After at least reluctantly approving of the last couple of Larry Semon films I wrote about and worrying that I might be brain damaged for doing so, it feels good to be back to a Larry Semon film that’s unequivocally garbage.
Joe Simberg is out driving with his girlfriend Florence Curtis when his car breaks down. Larry Semon is… I don’t know who Larry Semon is, but he’s in the road and is hit by another motorist and thrown up into the air. He lands next to Florence and drives off with her, running over Joe several times in the process. Joe alerts the Big V Riot Squad who are an absolutely original creation and are in no way a knock-off of the Keystone Cops. And they are totally indoors and there is no shadow of a tree blowing in the wind on the back wall. Three squad cars are sent out in pursuit, which is a great way to pad out the runtime since now the film can repeat every gag three times. I suppose there’s more, but it doesn’t matter — I’m done. There’s no plot, there are no characters, the gags were terrible the first time around and don’t improve with repetition. Literally the only interesting thing about this short is how flagrantly it pilfers from Keystone.
There’s obviously four or five minutes of material missing. It begins in media res and doesn’t end so much as it just stops. The footage is missing in the pre-print, though. There’s only one physical splice in the print and it’s just to mend a film break — no more than a frame or two is missing around it. The splices joining the title and end cards are on the negative. I also suspect this is from a reissue with new titles added. They make a Flying Finn joke and I somehow don’t think Paavo Nurmi would have been a household name in America before his 1920 Olympics win.
I misspoke before, this isn’t a Kodascope, but it is a very similar amber-tinted show-at-home released in 1924. Sharp focus, dense image, obviously a print-down struck directly from the camera negative — it looks great. It’s a shame the film is so awful, but it does look beautiful.
My rating: I don’t like it.
Original posters for silent films are rare. The films themselves were seen as disposable once they’d finished their run, the ephemera connected to them were valued even less. Most that still exist survive by accident. Rarer still are the posters that hung in the offices of distributors that advertised posters to exhibitors. I’ve got one of those for the 1919 serial Smashing Barriers. It shows all the styles of posters available and explains which will catch attention at a distance and which are better for up-close inspection. The latter one is great because it’s just a collage of every cliff-hanging moment from all fifteen episodes. I look at it quite often — it hangs in my bedroom — and I always seem to spot something new in it. All I had were those pictures, because the serial itself was believed to be lost.
Several years ago, probably 2003 or 2004, I had the opportunity to buy a reel of Smashing Barriers. Which of the thirty reels it was, I don’t know. It was in very bad shape. The inner part of the reel was at stage five (terminal) decomposition, much of the remainder was at stage four. Perhaps only the first dozen feet was salvageable at all — not even a minute’s worth of footage. I passed on it and I’ve kicked myself for passing on it ever since. Even if was only a few seconds, I wanted to see those few seconds.
In 1923, Vitagraph re-worked the footage into a single feature-length film, abridging it down from something like 30,000 feet to 5,600 feet. This, too, is presumed to be lost aside from perhaps a fragment. It was even further abridged, down to just a single reel, in 1932. That version I can now say is not lost because it arrived on my doorstep this morning and I just confirmed that the faded handwriting on the label is correct — it is Smashing Barriers.
From contemporary reviews, I already knew that the only reason anyone watched Smashing Barriers was for the action — the plot was, by all accounts, mind-numbingly incoherent. I imagine it was similar to A Woman in Grey (1920) in that you sat through half an hour of boring nonsense because the last few moments made up for it in excitement. This abridgment of Smashing Barriers is composed of nothing but those last few moments, one after the other, and it is glorious. It’s like the poster on my bedroom wall come to life.
The story, such as it is, is dispensed with quickly: Helen Cole (Edith Johnson) owns a logging operation in the Rocky Mountains. A band of outlaws kidnaps her for ransom. Dan Stevens (William Duncan) must rescue her. It’s a lot like The Timber Queen (1922).
