When the Tables Turned (Star Film, 1911)
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