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The Woman Disputed, United Artists 1928.

Posted by keith1942 on September 19, 2017

The film stars Norma Talmadge as Mary Ann Wagner, the prostitute with the conventional ‘heart of gold’. She is wooed by two army officers Gilbert Roland as an Austrian Lieutenant, Paul Hartman and Arnold Kent as a Russian Captain Nika Turgenov. The scenario was adapted from a story by Guy de Maupassant, ‘Boule de Suif’. This was possibly De Maupassant’s most famous story it has had numerous adaptation on film. The French title, one version of which is ‘Dumpling’, is the name in the short story of the French prostitute. This film has changed the setting from the Franco-Prussian war of 1870 to World War I and the Austrian / Russian front. Predictably it has also changed the ending of the story.

The film was directed by Henry King and Sam Taylor [according to King] directed three scenes that were reshot, including a new ending [though I doubt they ever considered using De Maupassant’s]. . The cinematography was by Oliver Marsh. And the key member of the production was William Cameron Menzies, credited with Set Design. The film, a 35mm silent print, was screened as part of the programme of his film work at Le Giornate del Cinema Muto 2017.

Paul meets Mary in the street at night as he runs from the police. James Curtis describes the moment in the Festival Catalogue.

“Momentarily stunned, he grimaces in pain, then notices a pair of legs in a darkened doorway. The camera tilts up to reveal Mary Ann Wagner, her makeup exaggerated after the manner of a cabaret dancer, her battered hat and polka-dot blouse advertising the fact that she is open for business.”

Mary assists Paul and later contacts his friend Nika who will establish his innocence. However. Mary is questions by the police and consequently loses her rooms. So she is accommodated by Paul at his apartment. This however is chastely done. Both Paul and Nika are smitten by Mary and we see their wooing over several weeks; the most delightful scenes feature the preparation and consumption of meals. However, Mary is most attracted to Paul and their planned union is cemented by Paul presenting Mary with his mother’s wedding ring. Nika is outraged by the preference for Paul.

War erupts. The battles we see are waged over the town, Lemberg [Lvov]. When the Russian army occupy Lemberg we come to the part of the plot taken from the DE Maupassant story. In this case the Russians are searching for a spy and seize several men and Mary on the road out of town. Nika is in charge of the investigation and Mary [as in the story] is pressurised by the men, including a priest, to grant Nika’s desires. She finally succumbs.

However, retribution is swift. As the Austrians retake the town Nika is fatally wounded by a shell. Paul finds both Nika and Mary in a partially ruined church. And Nika, with his dying words, exposes Mary’s fall from grace. Paul is now devastated. However, the Austrian spy, one of the trio of hostages, is able to reveal the nature of her sacrifice. James Curtis describes this dramatic tableaux, somewhat different from that of De Maupassant.

“the final shot presenting Talmadge’s magdalen from a balcony as a grateful army kneels at her feet, an absurdist conceit made credible by the star’s soulful performance – possibly the finest of her career – and the artful culmination of a near-perfect mise-en-scene.”

Paul, of course, is among the troops and as he too kneels the promise of a fulfilled union ends the film.

As Curtis notes, this is a fine performance by Talmadge, moving from the insouciant through romance to the sacrificial. Roland is convincing as the romantic hero whilst Arnold develops from romance to malevolence with aplomb. There is a good supporting cast and the priest [one of the trio of hostages- Michael Vavitch] is especially unctuous as he sermonises Mary. The film has some excellent cinematography with occasional expressionist touches.

What does stand out is the design of the production. Curtis notes in the Catalogue;

“The extant drawings for this sequence [the encounter between Paul and |Mary] show that Menzies effectively directed it; the set-ups are virtually identical to his visualisations. The Woman Disputed is a full of complex imagery – breakfast on a balcony with the city bustling below, the attack on Lemberg, a travelling shot past the massive columns of a church interior, the battlefield crossing of an Austrian spy through the great jumble of gnarled trees and barbed wire.”

Curtis also attributes the expressionist touches to Menzies and notes that this was when Hollywood was absorbing the impact of the great German films , in particular F. W. Murnau and Karl Freund’s The Last Laugh (1924). The latter two were among those actually recruited by Hollywood from the German film industry. The film was released in both silent and sound versions, apparently both running at 24 fps. The sound version offered a musical score including a song specially written for the film, ‘Woman Disputed I Love You’. However, at Pordenone we enjoyed a piano accompaniment by Gabriel Thibaudeau, which I reckon was most likely superior. The print was just over 200 feet shorter than the original and offered English title cards.

This was the happy final 35mm feature screening before the evening event with a live orchestra, The Thief of Bagdad (DCP – 1924).

 

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Riders of the Night, Metro Picture Corp. 1919

Posted by keith1942 on September 12, 2017

This was the final film in the John H. Collins programme at the 2016 Giornate del Cinema Muto and also the last film Collins wrote and directed for Metro. The film starred the actress [and his wife] Viola Dana. His regular cinematographer John Arnold filmed the title. The story was devised by Albert Shelby Le Vino, whose work we had seen earlier in the week in the serial Who’s Guilty? .

The 35mm print was tinted and had Dutch titles with a translation provided digitally. Unfortunately the first reel was missing. However, Jay Weissberg provided plot and character details in the Festival Catalogue. H also provided some background to the film which was set

“during Kentucky’s “Toll Gate Wars” of 1896 – 98, when angry locals violently destroyed the state’s ubiquitous tollgates erected by private companies to enrich their stockholders ….

The title’s “riders of the night” are the men who under the cover of darkness, destroyed the much-hated Kentucky tollgates. Whilst the elimination of these tolls was generally seen as a positive development, …[two historians] say this was a troubling fist instance in the state of violence leading to a seemingly progressive outcome.”

Viola Dana plays Sally, an orphan living with grandparents. Grandfather, a Confederate veteran, is kindly and supportive; her aunt is best described as a harridan who treats Sally brutally. Sally is the object of the affection of two cousins, Milt and John Derr, the latter owner of a local tollgate. Sally prefers Milt who himself has been cheated of an inheritance by John. Lots of tension and enmities here.

Reel 2 opens just before Sally’ birthday. Both Milt and John have bought her presents. The jealous John tries to smash the cake that Milt has bought. We then meet Jed, a local hunter, with whom Sally has trouble and Milt a fight, with Jed swearing vengeance. At home her aunt is in cahoots with John to make Sally marry him. When her grandfather defends her he is rounded on by the aunt. he has a stroke. The toll gate is the obstacle that prevents a doctor arriving in time and the grandfather dies.

