Category Archives: Meh

William Tells (FBO, 1924)

William Tells (FBO, 1924)
Directed by Malcolm St. Clair
Starring Alberta Vaughn

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’m only aware of one other extant episode — episode four, Sherlock’s Home, survives on 16mm.

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.

An Accidental Champion (Educational, 1920) (?)

an-accidental-champion-screenshot-1An Accidental Champion (?) (Educational?, 1920?)
Starring Jimmie Adams

I have no memory at all of buying this film. I must have — it arrived a few days ago, it’s in my eBay history — but I honestly do not recall even looking at the listing. My only guess is that I must have been sleepwalking. And I say all that because I don’t know why I would buy it. It’s a 9.5mm film called An Accidental Champion, which of course is just a Pathescope re-title. What it’s actually supposed to be is the 1922 Hall Room Boys short High and Dry, and unless it was going for cheap, that really wouldn’t interest me.

Maybe my unconscious mind saw that something was up before I did when the picture first flashed on the screen and I didn’t see the Hall Room Boys. This is a Jimmie Adams film, although I’m not sure which. There are some clues I intend to follow up on, but for now I’ll be content with calling it An Accidental Champion, circa 1920.

Jimmie (Jimmie Adams) is down on his luck. A companion in his troubles is a stray hound (Buddy the Dog), who helps Jimmie steal food from street vendors. Buddy runs off with ten yards of sausage from a hot dog man who, unfortunately, also happens to be a dog catcher. A chase ensues which leads to the beach, where a pole-vaulting competition is being held. Jimmie, in his flight, accidentally wins.

an-accidental-champion-screenshot-2Champion Jimmie catches the attention of Lilian, the Mayor’s daughter, and he soon finds himself a welcome guest at the mayoral mansion. Joey Springer is not terribly pleased with these developments, what with him being in love with Lilian himself. The maid, Melba Marblehead, is also jealous — she has her eye on Jimmie.

In the garden one afternoon, Jimmie and Joey sit at either side of Lilian. Under the table, they both take what they assume is her hand. Joey slides an engagement ring onto a finger, but it isn’t one of the girl’s. Jimmy takes his new ring and gives it to Lilian, who is greatly pleased.

Just before the wedding, Melba sees her chance. She locks Lilian in the closet and puts on the gown herself, pulling the veil down so that no one is the wiser. Joey, meanwhile, has reached a new level of desperation. He bursts into the wedding ceremony with two guns drawn and demands that the preacher marry him to the bride.

Just after Joey has carried away his new wife, Lilian breaks out and the real wedding proceeds.

The first half of the film, with Jimmie and the dog, is much stronger than the second. an-accidental-champion-screenshot-3Neither act is about to win a prize for originality, but I enjoyed the dog antics and Jimmie’s acrobatics during the chase. The love-quadraleteral of the second half is comparatively dull, and while the boardwalk and beach scenes were plainly filmed at some real location, the mayoral mansion is a set that falls very short of being convincing. An Accidental Champion is a film that starts with promise but ends with a fizzle.

My rating: Meh.

I’m working on two films now: Somebody Lied (1917) and Lady Godiva (1911). I don’t know which will be released first, but it’s looking like Lied at the moment. After that will be an HD remaster of an old title, then I think I’m going to go ahead and transfer Pioneer Trails (1923) and maybe score it as well, just for me personally. Pioneer Trails is one of several “lost” films that I have a print of but can’t do anything with as it’s still under copyright. Assuming U.S. copyrights aren’t extended again — which is a big assumption — I can’t publicly release it until September 14th, 2018.

The Dancer (American, 1916)

the-dancer-screenshot-1The Dancer (American, 1916)
Directed by Carl M. Leviness
Starring King Clark and Vivian Rich

Farmer boy Johnny Madden (King Clark) travels to the city and falls in love with Capella (Vivian Rich), a dancer at a musical review. The two are soon wed and rather happily so. Johnny’s mother, Mrs. Madden (Louise Lester), is heartbroken both at her beloved son flying the nest and that the wife he’s flown to is “a common actress” and not a respectable woman… like, say, Daisy Brown (Marguerite Nichols).