Helen has a sort of MacGyver-ish ingenuity for getting out of danger and Dan is a brave lunkhead kind of guy. There are fights and shoot-outs and lassoings, horse chases, boat chases, wagons going off cliffs, diving from a fifty foot dam into the water, burning cabins and collapsing barns, Dan slides on a zipline down a mountain clutching Helen between his legs… it’s non-stop action from beginning to end. It’s everything I could have hoped for and more. I love it.
I’m still working on Tough Luck and Tin Lizzies and there’s another film in the scanner right now (a remaster of an old title), but Smashing Barriers is definitely coming to video soon.
My rating: I like it.
William Tells (1924) is the sixth episode in The Telephone Girl series. It, along with all the other episodes, was originally a two-reeler, but my print is not complete. What I’ve got seems to be most of the first reel minus the main title, then a big jump, then the final few minutes of the second reel minus the end card. Who knows why it’s cut like that, but I’ve also got a print of Laughing Gas (1924) from the same source that’s similarly edited. It’s an original 35mm nitrate print.
Gladys (Alberta Vaughn) and Hazel (Gertrude Short), formerly switchboard operators at the St. Moe Hotel in New York, have been lured to Paris by Julius de Haven (Arthur Rankin), a movie producer who promised to make them stars. Stardom, however, seems not to be forthcoming and the two girls are holed-up in their hotel room until they find some way back to the States.
After them are Jerry (Albert Cooke) and Jimmie (Kit Guard), the former being St. Moe’s house detective and the latter its bellhop. They’re on the train from Beauvais. In the same compartment is a gendarme. It seems like they might already be acquainted but they certainly are after the trio gets into some mishaps with a live turkey and some butter-throwing shenanigans.
Skipping a bit and the girls are attempting to order breakfast at a Parisian cafe — attempting, I say, because even with their phrasebook they can’t do much better than ask “mushoo” to “bringez” them “la hammo and eggo”. At a nearby table is William Van Cleve II (Mario Carillo), who pays close attention to the girls. What his intent is can only be guessed by his motto “Sheik and Ye Shall Find”, because now we skip to the end:
It’s night time at the bustling Cafe Oo-La-La. The girls are there, as are Jerry and Jimmie, who are still trying to duck the police. Gladys and Hazel are accompanied by Van Cleve, who carries himself with quite an aristocratic bearing. It’s a slight embarrassment when the waiter recognizes him as a man of his own profession and demands repayment of a three-dollar loan he made him. Just then, the gendarme appears and moves to arrest Jerry and Jimmie. They get away in confusion when the scuffle between Van Cleve and the waiter breaks into an enormous fight that engulfs the entire restaurant.
I think my summary makes the film sound more slapstick than it is. Most of the humor comes from the very jokey and referential titles (it namechecks A Woman of Paris and The Sheik).
If I remember from the research I did when I acquired the print back in 2009, The Telephone Girl is an orphaned work — meaning, it’s still under copyright, but who exactly owns it isn’t clear. Robertson-Cole became FBO became RKO, which finally went kaput in 1957. The library was split up mostly between United Artists and MBP. MGM took over most of MBP’s holdings, and in turn were taken over by Turner. That’s just U.S. video rights — international rights are scattered to the four winds and theatrical rights, now that’s a whole ‘nother kettle of fish. All that can safely be said is that the copyright on the series was renewed on January 10th, 1952 and is therefore still in force.
I suppose William Tells is all right. Not terribly funny, but not a groaner either. Some of the titles are cute — I’m particularly fond of Hazel being “sorry to hear Napoleon is dead. She didn’t even know he was sick.”
My rating: Meh.
In other news, The Doll-House Mystery should have already been out, but I’ve had a minor illness and am running behind. It shouldn’t take much longer, I hope. The next video, a lovely Kodascope of Tough Luck and Tin Lizzies, is already scanned and waiting in the wings.
I said there’d be no more Juggernauting posts until the video(s) were released, but I’m a filthy liar.
I finished the rough cut of the five-reel premier version reconstruction a few days ago, and not to toot my own horn, but I’m very pleased with it. It clocks in at 58 minutes and 33 seconds, not including credits or whatever introductory text might be prepended, but it may gain or lose a couple minutes in tweaking the animation speed and title length. It will take several times going over until the flow is right. 30 minutes and 40 seconds are actual moving pictures, the remainder is a photo reconstruction.
