear Valley in Arizona on January 9, a minor skirmish and one of the last battles of the American Indian Wars between the United States and Native Americans

Finland:

Finland enacts a “Mosaic Confessors” law on January 12, granting Finnish Jews civil rights.

Finnish Civil War begins with the Battle of Kämärä on January 27.

Naval Construction:

The keel of HMS Hermes is laid in Britain on January 15, the first purpose-designed aircraft carrier to be laid down.

Culture:

The Historic Concert for the Benefit of Widows and Orphans of Austrian and Hungarian Soldiers at the Konzerthaus, Vienna on January 18.

Disease:

“Spanish ‘flu” (influenza) first observed in Haskell County, Kansas.

Suffrage:

Women’s suffrage in the United Kingdom: Representation of the People Act gives most women over 30 the vote.

Extinction:

The last captive Carolina parakeet (the last breed of parrot native to the eastern United States) dies at the Cincinnati Zoo on February 21.

Joseph Kaufman

Deaths:

Joseph Kaufman, actor (in “The Sporting Duchess” and “The Song of Songs”), on February 1.

Births:

John Forsythe, actor (in “The Trouble with Harry” and “Kitten with a Whip”), January 29.

Ida Lupino, actress, director and producer (made “The Hitch-Hiker,” starred in “They Drive by Night”), February 4.

Patty Andrews, singer (of the Andrews Sisters), February 16.

Best Documentary 1917

The first category in this year’s Century Awards has no real surprises. There was only one documentary up for consideration, and its topic was pretty predictable as well. The era when audiences would respond to everyday events depicted on film was over, and documentarians had to look for subjects that an audience increasingly accustomed to the self-contained narrative of the feature film would respond to. The biggest event of the day was of course the World War, and this was the source of last year’s winner as well as our own.

The nominee for Best Documentary of 1917 is:

  1. Canadian Official War Films

And the winner is:

Canadian Official War Films!

Today, this collection of documentary footage from France serves to remind us that the largest country on the North American continent was involved in the war in Europe from the very beginning, and that war is a serious business. Even without any graphic footage of combat or its results, the grim attitude of the men depicted speaks to hardship and deprivation. The creators of this film also came up with very clever and exciting animation for maps to show the changing tides of war. Methods like this would become even more sophisticated in movies about the Second World War.

Note that while this is the first time the best documentary has come from Canada, they also brought us “In The Land of the Headhunters,” the closest thing to a documentary I saw in 1914. This is fitting for a nation that would lead in documentary filmmaking later in the twentieth century, thanks to the support of the National Film Board of Canada (founded in 1939).

December 1917

With the last post of 1917 comes the first loss of American military lives in World War One. We also see developments in Russia continuing apace, with Finland and Estonia breaking off from the old Empire, and the establishment of secret police forces that would soon become a defining feature of the post-revolutionary political scene (as the were of the Czarist one as well). I hope all my readers had a good 2017, and I wish you a happy new year as we move toward 1918, the year of active American involvement in the World War and also the Influenza Epidemic.

General Allenby enters Jerusalem, Dec 1917

World War I

U.S. Navy destroyer USS Jacob Jones is torpedoed and sunk on December 6 in the Atlantic Ocean by German submarine U-53, killing 66 crew in the first significant American naval loss of the war.

The British Egyptian Expeditionary Force accepts the surrender of Jerusalem on December 9 by the mayor, Hussein al-Husayni, following effective defeat of the Ottoman Empire‘s Yildirim Army Group during the Battle of Jerusalem.

General Edmund Allenby leads units of the British Egyptian Expeditionary Force into Jerusalem on foot through the Jaffa Gate on December 11.

Egyptian Expeditionary Force secures the victory at the Battle of Jerusalem on December 30 by successfully defending Jerusalem from numerous Yildirim Army Group counterattacks.

Badge of the Cheka

Russian Revolution

The Senate of Finland officially declares the country’s independence from Russia on December 6.

The Cheka, or All-Russian Emergency Commission for Combating Counter-Revolution and Sabotage, is established in Russia on December 20. It begins as a small organization of about 40 officials, but will expand to 200,000 operatives within four years.