Daisy is their neighbor and Mrs. Madden has long considered her and her son’s engagement a forgone conclusion, despite Johnny making no bones about how little he cares for the vain and self-centered girl. Unbeknownst to Johnny, his mother begins putting the screws to Capella, pressuring her to leave her husband so that he’ll come back to the farm and Daisy. And eventually Capella relents: Johnny returns home one day to find his wife gone and a letter urging him to “go to the farm and your mother and forget”.

the-dancer-screenshot-2He does go back to the farm, but he doesn’t forget. Daisy abandons whatever hopes she still held for winning Johnny and Mrs. Madden, seeing what she’s done to her son, realizes that her actions were not, as she had believed, “for the best”. It comes to a head when Johnny discovers the letter Capella sent his mother, when she conceded defeat and agreed to leave. Mrs. Madden begs her son’s forgiveness and shows him Capella’s most recent letter, in which she says that she’s fallen ill and desperately wants to see Johnny.

“Out of the shadow”. Mother and son both rush to the hospital and Capella’s side. Her illness turns out to be pregnancy. Mrs. Madden kisses Capella as she holds her new grandchild.

The story, of course, is just a modern-day retelling of La Dame aux Camélias given a happy ending. There are shades of Sawdust and Salome as well, but then you wouldn’t be wrong in saying Sawdust itself is just a looser adaptation of Camélias.

the-dancer-screenshot-3Nearly all of the American films I’ve seen have been from the heyday of the company’s early years and I was interested to see how well they kept up with the rapid changes in the film industry. The Dancer is a late American production (quite late — the company would be out of business not a year after its release), but aside from a few interesting close shots here and there, you really wouldn’t know it. Their cinematographic style in 1916 seems not to have changed all that much from what it had been five or six years earlier. Not that I’m surprised; with the singular exception of Vitagraph, none of the pioneers lived to see the end of the 1910s. American wasn’t a pioneer, but it did get in the game early enough to calcify before the war and the dissolution of the Patents Trust completely upset how movies were made and distributed in the US. I brought up Sawdust and Salome earlier because, despite The Dancer coming out two years after that film, it feels more primitive in comparison.

That said, the film isn’t that bad for what it is. Unless you’ve somehow managed to avoid every single take on this story for the last 168 years, you can predict the exact course of the picture from frame one, but again, as adaptations go, it isn’t that bad.

My rating: Meh.

 

And now, a sneak preview of our upcoming video. We’ve released the title before, but this isn’t simply an HD remaster — it’s from a new print entirely different from the version in common circulation. That’s your hint.

The Little Country Mouse (Majestic, 1914)

The Little Country Mouse screenshot 1The Little Country Mouse (Majestic, 1914)
Directed by Donald Crisp
Starring Blanche Sweet

Mabel (Mary Alden) invites her cousin May (Blanche Sweet) to a house party. May is a shy country girl and a weekend in the big city with her flashy cousin is an exciting prospect.

It’s love at first sight for Lieutenant Deering (Wallace Reid) when May steps out of the car. Captain Stiles (R.A. Walsh) has a baser attraction to the naïve girl. All the guests, save Deering, sit down for a game of cards. It isn’t until Mabel presents May with a $250 bill that she realizes they were gambling. “Why, I didn’t know it was for money!” she exclaims.

Stiles, “the wealthy roue”, sees his chance. He offers to loan May the money, which she’s in no position to reject. Deering, watching from another room, sees Stiles handThe Little Country Mouse screenshot 2 May a check and assumes that she must have been the winner. I think he disapproves? Maybe? Since he sat out the game, it would make sense that he didn’t care for gamblers, but the film doesn’t make this clear and the situation is diffused immediately when Deering confronts Stiles and learns that he loaned May $250.

Of course, the Captain’s loan did not come without an expectation of repayment. The next day, when May is out walking her dog, Stiles corners her and tries to force a kiss. Deering intercedes. Stiles, his money not having bought him what he wanted, demands a refund. Deering talks to Mabel, who agrees to forgive May’s debt. Deering takes the check back to Stiles and tears it up in front of him.

The party ends and everyone departs. Later, “the country mouse” back “in her home nest”, is visited by Lieutenant Deering. Her father leaves them to make moon eyes at each other, safely chaperoned by the dog.

The Little Country Mouse screenshot 3I feel my summary doesn’t adequately reflect the experience of watching The Little Country Mouse (1914). This is a film that exists almost entirely by inference. It isn’t like The Secret of the Palm — the story isn’t incomprehensible; it’s that there really isn’t any story. If I were to summarize what actually happens on screen, it would be: a girl goes to a party, loses a card game, then goes home. Everything else is left for the audience to deduce from vague clues and from knowing how these sort of stories usually go.

I wouldn’t say it’s a bad film. In an odd way, I actually kind of liked it. It’s the sort of film that requires the active participation of the viewer, and in a very literal way, it’s only as good or bad as you imagine it to be.