Of the lost reels, reel one was the easiest to recreate. I had seven separate stills to work with from it, not to mention a lot of easily repurposed footage from later in the film. I only had to resort to footage from other films for the poker game scene. It’s such a major part of the story that it has to be represented, but I’ve no stills of it nor any material elsewhere in the film that could be made to resemble it even through the most creative use of cropping and matting. I took a shot from the poker game in The Girl in the Arm-Chair and composited William R. Dunn’s head onto Mace Greenleaf’s body. I would have much preferred to use only Juggernaut material, but failing that, it works nicely. (I should clarify, I don’t have any stills of the game itself. I do have two stills of the fight that follows when Philip discovers he’s being cheated.) The long happy ending’s hospital scenes in reel five also requires some outside footage. Just like in the 2012 reconstruction, it comes from Wanted:- A Nurse, with Anita Stewart and Earle Williams filling in for Sidney Drew and Ethel Lee.
Biggest trouble is reel four. For reel four, I only have two production stills, and they’re actually from the same part of the same scene from different angles. (More accurately, only one of them is a production still, the other is a frame enlargement. The still photographer stood about six or eight feet to the right of the cameraman, evidently.) That’s actually the main reason I sat on the footage so long — I was hoping another reel four still or two would turn up, and I didn’t want to go ahead with what I had until it became clear nothing else was going to surface. As I said before, that happens really quite often. The original Everette True video was scrapped at about 90% completion when I found a better quality print. More recently, The Sawdust Ring had been out about week when I acquired a print that’s largely identical and of inferior quality to the one I used, but it does have some footage that my Argentine print doesn’t. It does help, though, that the surviving last reel of Juggernaut is actually from the four reel abridgment and as such it contains a bit of footage from both the original fifth reel and the fourth — about 80-20 — so while I struggled with scrounging up images to use, reel four is actually the longest of the reconstructed reels thanks to the three minutes of surviving footage towards the end.
The five-reel premier version will be tinted. I know it would have been tinted originally, but I’ve found no record describing just how it was. The tinting scheme I used is based on the two Vitagraph films I have on nitrate, Her Faith in the Flag and a brief fragment of an unidentified circa-1915 Maurice Costello drama. It’s a very ordinary scheme, nothing unusual in what color is used for what situation. The only thing of note is the intertitles, which are tinted purple. The main title, being a Blue Ribbon release, should obviously be blue. The amalgamated or “watchable” version I’ve spoken of before, with the short happy ending and all the abridgments left as-is, will be black and white.
Speaking of the titles, while the watchable version will retain the original titles (excepting those in the reconstructed reels, of course), the premier version’s will all be replacements, for this reason: The picture quality takes a hit with each generation removed from the camera negative. It will get grainier, which can be corrected to a degree with judicious temporal and/or spacial smoothing. It will get fuzzier, which sharpening filters of various sorts can address. It will get more flickery, which — provided your image has got enough depth to start with — can be nearly eliminated in all but extreme cases. But the most difficult thing to undo is cropping. For the picture, you can build up something of a background if the camera tilts or pans, but that’s often unsatisfactory and very little else is possible. Titles, though, those can be un-cropped simply by redoing them. Example, we want to take this title:
…which is closer to how it would have originally appeared. And there’s no trick or magic to that — it’s just loading the original image in Photoshop and having the patience to paint in what’s missing. All the premier version’s titles have been brought back to something close to their correct framing.
The reconstruction dialogue titles are all exact reproductions of the original text with one exception, that being Louise’s first line, which I changed from “Why are the papers so antagonistic?” to “Father, why are the papers so antagonistic?” to make it more obvious who she is. It’s just after the time jump and we haven’t been introduced to Louise yet or filled-in on what Philip has done since Viola’s death. Without making it clear, it’s too easy to mistake her for his second wife. The descriptive titles are less exacting but hew as close to the synopsis text in the exhibitor’s handbook as possible.