Milt now joins the ‘riders of the night’ of which Jed is also a member. The riders wear white hoods and cloaks; immediately familiar to a modern audience. Meanwhile John offers Jed fifty dollars to remove his rival. He then double crosses Jed.

All four lead characters are now involved in a series of night-time confrontations in a mountain cabin. John is killed, shot by a 45 revolver. Sally believes Milt has killed John and when the Sherriff appears takes the blame. Sally is tried and found guilty and sentenced to hanging. As we approach the climax Sally is actually seen on the gibbet. But \Milt arrives with “The Killer”, Jed, who confesses. Sally and Milt are reunited.

The film has a number of recognisable tropes from Collins work. The ‘saved in a nick of time’ climax is presented in a series of cross-cuts that generate real drama. There are some very effective fades and dissolves between scenes. And the cinematography offers powerful close-ups, as with Sally’s hands clenching the bars of the cell as the execution nears. There is also excellent use of high and low key lighting, especially in the sequence in the cabin around the murder of John. The print had excellent tinting.

The ‘riders of the night’ are a problem aspect of this story. Presumably contemporary audiences must have seen a connection with the Ku Klux Klan. The original Klan had been suppressed in 1870 but it was set up once more in 1915. And the release of Birth of a Nation in that year, and responses to that film, made the organisation a controversial subject. Kentucky was not officially a secessionist state in the Civil War but it had a powerful slave and secessionist lobby. It does not seem to have been a notable base of the KKK. The film did not seem to address this issue directly. However, in Reel 2 there is a fairly stereotypical Black waiter. And  a black woman having problems with the toll gate opines ‘let the devil take him’ of John Derr.

The story is classic melodrama and uses the emotional tropes of the genre. There is the grandfather’s stroke and Sally’s several imperilments. Sally’s argument with Jed arises when he shoots some squirrels in the wood. Later Sally acquires a puppy, [from Milt perhaps]. Though in what became a Hollywood convention he disappears seemingly following Milt’s ride to find Jed and rescue Sally.

What did concern contemporary censors were the explicit scenes around the proposed hanging of Sally.

“the Chicago censors eliminated a number of shots, including testing the noose, along with scenes of her on the scaffold”

And some exhibitors and critics found the dramatic violence a little too much. One complained

“Too sensational for our patrons.”

Not so in Pordenone where the film made an entertaining rounding off to a fine and fascinating programme of films. Phil Carli rounded off the musical accompaniment with flair.

Collins is clearly a filmmaker worth seeing and his output will hopefully repay further exploration.

 

 

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Min Svigerinde Fra Amerika / My Sister-in-law from America, Denmark 1917.

Posted by keith1942 on September 9, 2017

This was one of the 1917 films at the 2016 Le Giornate del Cinema Muto from ‘The Danish Film Institute at 75’. It was a comedy short written Waldemar Hansen with cinematography by Hugo Fischer. The Catalogue notes by Thomas Christensen  gave more detail about the director:

“Lau Lauritzen Sr. was among the most productive film directors in Danish Cinema. While he is best known by many as the director and creator of “Pat & Patachon” comedy films, he started his career with Nordisk film, where he began directing in 1914 and throughout the 1910s made almost one short subject every week.”

Unfortunately this film is incomplete, missing up to a reel. Even so the surviving nine mines [172 metres at 16 fps] was a delight.

A husband is entertaining his mistress and is discovered by his returning wife. Taking advantage of a telegram announcing the visit of his brother from America he introduces her as ‘my sister-in-law from America’. Meanwhile we watch the travails of the brother and his wife as they land in Denmark and become separated. When the brother arrives he plays along with charade. But, predictably, the wife then also turns up. The film has a brilliant final one-liner.

The cast are excellent though I could not find a cast list to identify who played whom. Whatever, the characters deliver with real panache. Christensen has a droll comment, which refers to the final sequence:

“The double cover-up at the end, …, might interest viewers studying the representation of religious and cultural differences as humorous'”

Definitely a title to track down.

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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,.

 

 

 

 

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Beginnings of the Western – Indian Pictures

Posted by keith1942 on August 17, 2017

 

Filmmaker James Young Deer onscreen.

One programme in the series of screenings of early westerns at Le Giornate del Cinema Muto in 2016 was devoted to the representation of Native-Americans. The Festival Catalogue noted:

“The third programme is devoted to Indian pictures, which continued to attract audiences. Pathé’s short film is a good example of the titles produced by James Young Deer, while the Vitagraph film is an anomaly from its western unit. The three longer films come from Thomas Ince and Francis Ford’s BISON 101 company and a later offshoot or rival, Broncho and Universal’s 101 Bison Films, all shot on location in California.” (Richard Abel).

The programmer also demonstrated the changing face of the Indian character in the western; the sort of sympathetic portrayal found in films by James Young Deer are replaced by the more stereotypical ‘other’ in films by producers like Thomas Ince. And Universal’s acquisition of the Bison 101 company points to a factor in this, the development of the large film combines, controlling production  through to exhibition.  These new companies also developed new strategies:

“When the feature-length westerns began to appear in 1914, they initially tended not to follow the “tradition of earlier one-and-two-reelers, which sometimes offered roles to native Americans, but instead turned to adapting famous stage plays with white heroes, such as Jesse Lasky’s The Squaw Man, directed by Cecil B. DeMille, and Selig’s The Spoilers.” (Richard Abel).

Rather like the heroines from Programme two, but in a far more savage depiction, the Native American was badly served by the mainstream western right up until collapse of the studio system.

 

‘The Arrow of Defiance’

The Arrow of Defiance Pathé 1912.

The director and star of this one reel film was James Young Deer. Born and bought up in Washington DC, Young’s parentage was of the Nanticoke people, based in the North East of the Americas and Canada, Young supposedly worked in the Wild West circus shows. He started as a actor in films in the East Coast productions. He was then hired to work as producer, writer, director and star at the Pathe’s Edendale studio in Los Angeles. With his wife Red Wing [of the Winnebago tribe] he worked on about 30 short films between 1909 and 1915, of which only a few survive. Later he worked for a period in Britain.

In this film Young plays Dark Buffalo, chief of a camp of Indians. Sergeant [or Captain] Stewart of the US army brings an order for the Indians to move their camp. After a pow-wow and pipe Dark Buffalo refuses to move: a response symbolised by the ‘arrow of defiance’. The Indians attack settlers, an army camp and a settler wagon. The latter escapes to the safety of the Fort and the Indian attack fails. The film ends with an unusual shot, an embrace between a young Indian boy and a young white girl. Abel notes that

“Missing footage may explain that he was adopted by the girl’s white family, and both have escaped their burning farm.