My rating: Meh.

Mickey’s Movies (FBO, 1928)

Mickeys Movies screenshot 1Mickey’s Movies (FBO, 1928)
Directed by Earl Montgomery
Starring Mickey Rooney

Back when Mickey Rooney died, I intended to watch Mickey’s Movies (1928). I knew I had a nice print of the film, but when I went to find it, it simply wasn’t there. That was the point I realized the film collection had grown too large to remain unorganized and uncatalogued (at that point, it was something like 450 titles). It spurred me to smarten-up in that regard, but even after systematically going through every reel, Mickey’s Movies continued to elude me. It wasn’t until about six weeks ago that it reappeared. It wasn’t hiding anywhere unusual — it was just mixed in among some other 16mm two-reelers — and for the life of me, I can’t explain how it escaped noticed for so long.

I’ve said before about the two reel comedies that Educational put out, that they’re really one reel of actual story and another of pure filler. Mickey’s Movies is quite similar in that regard, but it at least makes some effort to mix the two together.

The Mickey McGuire series was one of the countless Our Gang rip-offs floating around in the late ‘20s. Its star, Mickey McGuire (Mickey Rooney), is the leader of a gang of poor kids who get into various comic scrapes.

Mickeys Movies screenshot 2Mickey’s Movies begins with a nigh-incomprehensible jumble of scenes that veer wildly from building a clubhouse to fishing to some kind of kid-run carnival to puppies chasing chickens. In isolation, all the components more or less make sense, but don’t ask me to explain how one relates to another. About five minutes in, we arrive at the meat of the film:

Mickey and the gang stumble upon a movie shoot. The Superba Film Company are taking a western scene, the villain and the hero are fighting, and the director — Mr. Von Sonatime — is not having it. “Rotten!! Terrible!! Awful!!” he screams as he throws his hat to the ground. A PA follows him with a steady supply of fresh hats.

Superba seems to have requisitioned the Scorpion Club (the Mickey gang’s hideout) as a dressing room. This will not do. Mickey sets the guard dog on the film company and chases them into the lake. After appointing himself as the new director, Mickey begins shooting the film himself, adopting the same mannerisms of Von Sonatime, including hat-tossing.

After a good ten minutes of well-plotted action, the film begins to dip back into random nonsense, but at least now it’s all thematically connected to filmmaking. Little Chocolate (Hannah Washington), Mickey’s right-hand gal, has been assigned to hat duty. As Mickey goes through more and more hats, she has to find some way of keeping Mickeys Movies screenshot 3up. At the end, she’s got a hat Gatling gun from somewhere that buries Mickey in hats and brings the film to a close.

If edited down to one reel, I would whole-heartedly recommend Mickey’s Movies. I don’t, as a rule, go in for kid comedies, but this one at least was cute and entertaining. But the random additional footage mixed in really drags it down. If, from market demands, you simply had to pad it out to two reels, I think I prefer Educational’s method of front-loading all the filler in the first reel and letting the second reel stand on its own.

When I pulled up this film’s IMDb page, I saw that it got a review from the late, great F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre. MacIntyre was a divisive figure. His shtick was to find lost films (or what he thought were lost films) on IMDb and write reviews of them, claiming to have seen them through various secret and slightly nefarious channels. His reviews, in reality, were based on contemporary plot synopses, publicity stills, and his own healthy imagination. Some saw him as nothing more than a liar, while others appreciated his work as a kind of performance art. I liked him, but I suppose it helps that I always knew it was pretend. A deeply disturbed person in real life, but that’s neither here nor there.

Anyway, Mickey’s Movies

My rating: Meh.

The Roaring Road (Paramount, 1919)

The Roaring Road screenshot 1The Roaring Road (Paramount, 1919)
Directed by James Cruze
Starring Wallace Reid

Toodles Walden (Wallace Reid) is a sales agent at Darco Motors but he aspires to being a racecar driver. His boss, J.D. Ward (Theodore Roberts), won’t give him a break. When a shipment of Darco racers are destroyed in a trainwreck, Toodles and his mechanic friend (Guy Oliver) buy the scrap pieces and assemble a Frankenstein Darco that they enter in the race themselves. Toodles wins, which pleases J.D., but not enough that he’ll consent to Toodles marrying his daughter (Ann Little).