A local plebiscite supports transferring Narva and Ivangorod (Jaanilinn) from Petrograd Governorate to the Autonomous Governorate of Estonia, passed on December 23.

National Independence Movements

Annie Besant becomes president of the Indian National Congress in December, to hold the position for one year.

The Raad van Vlaanderen proclaims the independence of Flanders on December 17

Disasters

Two freighters collide in Halifax Harbour at Halifax, Nova Scotia and cause a huge explosion that kills at least 1,963 people, injures 9,000 and destroys part of the city on December 6 (the biggest man-made explosion in recorded history until the Trinity nuclear test in 1945).

Construction

After nearly 20 years of planning and construction, the Quebec Bridge opens to traffic (the bridge partially collapsed on August 29, 1907 and September 11, 1916).

Theater

Jesse Lynch WilliamsWhy Marry?, the first dramatic play to win a Pulitzer Prize, opens at the Astor Theatre in New York on December 25.

Politics

United States president Woodrow Wilson uses the Federal Possession and Control Act to place most U.S. railroads under the United States Railroad Administration, effective December 26, hoping to transport troops and materials for the war effort more efficiently.

Film

Tom Sawyer, starring Jack Pickford released December 10.

Bucking Broadway, directed by John Ford, starring Harry Carey released December 24.

Little Princess, starring Mary Pickford, released December 25.

Births

Hurd Hatfield, (actor, in “The Picture of Dorian Gray” and “The Boston Strangler“) born December 7

Margaret Marquis, (actress, in “Penrod and Sam” and “My Old Kentucky Home“) born December 12

Frankie Darro, (actor, in “Wild Boys of the Road” and “Pinocchio“) born December 22.

November 1917

It’s practically the end of the month, and I’m only now getting around to an installment of the Century News! Part of the reason I’ve hesitated this month is that so much happened, and it is so momentous, that it’s almost impossible to approach. The second Russian Revolution that started the Russian Civil War and ultimately created the USSR would transform history on nearly all levels. Most relevant for this blog: it would wind up having a huge impact on cinema history, leading to the rise of montage and directors like Sergei Eisenstein and Dziga Vertov. More immediately, however, it meant a sudden collapse of the thriving Russian film industry as the blockade prevented new film stock from entering the country and many of the actors and producers went into exile. One thing that this project has discovered is that pre-revolutionary Russian cinema cannot be dismissed as “backwards” or “bourgeois.” Personally, I regard Evgeni Bauer as a genius equal or perhaps even superior to Eisenstein (though there are many who would disagree). Certainly, Soviet cinema never produced an actor of the stature of Ivan Mosjoukine.

It’s hard to discuss this period also without thinking of present-day politics. The rapture over the “Fall of the Soviet Union” has largely given way to fears over a new Russian superpower and its influence on the West. I’d rather avoid making any definite statements about how this is or will play out (that’s not the topic of this blog), but maybe some insights can be gleaned by thinking about how Russian history has played out on the world stage over the course of the past century. Here are some headlines that might start that process.

    Read the rest of this entry »

October 1917

Time once again for a roundup of news headlines from one century ago. A huge amount of war news dominates this month’s Century News. Some may be surprised that there’s nothing about the Russian Revolution, especially in light of the movie “October” and references to the “Red October.” The explanation for this is simple: the Russians were on a different calendar, so their “October” actually extended into our November, which is when the revolution actually occurred. Since the rest of my Century News has been based on the standard Gregorian calendar, I’m waiting for next month for that news.

Morning After the First Battle of Passchendaele.

World War One:

Battle of Broodseinde near Ypres, October 4: British Imperial forces overpower the German 4th Army‘s defences.

First Battle of Passchendaele, October 12: Allies fail to take a German defensive position with the biggest loss of life in a single day for New Zealand, over 800 of whose men and 45 officers are killed, roughly 1 in 1000 of the nation’s population at this time.

Operation Albion, October 12-19: German forces land on and capture the West Estonian archipelago.

At Vincennes outside Paris, Dutch dancer Mata Hari is executed on October 15 by firing squad for spying for Germany.

A Brazilian ship is destroyed by a German U-Boat on October 23, encouraging Brazil to enter World War I.

