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Who’s Guilty?. A lost series rediscovered.

Posted by keith1942 on September 7, 2017

This was one of the most interesting programmes at the 2016 Le Giornate del Cinema Muto. Federico Striuli found a lost fourteen part serial from the teens of the C20th in the archives of Gosfilmofond. He provided extensive notes on the programme in the Festival Catalogue.

Serials were very popular in the USA, and in other territories, in the teens. One of the major players was Pathé Exchange [a subsidiary of the French Pathé]. In 1915 the company had a successful serial Who Pays?, a twelve part series, each episode offered a self-contained story, but featuring a regular cast and a ‘strong social critique’. Who’s Guilty was a follow-up, again with self-contained stories in each episode, a regular cast and an overt social agenda. However, in this series the lead characters were to be victims.

The new project had production problems and after shooting initial episodes, a change of cast and crew. It was completed in 1916 at the New York Studio of the Arrow Film Corporation. The scripts were written by a number of writers; however, there was a newspaper tie-in and these were all credited to a Mrs. Wilson Woodrow [a distant relative by marriage of the US president]. The directors were either Lawrence B. McGill or Howell Hansel and the cinematographer either Eugene J. Cugnet or Henry Cronjager, The two stars in every episode were Tom Moore and Anna Q. Nilsson [Swedish-born] supported by a regular company who varied depending on the episode and the size of the cast.

Ten of the 14 episodes survive, though not all are complete. Indeed nearly every episode has suffered at least minor cuts. Oddly the missing titles are all odd numbers? The films were all two reelers, standard for the time. We watched 35mm prints with Russian titles and a translation into English provided digitally. Quite often the names were different in the Russian versions from those recorded for the original US release. None of the prints had tinting but at this stage of the industry it is quite likely that the originals did.

The structure of the films is, as the title suggests, to raise questions regarding social issues. The key characters, almost uniformly victims in some sense, dramatise this in their personal lives. The films seem to have had a standard opening, [though not all the extant prints retain this], with a long shot of a lake and a title card which offered

“Life is like a lake, throw in a stone …’

No 1. Puppets of Fate. Only one Reel. 252 metres. 11 minutes.

The film was missing the original first reel and the Catalogue supplied the following:

“In the now-missing first reel, it was shown how the doctor had advanced his career thanks to his wife, up until he met the other woman.”

Tom Moore plays Doctor George Bullard, Anna Q. Nilsson his wife Esther and Olivia Handsworth the other woman, Sylvia Sands, a rich widow. Esther falls ill and. at her wish, Bullard carries out an operation. This is an infringement of medical ethics. Bullard sends Sands away at this point. Still Esther dies and the Doctor is left, as are the audience, with the regular last title card, ‘Who’s Guilty’.

Pianist, John Sweeney.

No. 2. The Tight Rain. 525 metres. 23 minutes.

This episode has three other writers credited besides Mrs Wilson; Edfrid A. Bingham, Albert Shelby LeVino and Hervey F. Thew. The Catalogue provided this backgrounds information.

“This episode deals with the disastrous consequences of a thwarted love. The episode contains some sexual implications that caused it to be banned or heavily cut in several states, resulting in many alternate versions, which seem to be confirmed by conflicting synopses in journals. However, this print does not seem to have significant cuts. “

Jack (Moore) the son of factory owner Jeremiah McCall (Arthur Donaldson) is attracted to one of the workers, Amy (Nilsson). McCall engineers her dismissal to end the romance. Amy moves to New York where she works in a fashion house. Jack, purloining $500 from the firm, follows her. Amy is the object of malicious intent by a patron at the fashion house. Inveigled to his apartment, Jack arrives and there is a fight followed by shots. The dying Amy crawls to the body of her dead Jack. The newspapers print a story of a ‘rich man’s son’s suicide’. The plot does suggest promiscuity of some sort. And, typical of the period, Amy has a black maid at her apartment.

The accompaniment was played by Stephen Horne.

No. 4. The Silent Shame. 565 metres. 25 m minutes.

One of several episodes dealing with divorce. The underlying problem was that the laws regarding marriage and divorce in different states varied and could cause problems across territories. Duncan Hilliard (Edward Davis) is married to Eunice (Nilsson) who is a lot younger.

“married at fifteen”.

The strains lead to her developing friendship with Bruce Kingston (Moore). They go away together but Duncan follows, mainly because he needs Eunice’s savings of $50,000. Thwarted he seeks revenge by pretending to arrange a divorce. Eunice and Bruce have a daughter who is thus illegitimate. When Eunice finds out about her situation she leaves Bruce and returns to Hilliard with her daughter.

In Reel 2 Bruce is a successful playwright. His new play will star a young actress Helen, Eunice’s daughter Ardath under a stage name (Nilsson again). Predictably romance develops. Meanwhile Bruce has bought a genuine antique ring as a stage prop, an antique which contains a secret phial of poison. In full melodramatic fashion, when Helen and Bruce realise their true relationships, she takes the real poison onstage, followed by Bruce who sucks the ring and both expire. A full blooded melodrama with a number of conventional plot points.