Toodles gets into a bit of a funk, which he works through by secretly trying to beat the San Francisco-Los Angeles speed record — currently held by Darco’s arch nemesis, Rexton. As the window for beating the record closes, it becomes imperative that Toodles succeeds, or else Darco will be the laughing stock of Gasoline Row. To provide some motivation, J.D. lets it slip that he intends to take his daughter back east for a year — they leave on the eight o’clock train tonight. If Toodles hopes to see her, he’ll have to beat the train — and the record.

The Roaring Road screenshot 2Between the two racing set pieces, there’s really not much to this film. The love story angle is slight and the Darco-Rexton rivalry is slighter still — it’s literally nothing more than a couple throw-away lines. In this genre, though, that wouldn’t matter at all if the racing sequences landed.

The second one does. Toodles is speeding through town and countryside over good and bad roads, which provides variety. The race is also mostly at night, with some interesting light effects. The train lends a sense of urgency, particularly when the tracks and the road briefly run side-by-side and Toodles has to beat the train to the crossing. Given that Toodles is such a static character, we wisely cut back and forth between the car and the train, to see the increasing excitement of the passengers and J.D.’s growing approval. I should say now, Wallace Reid might be first billed, but Theodore Roberts is the real star of the film. Roberts is an enormous character that completely overshadows Reid whenever they share the stage.

The first race… it’s so boring. I don’t suppose there are that many ways to shoot a car speeding around an oval track, but there surely must be more than the handful of angles we get here. They just go round and round for ten long minutes. And the cars themselves are so nondescript, if it weren’t for periodically cutting back to the scoreboard, you’d have no idea who was winning. Even J.D. doesn’t do much to buoy the excitement. It isn’t until the race is over and Toodles has won that he stops sulkily chomping on his cigar.

The Roaring Road screenshot 3The Roaring Road isn’t Reid’s only racing film. He did several — indeed, he was particularly known for them. Roaring Road was released in 1919, which was the same year that Reid was involved in a trainwreck. It left him pretty banged-up and in considerable pain. To keep working, he was kept pumped full of morphine on set — leading to his becoming addicted to it. I don’t know if Roaring Road came before or after that, but it would explain his acting.

Theodore Roberts is excellent, but it’s never a good sign when a supporting character consistently and thoroughly upstages your lead. The San Francisco-Los Angeles race is exciting and well photographed, but it’s the last reel in a five reel picture. It rarely feels interminable, but the movie does drag for much of its runtime. I know why they didn’t — in 1919, the shorts market had all but dried up — but with such a threadbare story, they should have just jettisoned all the padding and fluff and released a two-reeler.

I’m not sure. I certainly don’t “like it”, but I think that — if taken in parts — there are enough good bits to elevate it out of “don’t like it”.

My rating: Meh.

Hoot Mon! (Educational, 1926)

Hoot Mon screenhot 1Hoot Mon! (Educational, 1926)
Directed by Harold Beaudine
Starring Bobby Vernon

Are you familiar with the stereotype that the Scottish are stingy? That’s Hoot Mon! (1926).

To elaborate a bit more, Bobby (Bobby Vernon) is a car salesman in Scotland — or rather, he’s an attempted car salesman, given that he’s yet to sell a single car.

While driving down the road, he upsets Sandy McTarnish’s (Jack Duffy) horse, knocking the Scotsman off his buggy and into an open well. Thus begins the undying feud between Bobby and Clan McTarnish.

Later, he incurs the wrath of McRuff (William Irving) by flirting with McTarnish’s daughter (Frances Lee) — who we’re told is a prime example of “what a fine Scotch should look like” (like Broken China (1926), Hoot Mon! is very punny with its titles). McRuff fixes him for stealing his lassie by cutting both the brakes and steering of his car. Bobby careens through the countryside until he crashes into McTarnish’s castle — knocking McTarnish into the fireplace in the process. Ever the optimist, Bobby then tries to sell him the car, but is chased out.

The McRuffs and the McTarnishes are also feuding, which gives McRuff an idea for getting rid of Bobby. He gives Bobby a set of McRuff plaid and a bagpipe, telling him that McTarnish will “fall right on [his] neck” when he sees him. Bobby returns to the castle and blows into the bagpipe, which McRuff has loaded with ash. The soot shoots straight into McTarnish’s eyes.

Hoot Mon screenhot 2“The McRuff Clan has blackened the McTarnish Clan’s honor — I mean face!” Sandy cries to his fellow McTarnishes, who take up their swords in revenge. The McRuffs are ready to meet the challenge and a pitched battle ensues, much to Bobby’s chagrin, as he’s sure this will hamper the sale of his car. Then a sure-fire way to settle the matter dawns on him: he pulls out a nickel and tosses it on the floor. The McRuffs all drop their swords and scramble for it. McRuff himself takes the bait, and as he leans over, Bobby knocks him out with the hilt of his sword.

