Monthly Archives: April 2013
Ethel Kirby (Edith Storey) is a New York actress on vacation in Texas. On the train to Lariat, she meets Florence Halley, who’s also on her way to Lariat to visit her aunt (Eleanor Blanchard). Halley had often lamented to her aunt how the days of the Wild West were over and the cowboys had been tamed, so as a surprise, her aunt has arranged a little reenactment of the old days for her return. The ranch foreman (Francis Ford) has organized his ranch hands into a posse and intends on kidnapping Halley from the stagecoach, but they mistakenly take Kirby instead. Kirby is locked in a barn and at first believes she’s actually being held hostage, but then she overhears the ranchers talking about how well the show is going and realizes that it’s all an act. She decides not only to play along, but to use her superior acting skills to outfox her pretended captors.
The premise, that of a civilized, modern West play-acting its wilder past, would become a very common trope in the later 1910s (there’s even an episode of The Perils of Pauline (1914) that starts out with exactly the same faux-kidnapping setup seen here), but When the Tables Turned (1911) is certainly the earliest film example I know of it.
Edith Storey, as always, is excellent in her performance. She’s a remarkably versatile actress, quite capable of playing one role, then taking on another with entirely opposing characteristics, and managing to portray both with equal conviction and believability. It’s a quality essential to making Kirby work here, as she has to go from a damsel in distress to an apparent madwoman to what I can only describe as a vindictive puppetmaster in the span of a few minutes. A lesser actress I don’t think could pull it off at all, much less make it seem as natural as Storey does.
I enjoyed the film and would recommend it.
My rating: I like it.
Available (sometimes) from Texas Guinan
Mr. Bird (Charles De Forrest) has to go away on a business trip for a few days. As it’s the maid’s vacation, Mrs. Bird (Vivian Prescott) decides to visit her mother rather than stay in the house alone. Mr. Bird’s trip is cut short and he returns a day earlier than expected. Mrs. Bird also comes home early, not minutes after her husband let himself in. Mrs. Bird hears someone moving around in the kitchen, and as the house is supposed to be empty, she assumes it’s a burglar and runs upstairs to get her gun. Mr. Bird hears someone rifling through the bedroom drawers, and since he knows his wife is out, he concludes it must be a burglar. He arms himself with a butcher knife and slowly climbs the stairs.
It’s a well-worn plot and A Pair of Birds (1914) doesn’t do much new with it. De Forrest didn’t impress me. His acting is nothing more than alternately looking surprised and then mugging for the camera. I did like the character of Mrs. Bird. She’s always on the offensive and her trigger-happy antics were worth a chuckle. All in all, it wasn’t a bad film, but there’s nothing memorable about it and little to recommend it.
I bought this film, little more than a week ago, for two reasons: The first and foremost reason was that it’s nitrate and I buy all the nitrate offered me that I can fool myself into thinking I can afford. The second reason was that it’s from Crystal Films and looked to be from around 1914, which meant it had to star one of two comedy duos: Pearl White and Chester Barnett, or Charles De Forrest and Vivian Prescott. I was hoping it was White and Barnett, because that would take me one step closer to completing my collection of all of White’s surviving films, but I’m not disappointed that it turned out to be De Forrest and Prescott. I like the lesser knowns, and compared to Pearl White, Charlie and Vivian are entirely forgotten.
My rating: Meh.