Another, rather unexpected, is the shot that aligns movie spectators with a few Indian women in the foreground, as they watch the warriors burning a settler farm on a distant hill – a shot that echoes the opening shot of Stewart in the foreground looking down on the small Indian encampment in a distant valley.”

These sort of shots are enabled because the film uses relatively deep space for the settings and the action. Another has the settler wagon in the foreground with the mounted warriors deep in the field of view.

Whilst the Indians suffer defeat the imperious nature of the army settlement and control is apparent. And the shared family of Indian and settlers is a relatively unusual and becomes even more so as the feature westerns become conventional.

When the West was Young, Vitagraph 1913.

This one-reel film [12 minutes at 18 fps] was incomplete, cutting off just before the final shots. It was directed by W. J,. Bauman, an actor and director with seemingly few credits. The scenario was by W. Hanson Durham, who had quite a few credits in the teens including A Bit of Blue Ribbon.  The common element is near death  as a character saves another. In this film this is Black Hawk who, faint from hunger, is fed by the daughter of a settler. He repays the favour by warning the father and daughter of a band of Sioux warriors. Even so the father is killed and Black Hawk leads the girl to the safety of an army fort. However, he is hit in the back by an arrow. We see the girl rescued by a Calvary unit but do not learn Black Hawk’s fate. it seems that

“(as the print breaks off [- the Calvary]) keeps the warriors from scalping Black Hawk and chase them off.” (Richard Abel).

The film’s plot is fairly conventional but the treatment is good. The detail in the cabin when we meet father and daughter with the latter preparing a rabbit at the stove is well done. And after feeding the Indian the father offers him his pipe, a nice inversion of a familiar trope.

 

The Lieutenant’s Last Fight, New York Motion Picture Co, BISON 101

This film was produced by Thomas Ince, one of the key pioneers in developing what became the Hollywood studio system. The director was Francis Ford, John Ford’s eldest brother. He had a long career in Hollywood as an actor but also had a large output as director and sometime writer in Hollywood’s silent era. This tale of another heroic Indian is somewhat conventional and in its ending seems symptomatic of the changes taking place in the genre.

Francis Ford plays Great Bear whose father, a Sioux chieftain (William Eagleshirt), allows him to be sent to Military school A brief scene shows Great Bear on the receiving end of prejudice and contempt from white cadets. However, he graduates as a Lieutenant and returns to his area for duty at Fort Reno.

When the admiring Chief visits his son at the Fort they are the object of ridicule by the white officers and their wives. The exception is Ethel (Ethel Grandin) daughter of the commander Colonel Garvin (Barney Sherry). Ethel’s admirer Captain Haines (William Clifford), antagonised,. insults Great Bear. In the ensuing fight Haines manages to pull out Great bear’s revolver. It is Great Bear who is accused and victimised. After a court martial he is dismissed and stripped of his epaulettes in front of the regiment. When Ethel comes to bid him farewell he sadly takes down and contemplates his officer sword.

The Sioux Chief is outraged by the treatment of his son. He threatens war and Garvin arranges for the women at the fort to be sent to safety on stagecoach. The Colonel’s letter is taken from a courier by braves and the Chief prepares a war party. Caught between his conflicting  loyalty and desire, Great Bear takes out  his uniform and army revolver from a trunk and sets off to save the white woman.

He arrives at a place overlooking the attack on the stagecoach. A trooper rides to the fort for help and to allow time for a rescue Great Bear blows the army bugle he possesses: another familiar trope. The braves withdraw as the Calvary arrive to rescue the women, but Great Bear is shot in the back and left

‘without honour, without a grave’.

 

The Struggle, Broncho 1913

This is not strictly an ‘Indian Picture’. Scott Simmon notes in the Festival Catalogue that the film

“moves closer to “classic” revenge plotting … The price paid for Ince’s move from tales of conflicts within tribes or against the Calvary is that the Indian “hostiles” now lack the slightest motivation or individuality'”

So Simmon points out to the developments in the genre that brings us to the Indian or Native American as ‘the other’. The plot of the film has Bob Worth (Elmer L. Morrow) vowing revenge when his father is shot and his mother dies of grief. Five years on Bob is an army scout. In a saloon he recognises his father’s murder by a scar. But the man flees, shooting a card player with Bob accused of the murder.

He flees. now we see his ‘gal’, daughter of an officer at the Fort. And the Indians, Apaches, appear on the scene. The Calvary ride up, but with the Sherriff who arrests Bob. The two are soon sieged in a cabin by the Indians, but also with the now-wounded murderer. He offers a death bed confession. The Calvary re-appear and drive off the Indians. bob is re-united with his love.

Not a lot for an Indian-friendly audience. In other ways the film is effective with some good staging and editing. It was directed by Thomas H. Ince. However, mis-staging or mising title cards do create a little confusion. Simmon notes

“The happy opening household appears to be a miner and his wife and their teenaged son, but the studio synopsis states that the woman is the miner’s “daughter, a girl of twenty.” The woman is never seen again so that the impression that she must be the hero’s mother in  reinforced by his later identification of the murderer:”

“he killed my father and my mother died of a broken heart.” “

Still, this would not be the first time that a studio synopsis was in error.

‘The Flaming Arrow’

The Flaming Arrow, 101 Bison Film/Universal

Happily for Native-Americans the final film was more positive. Scott Simmon writes,

The Flaming Arrow must be unique among surviving early Westerns for both beginning and ending with happy interracial love.”

The opening presents a prospector with an Indian wife and child. The prospector is killed aiding Black Eagle and his tribe against an attack by Apaches. His wife, Flying Bird, expires after chanting a death song at his grave. This leaves White Eagle as an orphan.

He is sent away to a school in the West and returns ten years later. He develops a friendship with the daughter of the commanding officer at the fort. However, a rival officer with a Mexican accomplice plot to steal a gold shipment. They sell firewater to the Indians resulting in a war party. During an attack on the fort White Eagle rescues the daughter. The y then are laid siege in a cabin [again] whilst the braves shout ‘burn the white girl.!

The Calvary arrive in ‘a nick of time’, the villainous Mexican is killed, leaving White Eagle with the girl he preferred over his own people.