Brazilian President Venceslau Brás signs a declaration of war against the Central Powers.

Brazil declares war against the Central Powers on October 26.

Ottoman force attacks Desert Mounted Corps units garrisoning el Buqqar ridge on October 27 during the Battle of Buqqar Ridge fought in the last days of the Stalemate in Southern Palestine.

Battle of Beersheba, October 31: The British XX Corps and Desert Mounted Corps (Egyptian Expeditionary Force) attack and capture Beersheba ending the Stalemate in Southern Palestine.

Religion:

The Miracle of the Sun is reported on October 13 at Fátima, Portugal. Thousands of people gathered to see a prophecy fulfilled of miracles performed by the Blessed Virgin Mary. They reported to have witnessed extraordinary solar activity, such as the sun appearing to “dance” or zig-zag in the sky, careen towards the earth, or emit multicolored light and radiant colors. According to these reports, the event lasted approximately ten minutes.

Politics:

Carl Swartz leaves office as Prime Minister of Sweden on October 19 after dismal election results for the right-wing in the Riksdag elections in September. He is replaced by liberal leader and history professor Nils Edén.

Transportation:

Dallas Love Field airport is opened October 19.

Film:

Cleopatra,” starring Theda Bara released October 14. This (mostly) lost film is among the most iconic of 1917, and images of Bara from the film still circulate on the Internet.

Satan Triumphant” (Satana likuyushchiy) released October 21. One of the last movies of the pre-Soviet Russian Empire.

The Adventurer,” a Charlie Chaplin short is released on October 22. This was the last of the films Chaplin produced under his contract with Mutual Studios, and for the first time since he started making movies, it left him with no contractual obligations to fulfill. He would soon sign for a million dollars to First National.

Coney Island,” a ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle / Buster Keaton short is released October 29.

Births:

Helmut Dantine, actor (in “Mrs. Miniver” and “Casablanca”), born October 7.

June Allyson, actress (in the 1948 version of “The Three Musketeers” and “The Glenn Miller Story”), born October 7.

Alice Pearce, actress (in “On the Town” and TV’s “Bewitched”), born October 16

Marsha Hunt, U.S. actress (in 1940’s “Pride and Prejudice” and “Johnny Got His Gun”), born October 17. Apparently she’s still alive! Happy birthday Marsha!

Joan Fontaine, actress (in “Suspicion” and “Rebecca”), born October 22.

Florence La Badie

Deaths:

Movie star Florence La Badie dies on October 13, from septicemia as a result of injuries sustained from a car crash in August. Several of her movies have been reviewed on this blog.

September 1917

This is a slow news month, but news from Russia carries some hints of further discontent that will explode once again in November. The war continues unabated, of course, with Allied troops now receiving materiel (but not many men, yet) from the United States. They have two successful actions to report this month. And, color processes take a major step forward in film!

Russian Revolution

Leon Trotsky

Russia is declared a republic by the Provisional Government. on September 14

Leon Trotsky is elected Chairman of the Petrograd Soviet on September 23. The Soviets are worker’s councils (“Soviet” means “council in Russian) originally formed by the socialist Mensheviks to coordinate worker demands and actions. During 1917, they have become increasingly radicalized and drifted towards Bolshevik sympathies.

The Mossovet (Moscow Soviet of People’s Deputies) votes to side with the Bolsheviks on Sepember 25

Australians at the Battle of Polygon Wood

World War One

Battle of Polygon Wood (part of the Battle of Passchendaele) near Ypres in Belgium begins on September 26. Over the next two weeks, British and Australian troops capture positions from the Germans. Casualties will be about even (around 15,000) on each side.

Second Battle of Ramadi. On September 28 and 29, British troops take Ramadi from the Ottoman Empire.

Surviving frame from “The Gulf Between”

Film

Release of The Gulf Between, the first film made in Technicolor System 1, a two-color process on September 13.

Births

Rolf Wenkhaus, child actor (in Emil and the Detectives), born September 9. He would die serving in the Luftwaffe during World War II.

Herbert Lom, actor (in The Pink Panther films and The Phantom of the Opera), born September 11.