It will take a while to score The Juggernaut. For one, it’s a feature-length film and I’m rather out of practice with those. With a short, if you like a piece and it fits the scene, you use it, because it’s probably the only scene of that type in the film. With a feature, there are a lot of similar scenes that that piece might fit, and you want to make sure it’s used to best effect because you can only use it once. Unless you’re doing character themes, of course. Like, in The Soilers, all of Clarence’s scenes are scored with Milady Dainty, but each is snipped from a different part of the tune — you can’t just endlessly repeat it. Themes are a good way to handle a film without a lot of action or films where the action is one-note (like The Soilers). Two, in photo reconstructions, there’s implied motion but no actual movement for the music to follow. It falls on the music itself to suggest action.
Finally, for the next video, I went with my first inclination and threaded-up Doll-House Mystery in the scanner. I was also considering Broken China, since I really wasn’t aware until recently how rare my print of the film is. The one-reel abridgment is reasonably common, but mine is the original two-reel version, which is considerably less so. But I’m just not in the mood to work on a film I despise. Dancer is all right but I like Doll-House quite a bit. I usually process the film as it’s being scanned — saves time that way — but I’ve been entirely focused on the The Juggernaut and haven’t done anything but let 604 gigabytes of raw image data build up on the capture drives. I’m not looking forward to tackling that.
In fact, let’s not. Let’s start scoring Juggernaut. Doll-House can wait.
Ladies and gentlemen, I feel that I need to apologize. I don’t often watch videos. Usually when I watch something, I’m screening a film print. When I’m running something that I’ve half a mind to write about, I’ll have a video camera off to the side vaguely pointed at the screen so that I’ve got a file to pull screenshots from. It’s sometimes out of focus and poorly exposed, and maybe the top or bottom of the frame is cropped off, and the picture is always horribly skewed, but everything went wrong with today’s screenshots. I am sorry.
Satan Town — “The Wickedest Place in the World – Tourists Welcome”, so says the banner across main street. Bill Scott (Harry Carey) rides into the city looking for adventure. At the Palace Hotel, the wickedest place in Satan Town, Sue (Kathleen Collins) of the Salvation Army strives to reach one or two of the drunks, gamblers, and prostitutes that throng the saloon.
Malamute (Ben Hendricks), the bouncer at the bar, never shies from a fight, and what’s more, he’s never lost one. Sue, to her misfortune, has gotten on his nerves. Bill enters just in time to get between Malamute and Sue. After a brief but spirited battle, Malamute is bested.
It doesn’t end there, of course. Malamute attempts revenge several times and is repelled by Bill at each turn. The direct approach not working, Malamute tries a more indirect route. Sue gets a letter from Pearl, a prostitute at the Palace, saying that she’s ill. When Sue gets to room 16, however, she’s met only by Frisco Bob (Charles Delaney), the band leader. Bob is in cahoots with Malamute to ruin Sue’s reputation and thus drive her out of town. As Bob approaches menacingly, Sue picks up a convenient gun that was left on the table. Bob is undeterred. When he’s almost on her, she fires. Bob is not hit. The girl standing in the doorway, however, is. Pearl crumples to the floor, dead.
The evidence is against her and Sue is arrested. On the way to jail, Bob rides in and sweeps up Sue. A mob forms to retake her, but just then, a woman appears (I don’t know who it is — doesn’t really matter) and tells them that Pearl isn’t really dead. All of it was staged to frame Sue — Pearl and Bob are laughing it up at the bar this minute. Malamute, who’s been in the background all along, sees his plans unraveling before his eyes. He pulls his gun to shoot Sue, but Bill’s quicker and shoots him first.
The worm begins to turn. The mob rather suddenly switches sides. “Let’s wipe out the whole rotten town!” a woman cries. The way it’s acted and blocked, the scene plays out very much like the False Maria inciting the workers scene in Metropolis, so much so that, if it weren’t for the fact that this film is a year older, I’d say it was ripped off from it. As it is… well, I wonder if Fritz Lang was a fan of westerns.
Bill and Sue embrace in the middle of the road, the town literally in flames around them as a crazed torch-wielding mob races about in a frenzy of destruction, left “to a life of peace and happiness”.