Simmon comments on the overall film and generic examples,

“Moving Picture World couldn’t help but notice the racial revisionism with “the old perplexed question of blood not being raised” between the lovers. By early 1913 Indian subjects remained popular, but story innovations were evidently needed. The usual plot conventions were on display for instance, two months earlier in Ince’s The Burning Brand, a Calvary lieutenant, learning his mother was an Indian, must abandon the colonel’s daughter and die in an attempt to win her back through a tribal attack.”

Whereas in The Flaming Arrow

“In the film’s surprising closing shot, the now-heroic White Eagle and the daughter of the Calvary colonel walk arm in arm towards a tight close-up. It is implied that their marriage will follow.”

Closer to the previous film in other ways, the opening needs help to from the synopsis to be clear about relationships. But the film has definite pace and the editing between scenes as the drama increases is effective. This was another 35mm print, this time from the BFI.

And Gabriel Thibaudeau provided lyrical accompaniment on the piano.

 

 

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Blue Jeans, USA 1917

Posted by keith1942 on August 9, 2017

This was the fourth programme in the John H. Collins retrospective at Le Giornate del Cinema Muto in 2016. Rather like Henry King’s Tol’able David (1921) this is a melodrama in which the protagonist overcomes both villainy and an image of self in ‘small town America’. Like that film this is also a fine piece of ‘Americana’. What distinguishes it is that the protagonist is a young woman. David Mayer in the Festival Catalogue notes how the film has transformed the source material, a play from 1890 by Joseph Arthur., one of his popular works.

“Quite possibly at the instigation of writers June Mathis and Charles Taylor, the play’s rube comic roles and broad comic dialogue were stripped away, the comical interludes largely expunged, and the narrative reshaped and smoothed out to create a taut drama of love, ambition, family woe, and female heroism in the rural south-east corner of bucolic Indiana bordering the Ohio River, “the Blue Jeans District”, which gives the drama its title. Crucially, in an act destabilising the former dominance of the male lead, reshaping the narrative to focus on the bravery, self-abnegation, and resourcefulness of the heroine June, providing a major role for Collins’s wife, the actress Viola Dana.”

The plot remains melodramatic. The heroine, June (Dana) is an orphan and in the course of the film she discovers the truth about her lost mother and is reunited with her grandparents. She also has to battle with the varied blows that fall on her romantic hero Perry Bascom (Robert Walker). He has returned to his family town of Rising Sun. Over the course of the film he has to battle politically and literally with the film villain, Ben Boone (Clifford Bruce). He also has to clear his name of a slander, that he abandoned a wife and committed bigamy. And, to regain control of the family mill, he has to overcome the town prejudices that stem from the time of an earlier owner, his uncle.

Viola Dana is fine as the heroine, and she expresses suitable range of emotions a she moves, from love, through adversity and to discoveries from the past. Walker plays Perry as a fairly conventional hero as he encounters one setback after another.

Stylistically the great pleasure of the film is the manner in which it captures the flavour of a small rural town and the surrounding countryside. The opening, as Perry bowls downhill on a bicycle back to Rising Sun, encountering June on his way, sets the scene beautifully. And the are many scenes in the surrounding countryside, in nearby woods and on a nearby river. Perry and June marry in a ‘little chapel; by the river’. The film also makes effective use of cross-cutting between actions and events and draws parallels between these through the use of superimpositions. And there are a number of flashback that fill in the ‘back stories’ of the characters: as for example as Perry unravels the slander about his earlier marriage and claims of bigamy.

The small town of Rising Sun typifies some of the contradictions in ‘small town America’. Perry is not the only one to encounter ‘small town’ prejudice. After her marriage and the birth a of a child June goes to the local church to seek baptism for the infant. But the minister and congregation set their faces against her because they hold ‘uncertainties’ about her conception. This leads to a round denunciation of the church prejudices by one of her only friends, Cindy Tutwiler (Margaret McWade). The point is emphasised by a shot of the church’s stained glass window bearing the  legend ‘suffer little children’. This question of legitimacy is dramatised by a photograph of Cindy’s daughter Lucy [later revealed as June’s mother) which Cindy’s husband Jacob (Russell Simpson) has turned towards the wall.

There is also a sequence set on the night before a local election with candidates’ hustings and large crowds. This makes good use of numerous extras and chiaroscuro effect. It is also the point at which a melodramatic revelation takes place as Perry’s ‘ex-wife’ Dora denounces him.

The film does retain quite a lot of the melodramatic plotting. The climax of the film takes place at the saw mill where Perry confronts Ben. It is Ben who proves the stronger and he ties Perry onto the machine saw whilst locking June in the mill offices. June breaks out of the office and rushes to the saw, rescuing Perry from his mortal threat. David Mayer points out the generic implication of this scene.

“Joseph Arthur’s famous third-act sawmill “sensation scene” (a melodramatic episode so stirringly iconic that it’s reprised in the final-reel of numerous 007 films …”.

This title confirmed the claims made for the retrospective and for Collins as both a fine filmmaker and an important pioneer in the development of Hollywood. Like The Girl Without a Soul this film was made for the Metro Picture Corp. It was also supplied by the George Eastman Museum but in a 35mm print. Donald Sosin supplied the accompaniment on the piano and including a song from the original play.

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Beginnings of the Western – Cowgirls.

Posted by keith1942 on August 8, 2017

This was the second programme offered a in Le Giornate del Cinema Muto 2016 presenting the early years of the major Hollywood genre. Richard Abel’s introduction in the Festival Catalogue noted,

“something like a genre begins to emerge out of a wide variety of films – cowboy films, Indian pictures, and cowgirl films – during the two-year period of 1912 – 1913.”

What also seems to be the case is that women characters did better in this developing period than was often the case when an identifiable and conventionalised genre did emerge. In this programme we had six films where women were important characters and even were the dominant actor.

Broncho Billy’s Narrow Escape, USA 1912

This was an Essanay production directed by and starring G. M. Anderson. Happily John Oliver has just written a profile of ‘The First Cowboy Film Star’ in ‘Flickers’ June/July 2017. [Gilbert] Anderson worked in the early US films, including a small part in the 1903 The Great Train Robbery. He was a co-founder of Essanay in 1907 and in 1909 commenced a long series of popular westerns. He generally directed and starred in these films but,

“Despite regular appearances, Anderson would still introduce variations from film to film as to how the character was portrayed. In one film Broncho Billy could be bandit, in the next a cow puncher, and then a miner in the following film. He could even be a bit of a bumpkin. He could even die at the end of a film.”

The last was not typical of what the western became.