“That sight is worth a thousand dollars to me!” McTarnish says. $500 will do, Bobby replies, handing him the contract for the car. Daughter McTarnish reappears and Bobby resumes flirting with her. McTarnish tears up the contract: “Now that it looks like you’re going to be in the family, I won’t need a car — we can use yours!”

There are actually a great deal more cheapskate Scottish jokes — they make up the majority of the film, I’ve just glossed over most of them. I’ll grant that it’s nowhere near Broken China’s level of offensiveness and that it could have been much, much worse. Some of the jokes are even a bit funny, like when Bobby declares to a group of Scotsmen that all the car’s accessories are free and then they push him aside and proceed to take them. Also, despite being half the length of Broken China, Hoot Mon! manages to present a story that’s more than just an extended chase sequence. But I think Hoot Mon! only shines in comparison; I don’t think it’s that I like Hoot Mon! so much as it is that I hate Broken China. That’s reinforced by All Jazzed Up (1920), the third Bobby Vernon film I watched that night, which I found to be a quite good, if dark, short comedy. I can’t help but like Bobby Vernon, though. He plays nebbish so well — I would even venture to say that he plays it better than Harold Lloyd.

My rating: Meh.

The Hallroom Girls (Crystal, 1913)

The Hallroom Girls screenshotThe Hallroom Girls (Crystal, 1913)
Directed by Phillips Smalley
Starring Pearl White and Chester Barnett

Pearl (Pearl White) and Katie (Vivian Prescott?) share a cheap studio apartment. Between them, they have one decent dress. Likewise, roommates Chester (Chester Barnett) and Shorty Smith (Baldy Belmont) have but a single good suit. A ball is being held, to which Chester invites Pearl and Shorty invites Katie… and I think by now you know exactly what happens next. It ends with fights breaking out between both parties that leave the clothes ruined.

As hoary a plot as it is in sitcoms today, so it was in 1913 as well. That said, even if no one would accuse it of bringing anything new to the table, The Hallroom Girls isn’t badly put together. At least the arc makes logical sense, it isn’t needlessly padded out, and the ending follows from the beginning — which puts it above most of the other Crystal shorts I watched.

Calling it the best of the bunch isn’t exactly a recommendation, though. Comedy lives or dies by being funny, and as predictable as this film is, there’s not much to laugh at.

My rating: Meh.

Lost in the Night (Crystal, 1913)

Lost in the Night screenshot 1Lost in the Night (Crystal, 1913)
Directed by Phillips Smalley
Starring Pearl White and Chester Barnett

On the way to deliver a diamond and sapphire necklace to rich Mrs. H.B. Collingwood, Dick Halstead stops over at his friend Tom Barry’s (Chester Barnett) house to meet his new wife Pearl (Pearl White). Tom deposits the necklace in his bedroom safe and the three go downstairs to dinner. It comes out in conversation that the necklace is worth $6,200. While Tom and Dick are smoking, Pearl slips back upstairs to try it on.

She’s interrupted when she hears Tom on the steps and quickly puts it back. That night, however, with her “sub-conscious mind” focused on the necklace, she sleepwalks to the safe, withdraws the necklace, takes it into the backyard, and slips it in the hollow of a tree.

In the morning, the necklace is found missing. A detective is called, the maid is strongly suspected, but in the end — no necklace. Tom pledges to pay for it, which means mortgaging the house. A year later, we find Tom writing to John Baring, begging for a loan to stave off eminent foreclosure. (Who is John Baring? No idea). That night, Pearl sleepwalks again. She returns to the tree and finds the necklace where she dropped it. Tom discovers her with it and startles her awake. She’s evidently unaware of how she came to have it, and Tom seems very angry.

Lost in the Night screenshot 2There’s the germ of a story here, but it needed more working out. It makes sense that, if Pearl were interrupted while trying on the necklace, she might later try it on again in her sleep, but nothing prompts her then hiding it in a tree. I believe they were trying to foreshadow something in an earlier scene when Pearl and the maid were making room in the safe by moving some silverware into a hutch, but if there is some connection intended, it’s way too vague to work. And I could see it taking another crisis for Pearl’s subconscious to return to the necklace, but again, there’s no adequate parallel established in the waking-world that would explain Pearl’s dream actions.