Pianist José Maria Serraldo Ruiz.

No. 6. Sowing the Wind. Only the second reel. 278 metres. 12 minutes.

In this episode Hugh Scott (Moore) has secretly married the daughter of his boss, Marjorie Turnbull., He loses some valuable bonds and so feigns suicide. In Reel 2 the missing bonds turn up. Hugh is now able to return, however, meanwhile [predictably] his brother Henry has romanced and married Marjorie under the misapprehension that she is a widow. Marital misadventures are a frequent theme in this serial.

Pianist Daan van den Hurk.

No. 8. Beyond Recall. 517 metres. 22 minutes.

This is an intriguing drama about the death penalty but also, as the Catalogue suggests,

‘an indictment against the whole legal system’.

Edwin Martel (Moore) and his friend Leonard (William B. Sherwood) are setting off on a business trip to South America. They leave behind [for the space of about two years] their girlfriends Margaret Graeme (Nilsson) and Elsie. Margaret breaks off her engagement with Leonard whilst Elsie becomes hysterical over Edwin’s departure.

In Reel 2 Elsie commits suicide. Edwin, who has forgotten his case, returns to find the dead body. And in a familiar trope the police find Edwin standing over the corpse. He is arrested and charged with murder. Margaret is the assistant to the New York District Attorney. She takes a particular interest in the case. Edwin is found guilty and sentenced to the electric chair. Now Leonard, who could provide an alibi for Edwin, returns. But it is the day of the execution. Margaret is distraught when Leonard explains.

The film is interesting also because of the detail of the court case. We see the jury verdict as well as the prosecution. And ‘going South’ to Latin America is a frequent and varied plot device in popular US film.

Pianist Daan van den Hurk.

No. 10. A Trial of Souls. 524 metres, 23 minutes.

This drama criticises fathers: Senator Mason, father of Rose (Nilsson) and a journalist Fletcher, father of Tom, an army Captain (Moore). The two men are political enemies: predictably the politician is the nastier of the two. In Reel 1 we see the romantic pair of Tom and Rose in adjoining gardens: he throws her a flower. Then there is a dispute at the nearby army base between the Senator and Fletcher. The Senator is fined $100 for his part in the fracas. Despite the feud Tom and Rose secretly marry, even though Rose is only 17 years.

In Reel 2 the Senator sues Tom for abduction as Rose is under age. A this point Rose’s mother becomes part of the plot, fainting when the Senator initiates the court proceedings. In court Tom’s lawyer elicits the information that Rose is adopted. A flashback reveals that she was placed in the orphanage by the Senator wife’s and another man. The mother faints once more. Tom is acquitted but the marriage declares void. We last see Rose entering a lake, [just like the one that appears after the credits).

The suggestion of extra-marital affair is a common device which at this period tends not to be completely explicit.

Pianist Donald Sosin.

No. 11. The Lost Paradise. 550 metres, 24 minutes. [No main title].

This is another tale of marriage and divorce. The Catalogue notes that the episode was written by two lawyers, William Hamilton Osborne of New York and Warren H. Small, a lawyer with the Arrow Film Corporation. Janet Gordon (Nilsson) marries Marc Lander. It is clear that she doe this under pressure from her father who is in debt to Lander. She finds that Lander is a bully and a louse. Her old friend Tom visits to support her. A fight with Lander ensues and Tom and Janet leave and she moves to Connecticut where Tom works.

In Reel 2 they marry. They have children but Tom’ sister (Mary Moore) is antagonistic. Jane has filed a divorce from Lander in Connecticut. However, this is not valid in New York. Lander sues for ‘illegal cohabitation’. The trial worsens Tom’s poor health and he dies of a heart attack. Worse follows. Jane’s marriage to Tom is not legal and the children are considered illegitimate. Tom’s sister takes his property. And, in one of the most downbeat scenes of this downbeat series, we see the lonely Jane and her tow children.

Pianist Mauro Columbis.

No. 12. Weighed in the Balance. 575 metres, 25 minutes.

This episode was written by the advertising manager of Pathé, P. A. Parsons. The story dramatises the frequently violent industrial disputes in this period. These presumably related to the more general gun problem in the USA: violence against pickets, both by the armed police and by armed vigilantes led to pitched battles outside factories. There are a number of independent and labour-funded dramas on the issue on the teens. And, as Barbara Kopple’s excellent Harlan County, USA (1976) shows,  the problem continued for decades.

Tom Olcott (Moore) at the death of his father has to get a job at the factory where his father was President. This is a drop in income and status, but Tom has to support his widowed mother and his sister {Mary Moore again). At the factory, where he is noted as a promising young workers, he strikes up a friendship with Edna Carr (Nilsson). But he is then victimised by a jealous manager and finally fired. This incident provokes the strike.