I liked it. The film’s kinda hokey, its plot’s a little thin and what plot it has is well-worn, Carey is very much taking his cues from William S. Hart’s good bad man shtick and the whole story bears more than a passing resemblance to Hell’s Hinges (1916), but for all that, I liked it. It helps that it’s easy to look at, being very well acted and expertly shot (though the screenshots may not seem so). And the title is great; how could anything called Satan Town be bad?
The only questionable things are a couple of weird tonal shifts. The film was advertised as a western drama and nothing else. For everything between the first scene and the last, I wouldn’t argue that. It is, on the whole, a melodrama that’s played completely straight, but the satire is so in your face at the open and close that I can’t believe it was unintentional. I’m not sure what they were going for with that.
My rating: I like it.
I can say with certainty that the short happy ending of The Juggernaut was filmed after-the-fact for the 1916 British release, which was handled through Gaumont. Like the later American re-releases, it was shortened from five reels down to four. Most of this I’m sure came from ditching the hospital scenes, which from the description must have been several minutes long, but you can see evidence of shortening in many places.
In the existing cut, in the scene where Philip learns that Louise is on the doomed train, Philip tells his secretary Reynolds to “get busy on the phone and I’ll try to head them off,” then dashes out of the office. Reynolds picks up the phone and calls Brandon, but is told “It’s too late.” In the original version, Reynolds speaks first, crying “Stop the express at all costs!” before hearing Brandon’s reply.
That’s repeated several times in the last reel — cutting everything but the conclusion from dialogue scenes. It’s actually really well done, and unless you’re reading along with the script (as I’m essentially doing), you don’t notice anything is missing. If you’re an editor tasked with abbreviating a film by about a reel, that’s a great way of accomplishing it without altering the overall narrative.
The last reel is assuredly from the four reel abridgment. The second reel is a different story. The surviving footage follows along exactly with the synopsis, except for one scene that isn’t edited so much as it’s missing entirely. On the screen, we only learn about Philip’s father’s death after the fact when Viola’s mother sees the newspaper headline. That happens in the text, too, but first Philip is supposed to find his father’s body. I know the scene was shot because I have a production still from it. The second reel varies in condition, with some parts that look rather good and others that are considerably decomposed. I suspect the preprint was verging on unsalvagable at that point and they just snipped the whole scene out.
All of the film is transferred and the video has been processed and finalized. It actually has been for the better part of six months. I was really just sitting on it and waiting to see if anything more — in terms of stills or information or whatever — should turn up, as it so often does when you near the end of a project. It hasn’t though, so I’m moving into the next stage: reconstructing the missing footage.
On the 2012 DVD, which I’m sure all of you have, you’ll recall that I used all the existing last reel/short happy ending footage in the reconstruction. The other two endings were included in a separate bonus short. I’m not decided, but for the new edition, I’m kind of leaning toward doing two reconstructions: one would be of the New York premier version, the other you might call the “watchable” version. The premier version would be my best stab at re-creating The Juggernaut as it was originally released, but it probably won’t be for the casual viewer. It’s jarring to switch from live action to panning and zooming on stills. Reel two isn’t so much a problem, since again, there’s at most only a minute missing. Reel five, with its frequent abridged scenes, is going to be very choppy indeed. It’s of interest to me and possibly a handful of others, but for those that just want to watch a movie, it’s probably best to leave all the abridgments as they are and interrupt the action as little as possible, even if it doesn’t accurately reflect any particular incarnation of the film (being a melding of both the five and four reel versions). That would only leave the long happy ending unrepresented, but it could be done in a bonus video.
I imagine this will be the last Juggernating post until I actually get around to reviewing the film, but who knows? That will still be some time yet. In other news, a hint as to the video coming out next week or so: Bessie Love joins the circus.
You don’t have to hang around long with a group of silent comedy enthusiasts before at least a few of them will make sure you know of their vehement hatred of Larry Semon. I wonder how much of that is because of his adaption of The Wizard of Oz (1925). Oz is a film so terrible I don’t think even his defenders would pretend to like it, but unfortunately for Semon, it’s probably the work he’s most known for today.