Dick is a non-entity whose only purpose is to introduce the necklace and disappear directly afterward, which I don’t suppose is too much of a problem since the time constraints of a single reel mean details must be limited, but at the same time, the film isn’t shy of wasting time on other details of no consequence — like the entire detective subplot or the bank scene.

I suppose it might be a bit hypocritical of me right after saying that A Night in Town (1913) would have benefited from a more open ending, but I think Lost in the Night (1913) is a bit too open. What happens next? Is the foreclosure averted? (Recovering the necklace doesn’t necessarily mean recovering its value, especially since a year’s passed and the original buyer has been compensated.) Do Tom and Pearl reconcile? (From the last scene, I wouldn’t bet on it.) For that matter, is Pearl accused of stealing the necklace?

There is something here, I won’t deny that, but it’s too half-baked to recommend.

My rating: Meh.

Lady Godiva (Vitagraph, 1911)

LadLady Godiva ady Godiva (Vitagraph, 1911)
Directed by J. Stuart Blackton
Starring Julia Swayne Gordon

Like The Victoria Cross (1912), which I’ve written about before, Lady Godiva (1911) is another example of that short-lived genre known at Vitagraph as the Quality Film. Elsewhere, they were termed variously De-Luxe Films or High-Art Films, but we might allow Vitagraph naming rights as they were the chief producers of the genre. Also like The Victoria Cross, Lady Godiva is based on two culturally revered subjects: history (or at least legend) and poetry (Tennyson in both films).

Lady Godiva (Julia Swayne Gordon) is the wife of Earl Leofric (Robert Gaillard), who has imposed a ruinous new tax on his townspeople that threatens to drive them to starvation. She begs he lift the tax, but the Earl’s heart is “as rough as Esau’s hand” and he’ll only agree to do so on the condition that she ride naked through town.

Warned by a herald of her approach, all the townspeople go inside and shut their windows, except for “one low churl” (Harold Wilson) who watches through a peephole. As she passes, he’s blinded by the sight — “his eyes were shrivell’d into darkness”.

The task complete, she returns to the Earl, who repeals the tax, and so Lady Godiva’s fame becomes “everlasting”.

All of the titles are “quotes” from Tennyson’s poem Godiva. I scare-quote the word because, while the text is presented as direct excerpts, it’s awfully mangled. That’s not at all unexpected. The target audience for Quality Films was not well educated and probably didn’t have a firm grasp of English. They may know of Shakespeare or Tennyson, but it’s highly unlikely that they ever read either. Their familiarity with the great English poets came mostly from places like postcards illustrating famous lines, which were often condensed for space and modified to be both more stand-alone and also to be more marketable — to be able to serve as an advertisement for some product or other. For the Quality Film producers, when the choice came down to a quote that’s right or a quote that’s familiar, one always erred on the side of familiarity. There are some common misquotes persisting today that, while they didn’t originate in early film, early film helped to cement in popular culture — lines like “Alas, poor Yorick, I knew him well”.

Lady Godiva screenshotThe set is the same Ye Olde England lot that can be seen in several Vitagraph films from this period, consisting of three half-timbered building façades and a painted backdrop. They vary the angles and move around the set dressing from scene to scene to make it appear larger than it is. There’s attention to detail shown in matching the painted shadows to the actual ones, and in keeping the actors from casting shadows on the backdrop. I don’t recognize the castle (or the gate of the castle, rather — that’s all we see). It may have been built specially. I count about sixteen extras, which reasonably fills out the crowd scenes. One of them is Kate Price, who’s pretty easy to spot. Clara Kimball Young is apparently in there, too, but I couldn’t pinpoint her.

The nude ride is as absolutely sexless as can be, and not only because of the bodystocking and strategically placed hair. Julia Swayne Gordon plays Godiva as you might a saint. But the moral of the story is to not be a Peeping Tom — indeed, the Lady Godiva legend is the origin of the term Peeping Tom. You might recognize Tom — or Harold Wilson — as Silverstein from The Awakening of Bianca (1912). His performance here is kind of the same, only now his handwringing is meant to suggest lasciviousness, and in Bianca, it was meant to look Jewish.

Quality Films are interesting in an abstract, film history kind of way, but can often be on the dull side. The Victoria Cross had the saving grace of an exciting battle scene and the novel conceit of the binoculars, which served the practical purpose of masking the small number of extras, but also looked cool and gave Edith Storey some welcome screentime. In comparison, Lady Godiva doesn’t have much going for it. I didn’t dislike it, but it’s just sort there and it feels all its length.

My rating: Meh.