In this title Billy is a wandering cowboy hired by a Prospector Ben Martin (Arthur Mackles). Billy develops a mutual attraction with Martin’s daughter Lois (Vedah Bertram): there is a happy shot as they sing and duet on a guitar and banjo. However, Billy’s rival Baxter (Brinsley Shaw) manages to convince some cowboys that Billy is a horse thief. The response, that becomes a typical event in westerns, is a proposed lynching. But Lois rides to the rescue and as Abel notes:

“The film ends with an emblematic shot of the couple smiling and chatting, until Billy (in an atypical gesture) slides a ring onto her finger.”

Lois is shown as a skilled horse rider. Vedah Bertram made 22 westerns with Anderson but she died young [aged 20] in 1912. Apart from the riding sequence the film also uses shots in silhouette as characters move from interiors to exterior light.

A Girl of the West, USA 1912

A Vitagraph film probably directed by Rollin S. Sturgeon. This was one of the last westerns shot by Vitagraph on the East Coast,, in their New York studio and nearby locations. The locations are uninspired and a later Vitagraph in the programme demonstrates one important factor in moving west to California.

Scott Simon in the Festival catalogue notes that in the film we get the following title:

“HOORAY! FOR THE AMAZONS.” shout cowboys in the final inter-title of the slightly mist titled A Girl of the West, which features two gun-toting, rapid-riding women – the ranch girl (Polly) and the outlaw (Nell) – along with the heroine’s older sister (Dolly) who lectures her unsuccessfully about proper female behaviour in the west.”

Lillian Christy plays Dolly (Daisy in the print), Helen Case as Polly and Helen Galvin as Nell.

Simon’s reservation regarding the film’s title are justified, Polly acts out of love for a cowboy John (Tom Fortune) whilst Nell is the moll of the villain Scar-faced Bill (Robert Thornby). The plot lacks plausibility. John sells him horse and is to collect the $500 purchase price when he delivers it to the ranch. Scar-faced Bill and his henchman steal the horse and delivering it to the ranch collect the $500. Given the purchaser had agreed the bargain with John this seems unlikely or the men really are dumb. The best bit of the film is the conflict between |Polly and Nell, as they battle with Polly successfully riding to recover the money.

The 35mm print was 902 feet, running 13 minutes at 18fps. Likely there is a little missing, as so often the case with early film. Certain Dolly’s appearances and role seem a little truncated.

The Craven, USA 1912.

This is a Vitagraph film shot in the new Los Angeles Studio, in Santa Monica in California. Laura Horak, in the Festival Catalogue, comments on the film and its star,

“Schaefer had moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles with Vitagraph regulars Sturgeon, this film’s director, and actors Thornby, Bennett and Burns (all in this film ) in October 1911 to form the Western branch of the Vitagraph Company. The Western Vitagraph films were often praised for uniting spectacular locations with quality photography, complex plots and mature acting.”

The changes are notable in comparison to A Girl of the West. California offered better and more varied locations and a brighter climate with better light for the cinematography. And the working conditions seem to have better suited the production crew.

The film opens with the title,

“The wife of a coward.”

Anne (Anne Schaefer, Maud in the print) is the niece of a ranch owner. The new hand out from the east is Harvey (Robert Thornby). Harvey shoots a line that impresses the ranch hands and even more Anne. They marry. Her eyes are opened when a Mexican bandit ((William) Eagle Eye) threatens them for money; Harvey is prepared to hand over money but Anne chases off the bandit.

Harvey gets the credit and is elected sheriff. However nemesis arrives when he is required to apprehend a noted bandit Black Pete (probably Tom Beckett). But Anne has to undertake the task, tracking down Black Peter. In an well staged confrontation Black Pete hides in rushes, but when he jumps out Anne is quicker and shoots him dead.

Back at the cabin Anne sends Harvey to collect the body, thus preserving

“my father’s honour'”

throwing down the gun, possibly a motif that developed into the badge thrown down. Thus Harvey preserves his reputation and his

“unearned honour.”

The plot is seemingly not unusual, Laura Horak notes,

The Craven was one of many films from this period that dramatised white male cowardice (e.g. The Honour of His Family, 1910). It was also one of the many in which courageous white women took over from incapacitated brothers, husbands and sweethearts ….”

A Bit of Blue Ribbon, USA 1913.

This is another Vitagraph filmed in California. By now the company had moved to a new studio in the Los Feliz area of Los Angeles, located near hills and open country: likely a factor in the move.. The film has what seems an unusual plot and the print we viewed was only 741 feet, apparently with missing shots and title cards. So the opening of the film is unclear. It seems that Kitty (Marty Charleson), the daughter of a ranch  owner, has a favourite horse Seňor: she also has a human sweetheart, Steve (Robert Burns). The father Hartwell (Charles Bennett) orders Steve to shoot Seňor, though why is not clear. The mother in this film is played by Anne Schaefer but she has much less to do than in The Craven.

Steve honourably refuses to shoot Seňor so Hartwell decides to carry out the deed. Fortunately he is interrupted and shot by a Mexican horse thief (William Eagle Eye again). Unfortunately the Mexican is able to throw the blame on Steve. In an early example of what becomes one of Hollywood’s most common motifs Steve is discovered by other cowboys bending over the wounded Hartwell. This confirms his guilt and he is dragged away. In another conventional trope the cowboys vote and agree to lynch Steve. Kitty now rides to save Steve and confronts the Mexican. He mages to escape but drops the titular blue ribbon. Kitty recognises this as belonging to her father. She rides again to save Steve from hanging. Later the Mexican is apprehended and [it seems] sentenced to hanging [or possibly lynching].

Una of the Sierras, USA 1812.

This was another Vitagraph film, directed by Ralph Ince, younger brother of key producer Thomas Ince; though Rollin S. Sturgeon also had a role in the production. This is another classic plotline. The western gal goes east [or north] and encounters the world, the technology and the mores of  urban life. Una (Mary Charleson) is

“Brought up in the Mountains Wild. She is more that a match for a Crafty Financier. She’s a Hummer and Can Do Things.” (The Vitagraph promotion quoted in the Festival catalogue).

Ulna’s father is a prospector in California. At his death she comes into

“enough gold to pay the national debt!”

So she goes to live with her aunt in the city. There are amusing scenes as she explores her aunt’s property, encounters a motor car and jumps in the Pacific clothed. Romance arrives in the shape of two financiers, shady investor Sharpe and kindlier stockbroker Clifford. Sharpe tries to eliminate Clifford through a share scheme, but Una saves him and the day.