In Reel 1 we see the family crisis and then Tom’s job at the factory. He is not only a ‘good’ employee but is popular with his fellow workers. The conflict with the manager Graham takes place on one of those days of entertainment which were part of factory life in this period.

After Tom is sacked the other workers gather in support and the strike commences. The response of the management is that they need,

“100 workers and 25 guards”.

When the workers attempt to stop the scabs the police intervene and support the strike breakers. The workers respond by stoning the police. Now soldiers are called in. When the strikers will not disperse they open fire. There follows this dramatic shot with the bodies of strikers and other civilians lying in the street among the debris. In an ironic touch both Graham and Tom arte shot down: Tom

“a son of the people”.

The last shot shows Edna cradling the dead Tom in the form of a pieta.

This is a powerful and critical narrative. Whilst the film is played as melodrama the violence perpetrated on ordinary working people is clearly represented.

Pianist Daan van den Hurk.

No. 13. The Goad of Jealousy. 545 metres. 24 minutes.

This is a distintive treatment of a familiar and conventional subject. Tom Olcott {Moore] owns a gym and runs training classes. He is knocked out in an accident and at the hospital

meets Nurse Olive Hale (Nilsson). He is also visited by his married friend Minna (Margaret Prussing). Smitten with Olive Tom proposes and they are married. However, in a reverse of the most common plot it is Olive who is jealous and possessive. At one point she listens at a glass door whilst Tom takes a class for Ladies.

In Reel 2, Minna comes to stay because she is suffering abuse from her husband. This

inflames Olive’s jealousy: she has a bout of hysterics and is prescribed a strong medicine.. She sets up a reorder and microphone hidden in her husband’s office so that she can spy on him. She listens in to an innocent conversation between Tom and Minna. But, even more inflamed, she writes to Minna’s husband revealing where she is. The husband arrives and there is a fight between him and Tom. Olive now tells Minna to leave. However, Tom find the secreted recorder. Furious, he leaves the house and rides off: on what I think is an early Harley-Davidson. Whilst he is away Olive takes a large dose of the medicine and on his return Tom finds her body across her bed!

Pianist Neal Brand.

No. 14. The Irony of Justice. Reel 1, 273 metres. 12 minutes.

Only the opening Reel survives. Here we meet Tom Morrissey (Moore) and his sister Mabel (Nilsson). The problem they face are the neighbours, Hinkle Rokeson and his son Henry (Warner Richmond). Tom is tried for a misdemeanour, a prank that went wrong. Years later the family’s spaniel is attacked by the two dogs of the Rokesons’ and killed. This appears to be the only use of this emotional trope in the serial. After burying his dog Tom fights with Henry. Tom wins but father and son conspire

“to get rid of him for a long time.”

Tom is tried and sentenced on the false charge of attempted murder’. Found guilty he serves three years in prison and we see him working at one point on a chain gang. It’s brutal form is visualised when one of the guards knocks down Tom.

In the missing Reel 2 it appears that Henry has designs on Mabel. There is another fracas for which Tom takes the blame: his aim to protect the good name of his sister. Now he endures a twenty year jail sentence.

Pianists Jonathan Best and Meg Morley.

This was a fascinating set of films. As can be seen it addressed quite a range of issues, though certain situations appeared in several forms. In retrospect the series would appear to be fairly subversive, at least with some films. The story of the industrial dispute tends to support the workers, seen as victims. This does reflect a whole cycle of film s of the period that addressed these contradictions. The notably social issue missing is ‘”race’, either in terms of Afro-Americans or Native Americans. And the issue of gender tends to present women as victims rather than as subjects in stories.

The series was thought lost and then turns up in the Russian archive. Russian films of the pre-Revolution period were noted for being downbeat. There are examples of Russian films having ‘happy endings added for overseas releases, and in reverse, foreign films having ‘sadder’ ending sadder for release in Russia. So here we have what must be one of the most downbeat cycle of films from the US mainstream in the teens; and it survives only in Russia. I did wonder if the episodes that did not apparently survive were the less depressing ones?

They all appeared in 35mm prints and just about all the title cards were translated. The prints were worn but reasonably good. The projection rate was given as 20 fps, which seems quite fast for the period. The full two reeks would be 600 metres and 30 minutes of screen time, so it seems likely that none of these survive intact. There were indeed frequent ‘jump cuts’ and what appeared to be absent title cards.

Happily just about every musician at the Festival enjoyed the opportunity to accompany one of these titles including two of the student son the Giornate”s ‘masterclass’.

Note, ‘Working-Class Hollywood’, Silent Film and the Shaping of Class in America by Stephen J. Ross (1998) has a lot of discussion of films about and by Labour. There is a brief reference to Who Pays which also included an episode dramatising a strike, but there are no details,.

 

 

 

 

One Response to “Who’s Guilty?. A lost series rediscovered.”

  1. […] Who’s Guilty?. A lost series rediscovered. […]

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