Certainly, his work is formulaic. In my review of The Sawmill (1922), I gave a rundown of features common to pretty much every Larry Semon film — and the film I’ll be presently getting to, Bathing Beauties and Big Boobs, is no exception — but in his day, Semon was rather popular. I think the similarity of his films worked in his favor. You know exactly what you’re going to get, and if his shtick is the kind of thing you’re into, well, you know you won’t be disappointed no matter what title is playing.
I just acquired a new print of Bathing Beauties a few weeks ago that’s of infinitely better quality than any of my other ones. It shouldn’t matter — theoretically, a good film should be able to shine through a muddy picture — but of course, quality does matter. You, me, and everyone else is going to give a fairer shake to whichever print looks the prettiest. Going back to The Sawmill, I recall that I had to re-evaluate my opinion of it after screening an original Kodascope.
Larry Semon is at the beach and falls in love with Madge Kirby (I’m just going to call them that—they’re not characters enough to have names), but her father disapproves. Naturally, the only course of action is for Larry and his rotund friend Frank Alexander to stage a robbery which Larry can then foil and thus win over the old man. Unfortunately, there’s also of pair of actual robbers running about to be contended with. Cue the chase and the inexplicable tower that must be jumped from several times. The robbers caught and the swag retrieved, Larry goes to claim his girl only to see her and Frank hand-in-hand — “I owe everything to this stout young man,” her father says approvingly.
It’s… not bad? Yes, there’s the unfortunate scene where Larry confuses the maid for Madge — “Man, yo’ sho’ am a fast worker!” “You’re tanned up a bit too much for me!” — but that aside, I’ve seen much worse slapstick comedies. Yes, it ticks every box on the Larry Semon Checklist of Plot Points, and yes, the requisite tower comes out of nowhere, but still… it kind of works.
I think I’ve seen too many Larry Semon pictures. I’m developing Stockholm Syndrome.
My rating: I like it.
Amazon Instant is dead. Long live Amazon Direct.
This is a long tale of intrigue and woe that has nothing to do with film reviewing and probably isn’t of interest to anyone, so I’ve hidden it behind a “read more” link.
Like Lampblack, Amateur Detective, this is another film that I had no I what was until I transferred it, as it was a retitled Pathé Baby release in French without any clues in the catalogue description as to what its original title might have been. Unlike Lampblack, this didn’t turn out to be an excerpt or an abridgment — it’s a complete and unedited copy of Be Honest (1923).
Be Honest is an early (third episode, I think) installment of the Dippy-Doo-Dads series. These are live action films with an all-animal cast that are meant to be funny although they come across as more horrifying than anything else. And that isn’t just me looking back at them with modern eyes — check out some of the contemporary protests lodged by the American Animal Defense League against abusive animal pictures in general and the Dippy-Doo-Dads in particular. These “animals are undoubted cruelly treated”, they allege, and I doubt any sane viewer would disagree. The monkey who plays Siki looks positively terrified in every scene he’s in.
Hal Roach went all-out for the later releases and built a whole town at miniature scale for the Dippy-Doo-Dads, but Be Honest and earlier films were just shot at some dilapidated farm.
Latude has been caged for thirty-five days (weirdly high-brow reference for this sort of film) and has grown bored and hungry. He provokes a nearby horse into kicking open the cage. Once he escapes, Latude goes on a feeding frenzy — stealing all the eggs from the farm. Siki, astride his canine mount Toto, assumes the role of policeman in bringing Latude to justice, but Latude is a wily fugitive, and even after Siki seems to have drowned him in a sack at the bottom of the lake, he effects one more “legendary escape” and lives to see another day.
My print spent the last fifty years in a puddle of standing water. Once the video is released (which it will be soon), try to guess which two bobbins were on the bottom of the stack; I don’t think the answer will surprise you. One is bad, but the third bobbin was so warped and rusted, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to get the film out. Despite the humidity, the two bobbins that weren’t in actual contact with the water — two and four — are in nearly perfect condition.
It sometimes takes effort to sufficiently divorce yourself from the content of a film that you can come to appreciate it for what it is. It’s not a matter of liking it; I can appreciate films that I find thoroughly unpleasant. But then there comes a film like Broken China, which is just insurmountably racist, or this, which revels in abusing animals. These are films I don’t think I can ever appreciate, let alone like.