“In the unpublished synopsis, she asks Clifford “if they are engaged” and he answers with a kiss.”

Sallie’s Sure Shot, USA 1913.

This was a Selig western that I had seen before and which repaid a second viewing.

“A Tale of Devotion and Dynamite.”

Coyote Jim (Lester Cuneo) and his gang plan to take over the Ralston mining claim. Rob Ralston has gone to town to register the claim leaving his daughter Sallie (Myrtle Stedman) alone. Her sweetheart Fred warns off the gang. But they return, take Sallie to nearby claim and plan to trap Fred by dynamiting the cabin. Whilst there attention is elsewhere Sallie grabs a rifle and cuts the fuse wire with her ‘sure shot’. First time round Stedman’s body twirl and the accompanying cut occasioned applause from the audience.

Fred reasserts some masculine prowess when the gang relight the fuse by throwing it through the window at the gang. Following the explosion the gang are trussed up and handed over to the sheriff.

Laura Horak notes that

“In fact, Sallie was not the first Selig heroine to display such impressive shooting skills – in The Girl from Montana (1907), Pansy Perry’s character races on horseback to rescue her falsely accused sweetheart and shoots through the suspended rope just as he is hung.”

Whilst tropes and motifs from these early westerns became a regular part of plots in the western genre, the ‘can do’ woman were much less common. This selection was revealing and enjoyable. Several of the 35mm prints were from the EYE Filmmuseum with title cards in Dutch. We had an English translation provided. And there were a couple of instances where characters names had changed, as noted. Donald Sosin provided the accompaniment at the piano.

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The Adjutant of the Czar / Der Adjutant des Zaren, Hungary 1919

Posted by keith1942 on July 31, 2017

This film appeared in a programme at Le Giornate del Cinema Muto for ‘The Danish Film Institute: A 75th Anniversary Tribute’. The film was actually a Hungarian Production, filmed in Berlin with the surviving print held in the Archive. These varied credits are appropriate as this was one of the titles made by the peripatetic ‘white Russian’ filmmakers after they chose exile over helping to build the new Soviet Union.

Whilst the film is set in pre-revolutionary Russia the anti-socialist values are clearly apparent. Casper Tybjerg [of the Danish Archive] writes in the Festival Catalogue:

“The figure of the Czar is treated with almost mystical reverence …; like Christ in Ben-Hur, the Czar is conspicuously placed just outside of the frame or with his back turned.”

The hero of the film, Prince Boris Kurbsky is played by the great Russian star Ivan Mozhukhin. Returning to Czarist Russia after a failed romance and engagement Boris meets and assist a mysterious lady at the border, Helena di Armore (Carmen Boni). She has lost her passport so Boris passes her off as his wife. This not only throws them together on the remaining train ride but sets up gossip amongst Boris’s fellow Officers. On his return Boris is assigned to the personal guard of the Czar: he also discover love and marries Helena.

However, Helena is not only mysterious but she has a secret. She has lost a family member to the Czarist secret police and has now joined band of secret revolutionaries. Boris is caught between his duty and his love for Helena. Helena, who now reciprocates, is caught between her love and her commitment. The film clearly comes down on the side of Boris and the aristocratic class. The revolutionary are stereotypical subversives and there is no attempt to define their politics apart from their hatred of the Czar whom they plan to assassinate. When we do meet them they are hidden in a cellar in a dark and disused buildings, full of shadows and far from the light.

If the film in anti-revolution it is critical of the now defunct Czarist regime. Helena and others are victims of the hated and brutal secret police. And whilst Boris is able to thwart the plot it is at the cost of his love.

“Even so, the politics of Czarist Russia are ultimately destructive of true love, and the loyalty of Mozhukhin’s character leaves him stranded on a darkened railway platform, staring tearfully after a disappearing train, billowing black smoke as it carries his wife away into the night.” (Casper Tybjerg in the Festival Catalogue).

The film is very much constructed around the persona of Mozhukhin. The early part of the film play like a romantic comedy as Boris begins his involvement with Helena. Casper Tybjerg describes one fine scene where romantic love is recognised:

“his boyish elation when Boni agrees to marry him is particularly endearing; he sweeps her up in his arms and whirls around like a dervish, ending up in a pratfall with her on his lap.”

As the plot darkens the mood shifts, the film turns to melodrama, and here Mozhukhin demonstrates his powerful expressive style;

“later, during the grand ball, he thwarts the assassination attempt through the power of his piercing stare alone: after a tight close-up of Muzhukhin’s eyes, Helena is unable to pull out the pistol in her handbag.”

This sequence is constructed around a number of close-ups, including the purse carried by Helena. Whilst the film moves between fairly conventional set-ups, as in the palace, at times it makes good use of camera and editing. A number of sequences enjoy rapid dolly shots, as at the Imperial Ball. There are short effective tracks when Boris investigates the next of revolutionaries, and at one point what seems to be a hand-held camera. And the sequences with chiaroscuro, such as the revolutionary hide-out or the final railway station, are well presented.

The director was Vladimir Strizhevsky and he also wrote the scenario. He carried on directing films in the bourgeois west until the 1940s. The excellent cinematography was by Nikolai Toporkov and the design by Hans Sohnle and Otto Erdmann. I did not find a credit for editing.

The film was screened from the Archive’s 35mm print, with Danish title cards and a translation provided. John Sweeney accompanied the film at the piano with a predominantly melodramatic score.

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The Cossack Whip, USA 2016

Posted by keith1942 on July 16, 2017

This was John H. Collins final film for a combination of companies, Kleine – Edison – Selig – Essanay. He then moved on to Metro. Collins had married up and coming star Viola Dana in 1915 and she was the star of this film  and continued in that role for Collins until his demise in 1918.  Helen-Day Mayer and David Mayer in the Le Giornate del Cinema Muto Catalogue, characterise the plot of this film.

“Not high art, but a melodrama to be enjoyed – as melodrama. Although the collapse of the Russian Army, virtually helpless under German attack, was well known in America in 1916, writer James Oppenheim and scenarist Paul Sloane fell back on a misgoverned, cruel and autocratic representation of Russia that had been the subject of numerous late-Victorian stage melodrama.”

