Juggernauting, Part 2

The Juggernaut reel 2 screenshot 1Juggernauting
Part 2

Continuing the disorganized musings on The Juggernaut (1915) I began in Part 1:

There are three different descriptions of the film’s ending: there’s the downer ending, in which Louise dies; there’s the long happy ending, in which Louise slips into a coma and is hospitalized but eventually recovers; and there’s the short happy ending, in which Louise briefly loses consciousness but wakes up moments after being dragged ashore.

It’s almost certain that the New York premiere had the downer ending. The synopses provided by the producers to trade magazines didn’t always correspond in every detail to what was actually released, but the downer ending as described is well attested by contemporary reviews. The other two endings — those are more questionable.

The long happy ending is the one the novelization in Motion Picture Magazine uses. Now, as was the case for all of their novelizations, this was written well before the film was actually completed (perhaps before filming even began) so that it could be released concurrently. It was more or less loosely based on the script, rearranging things and adding more dialogue to make it a better read. It could be that the long happy ending never existed outside of this novelization — except for the fact that it’s alluded to in some reviews of the film. It’s my assumption that the long happy ending did exist and that both it and the downer ending played at the same time in different markets (urban/rural? domestic/international?).

Of the three, the short happy ending is the least attested. Indeed, I haven’t actually seen any reviews that reference it at all. I’d be more tempted to doubt its existence, if it weren’t for the fact that it’s the only one that survives.

The Juggernaut reel 2 screenshot 2Every print that exists today of what’s ostensibly the fifth and final reel of The Juggernaut originates from the same nitrate source — that’s quite clear from the identical decomp visible in the pre-print. I say “ostensibly” because, while I don’t deny that it’s the last reel, I don’t think it’s the fifth reel. I think the footage that survives comes from either the 1917 or the 1920 re-release versions, which were shortened to four reels and may have been edited in other ways as well… say, a new ending. It does show some evidence of condensing — at the start, we see the tail end of the trial scene, which should have been contained entirely in reel four. There are also a number of shots that seem to be abbreviated. The shot when then car pulls up to the dock, for example, is something like 15 frames long and cuts just as the car door begins to open. Without slowing it down, it’s impossible to even tell what’s going on. While I imagine this was always a quick shot, I suspect it originally showed more of the car’s approach and the two men actually getting out of it, which would establish continuity for the next shot.

The reviews of the long happy ending are critical of it needlessly prolonging the film beyond the climax instead of going out while the audience was still hot. It’s my theory that, if this footage is from a re-release, then it shows that the producers heeded the critics’ opinion and the short happy ending was created as a response. And it would explain the general absence of the short happy ending from reviews. When they existed at all, reviews were quite cursory for re-released films that had already been reviewed at length during their original run.

Assuming I’m right, then the question is was the short happy ending assembled from footage that had already been shot or was it filmed later? I can’t say, other than, given the editing, it’s quite possible that some time had elapsed between the shot of John pulling Louise out of the boat and the shot of him laying her on the ground. The background extras don’t appear to carry over between those two shots. The only featured players in the final scene are Earle Williams and Anita Stewart. Williams was still with Vitagraph in 1920. Stewart was not, but she was in 1917. Was the short happy ending filmed in 1917 for the that year’s re-release?

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Posted on June 23, 2015, in Juggernauting and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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