My rating: I don’t like it.
Timothy’s Quest (Dirigo, 1922)
Directed by Sidney Olcott
Starring Joseph Depew and Helen Roland
10 year old Timothy (Joseph Depew) and his 4 year old sister Gay (Helen Roland) are orphans. They’re fundamentally good kids, but the slum they live in is in a rough and violent part of the city (Boston? New York? It doesn’t really matter — it’s the city). Their only ray of hope comes from Miss Dora, the “Angel of the Alley” (Gladys Leslie). She’s a social worker or something of that nature. Timothy’s entire world is confined to this slum and he knows nothing else. Dora suggests he make a “picture prayer”, which she describes as thinking about a wish long enough that the wish comes true. I think Oprah called it “The Secret”. Anyway, Timothy’s picture prayer is of a white house in the country where there lives a kindly lady who wants to adopt them.
The occasional money the kids received from some anonymous source has dried up and the two drunks who keep them have decided to give Gay to the Ladies’ Relief Home and send Timothy to the state orphanage. With no desire to be split up, Timothy, Gay, and their dog (Rags) slip away under cover of darkness and hop a north-bound freight train — trusting in the picture prayer to see them through.
The morning finds them overlooking a small cluster of houses built around a church nestled in the rolling hills of rural Maine. They continue on foot until they reach the envisioned house, although its owner is rather older than Timothy imagined, and of the several appellations that might be given her, “kindly” isn’t one of them. Avilda Cummins (Marie Day) dislikes the children from the start and wouldn’t have suffered them to stay a moment were it not for Samantha’s (Margaret Seddon) intervention. Samantha at some point in the distant past might have been termed a maid, but now “companion” is more fitting.
And so Timothy and Gay tentatively remain at White Farm. Everyone is enamored by them — everyone but Vilda. The boy reminds her “of something in the past”, she says, and she “can’t stand to have [him] about”. To cut to the chase, Timothy and Gay were her sister’s children. She had gotten “in trouble” and was run out of town. And Vilda is angry: angry at her sister Martha, angry at the “good orthodox Christians” who turned their backs when Martha needed them most, and angry at herself for not supporting her.
I’m from Maine. I know I’ve mentioned that on my book blog, but I don’t think it’s ever come up on this one. There are several films set in Maine, some pretty well known, but rarely were they actually filmed here. Way Down East (1920) didn’t get any nearer than Connecticut. At least that’s New England — Shadows (1922) was shot entirely in California. Timothy’s Quest (1922), the only production ever released by Dirigo Films, aside from being set in Maine was filmed here too. It was shot in and around Hollis, which is in the southern part of the state, not terribly far from Portland. It’s doubly interesting since most Maine films (silent and sound) focus on the coastal fishing and shipping centers rather than inland farming communities like Hollis. In fact, I can’t actually think of another example beyond Timothy’s Quest. I have to say, more than anything else, that’s what attracted me to the film when I saw it on Amazon. Maine is old and slow to change — for much of the state, 1922 is recent enough to be yesterday — and I hoped to see something familiar. I was not disappointed. The first view of town Timothy catches is, for the world, what I see going up route 4 on my way home. There’s nothing fake about the Maine of this film — it all rings perfectly true.
Aside from my delight at the setting, it’s all around a good film. There’s hardly a weak performance — Depew and Day turn in particularly strong work. You might notice that Vivia Ogden reprises her role from Way Down East as the town gossip. It’s a fun callback, and the character suits her well. If I had any complaints, it’s that the story may be stretched a little thin at seven reels. It wouldn’t lose anything were it tightened up a bit, notably in the back half.
I watched the recent Flicker Alley BD-R, which looks great aside from the mistimed tinting (the color changes consistently about half a second before the scene changes) and the tints maybe being a bit too strong. Although I rather think I have a 16mm print in my collection. If I do, I’ve never examined it and I’m not sure if it’s complete. If I remember after writing this, I must check.
My rating: I like it.
Available from Flicker Alley