In the early reels we have the despotic Tsarist secret police, secret revolutionaries [though without defined political content] and the innocent villagers caught up in the conflict. In the film we first meet the revolutionary band [ The Brotherhood] including Sergius (Richard Tucker). An attack on a train to free imprisoned radicals leads to searches of villages on the orders of Cossack officer Ivan Turov. This leads to a raid on the village where Darya (Viola Dana) and her family live,

The raid is a bravura sequence. A lone horsemen is seen on a hilltop amongst a snow-covered but desolate landscape. He is joined by other horsemen, seen in silhouette. Intercut with this are scenes of a village celebration for the betrothal of Darya’s sister Katerina (Grace Williams) to Alexis (Robert Walker). Then the mounted Cossacks attack the village, shooting, cutting down with sabres and pillaging. Some villagers, including children, are left for dead; others are marched off to the secret Police HQ for interrogation. Darya had managed to hide in a water barrel and hs emerges to see the dead and the desolation.

At the Police HQ the interrogation is supervised by Turov. With Katerina Turov shows her the torture of Alexis through a stone trap door above the cell where he is being beaten with a whip. Turov offers her Alexis’s life in exchange for her favours. However, after he has satisfied his lust, Katerina discovers that Alexis is actually now dead. Katerina is also beaten, and in a terminal state, she returns to the village with the whip used in the torture. Finding her and hearing her story Darya swears revenge.

The plot moves on. Darya flees to Moscow and joins the ballet troupe of which Sergius is also a member. However, the secret police force her to flee again, to London. Darya’s ballet career is furthered there by Madame Pojeska ((Sally Crute). But even here she is the subject of surveillance by a Tsarist spy. She also meets Sergius again.

The pair return to Russia where Darya becomes a featured dancer in the prestigious Imperial Ballet. This brings her to the attention of Turov who visits her dressing room and flirts with her. Darya takes up his invitation and he shows her the secret police HQ. He shows her the actual cell where Alexis and Katerina were tortured and the stone trap-door above. Playfully and flirtatiously examining the wall manacles in the cell, Darya inveigles Turov into letting her lock him in them. She now produces the whilst and proceeds to beat the helpless Turov. Tension is increased when a cut show the audience a man In Tsarist uniform above the cell as well as Turov’s Chinese servant. The uniformed officer turns out to be a fellow revolutionary who ends Turov’s agony by shooting him. This sequence once again uses the effective and relatively fast editing seen earlier in the film. At the climactic moment the dead Katerina is superimposed on her living sister. And the underground cell is presented with a blue tint which emphasise its forbidding nature.

Her revenge completed Darya can flee Russia with Sergius. We last see the pair entering

‘the land of the free’

as the ship passes the Statue of Liberty in New York harbour.

The plot line was not always clear to me and the ‘long arm of co-incidence’ seemed to operate. The geography of the film seemed very convenient, especially the visit to the secret Police HQ in the final reel. And credits seem to suggest two Turov’s: if so I did not distinguish them. And synopsis referred to Paris rather than London. However, the 35mm print for the screening seemed complete. Whatever the possible confusions in the plot this was an exemplary use of film techniques and seemingly radical for the period.

Jay Weisberg and Paolo Cherchi Usai’s introduction in the Festival Catalogue comments;

“A fine example of this [the fruitful collaboration of Collins and Dana) is The Cossack Whip, which can still astonish the modern viewer for the unbridled modernity of its style. The film is edited with an elegance and rhythm that could have made Eisenstein envious, and there is reason to suspect that Collin’s grasp of the medium flourished quite independently from Griffith’s influence.”

We also enjoyed a suitably dramatic accompaniment from Neil Brand at the piano.

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Beginnings of the Western, Pordenone 2016.

Posted by keith1942 on July 11, 2017

‘The Escape of Jim Dolan’.

 

These programmes continued the exploration started at Il Giornate del Cinema Muto in 2016. This year the focus was on films produced in 1912 and 1913 as the genre began to take shape in the early Hollywood studios. The first of three programmes presented cowboy films shot in California by these young companies.

At the End of the Trail was a Vitagraph production from 1912. This was a stock trade but with some distinctive features. A Sherriff [George C. Stanley] learns from a group of cowboys that they have seen a wanted horse thief. He sets off, with a wanted notice,  in pursuit of the Mexican. The meet and fight in a desert, [shades of the later Greed]. At first successful the Sherriff is wounded and overpowered by the Mexican. We follow the latter to his cabin where his daughter Mercedes is of a religious turn. She has  small religious shrine on the wall of  the cabin. Mercedes is also literate unlike her father, She reads the wanted poster that he has pick up but which he does not understand. Pointing to the cabin crucifix she accuses him. Lacking in morals and paternal care he attacks his daughter and leaves. The wounded sheriff, finding the Mexican’s horse caught tin a bramble bush, arrives at the cabin. Mercedes tends his wounds. Then the Mexican returns. Mercedes is killed in the shootout. Now a posse of Cowboys arrive. Standing round Mercedes grave they all remove their hats, except the Mexican, obdurate to the last.

The film was projected form a 35mm print with Dutch intertitles and translation. Filmed in the familiar fairly standard long and mid-shots. What stood out was the tinting in the desert sequences. This was a sort of yellow-brown, suggestive of the later yellow tinting in the Stroheim’s ‘Greed’. In terms of representation there was the familiar Mexican stereotype with the daughter a good and sacrificial character to offset this.

A Wife in the Hills (1912) was produced at the Essanay studio and was part of a famous series, “Broncho Billy”. ‘Billy’ was played by G. M Anderson, founder of the studio and the regular writer and director of these westerns. Not all the characters he plays are “Broncho Billy”. In this film he is an outlaw Bart McGrew. The plot of the film parallels in an odd way the preceding film, At the End of the Trail. Bart’s partner Don Trout (Brinsley Shaw) is having an affair with McGrew’s wife (Vedah Bertram). So seeing  a wanted notice that offers a pardon to any gang members who turns himself in he sells out Bart to the Sherriff. At his arrest Bart realises about the affair and the betrayal. Later he escapes from prison and is pursued by a posse. But reaching the cabin he has run out of ammunition. In a providential intervention a shot by the posse hits and kills Don,. As his unfaithful wife tends the body Bart smiles! This is an usually ironic ending for an early western.

The film was screened from another 35mm print from the EYE Museum. The chase sequence is fairly extended and as it nears the cabin the spatial relationships become slightly confused. And at one point the camera ‘crosses the line’, a technique not yet elevated into a taboo. Richard Abel in the Festival Catalogue noted:

“[this] makes the shooting of Trout all the more grimly ironic – and a sharp contrast to the ending of Essanay’s A Pal’s Oath (1911), shown last year in Pordenone, in which Broncho Billy decides not to exact vengeance when, through an open window, he finds his nemesis embracing his wife (Billy’s former lover) and child.”

The Greater Love USA 1912 was from the Vitagraph Company. The story is simple but the treatment is notable. The Kansas Kid (Robert Thorny) is the subject of a wanted notice. Meanwhile the Sheriff  (Fred Burns) has  a sweetheart (Edna Fisher). She tends a wounded stranger who turns out to be the Kansas Kid. She and the Kid also feel a mutual attraction. This leads to a dispute between the Kid and the Sheriff, who only later realise that the man is the wanted outlaw. Following  a pursuit the Sheriff is wounded and the kid takes him back to be tended by his sweetheart. The grateful Sheriff shakes his hand.

Richard Abel provided some informative notes in the Festival catalogue.

“This surviving film print [35mm] includes a range of tinting characteristic of the period, which differentiates one time of day from another as well as exteriors from interiors.”

He goes on to note the stylistic treatment in the film:

“It also uses a series of objects to effectively highlight key moments in the story: the wanted poster, a rain barrel, a flower, several written notes, and a photograph.”

The poster appears at least three times. And the photograph functions to inform or influence both the Sheriff and the outlaw. And in addition,

“this Vitagraph film deploys eye-line match editing, in not one but two scenes: the fist involving the sheriff and the young woman; the second (with one mismatch), the gunfight between the Sheriff and the Kid.”

I also thought, [but only on one viewing] that there was match when the Sheriff observes the glances between outlaw and the young woman. Also what struck me as uncommon was a high angle camera shot as the Sheriff and the outlaw face off for their confrontation.

Richard Abel’s commentary also left me uncertain. I noted that after the return of the wounded Sherriff and the handshake between him and the outlaw that the cowboy posse also shook the hand of the outlaw. I may have misread this shot as Abel writes:

“but the Sheriff’s men still arrest the Kid and lead him away.”

The Escape of Jim Dolan, USA 1913.

This was a two reel Selig western, the 35mm print including tinting in parts. The plot is full of incident and action. Jim Dolan is false accused by the Foreman of Brown Ranch because of they both admire the Rancher’s daughter Grace. However, there is also a dispute over water rights. The foreman buries a cattle hide on Dolan’s claim, resulting in Jim being convicted for cattle stealing and sentenced to ten years in jail. A title card announces

“The Escape of Jim Dolan.”

Grace smuggles in tools hidden in a basket of food. Jim breaks out at night and is soon pursued by Posse. Hindered by his horse going lame, Jim hides in a river, ingeniously breathing through the barrel of his gun [is that technically possible?]. But his troubles continue. He is captured by Apache and tortured. But the rope which ties him to the horse as it gallops breaks and Jim is assisted by a passing prospector. Back near the ranch a bar brawl leads to the confession of the Foreman. Reading of his innocence in newspaper Jim returns to his claim and to grace.

Jim is played by Tom Mix, a major star and noted for his horsemanship. So one impressive sequence has Jim fleeing on a relay of horses as he escapes from prison and the posse. Mix manages to dismount and then remount

“In scarcely more than a second’s space.” (New York Dramatic Mirror quoted in the Catalogue).

The Rattlesnake – A Psychical Species, USA 1913.

This was a delightfully bizarre western. The 35mm print was missing one section, so the details in the Catalogue relied on the Lubin Film Co. synopsis.

“For those weary of cowboys, cowgirls, and Indians, Romaine Fielding’s The Rattlesnake – a film that still brings gasps – gives us an unclichéd and ruggedly symbolic West. Lubin advertised it as a “strange and weird story” of “a man’s gratitude to a snake for saving his life.” The two-reeler is set in Mexico, and was filmed around Las Vegas, New Mexico, east of Santa Fe, where the landscape looks as unforgiving as the story’s obsessive central figure, played by the director.” (Scott Simmon in the Catalogue).

Tony’s life is saved when the rattlesnake bites an assailant who subsequently dies. Tony, full of gratitude, adopts the snake. However, his girlfriend Inez (Mary Ryan) demands that he choose between her and his reptilian friend. Seven years pass and Inez has married John Gordon ((Jesse Robinson). When Tony attempts to shoot Gordon he ends up being bitten by the snake. By the close the snake is dead and Tony has lost an arm.

This is the only full-length film of Romaine Fielding to survive. though he worked on over a 100 between 1912 and 1915. One wonders if there were imaginative but sadly lost melodramas about horses, cattle, donkeys, and of course dogs. I would be happier, though, if the film did not repeat the stereotypical representation of snakes as untrustworthy.

As Simmon notes the film’s use of landscape is excellent. The New York Dramatic Mirror praised the film but could not resist a rather obvious pun:

“The venom of jealousy has never furnished a better basis for a story than this film portrays. Nor have we in years seen this plot germ presented in a manner more original in conception and development. Romaine Fielding struck upon a singularly appropriate personification of this character  trait in the use of a rattlesnake … Hi shows the hand … of a master of technique in his development of atmosphere to the last essence.” (Quoted in the Catalogue).

The Trail of Cards, USA 1913

This title from the American Film Company was preserved on a 35mm at the Library of Congress. [The same title occurs in the same year on a Selig sea-faring film]. It was noted re the Western,

“In 1913 ”Moving Picture World’ published a list of narrative “bromides” that scriptwriters would do well to avoid if they desired to steer clear of clichéd storytelling. … But The Trail of Cards was singled out for redeeming [a] …hackneyed situation by giving it a “brand new twist”. (Festival Catalogue).

The ‘hackneyed’ story involved two suitors for the one young woman, Bess (or Rose – Lillian Christy). The two suitors, Bob (Edward Coxen) and Pedro (no credit), test their mettle in a fight which Bob wins. Thus he wins Bess. However Pedro has his men kidnap Bess and carry her off – in a hammock slung between two horses. We actually see Bess’s mother vainly shooting after the kidnappers. The ‘twist’ is that Bess leaves a trail of playing cards which Bob and Bess’s father follow to rescue her.

This short film is stylistically innovatory, as Charlie Keil [in the Catalogue] points out:

“Tracking shots recur throughout the film, [most frequently as Bess plants the ‘trail of cards’], and a notable variant serves wrap up the plot: the reunited couple ride towards her ranch as the camera dollies backward, …”

In some ways this film could have slotted into the later ‘cowgirl’ programme.

Philip Carli provided the accompaniment for the films. The films were projected at 18 fps except A Wife in the Hills projected at 16 fps. Most often frame rates are a judgement by archivists. These all looked fine and offered steady movement. The rate of filming and projection in this early period is an intriguing issue.

 

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