Volume I: Narrative History


Chapter 3 (1910): St. Elmo and Onward

Concerning the second release, distributed on March 22, 1910, Edwin Thanhouser recalled later: Note

Our next film was a picturization of the well-known novel and play, Note St. Elmo. St. Elmo was having a New York run at the time, and our picture made an instantaneous hit. I only printed ten copies of St. Elmo to start in with, and sent them for the most part to the exchanges that had bought The Actor's Children. The fame of St. Elmo soon spread, and we had telegraphic orders for more prints, until I had disposed of 25. Then The Actor's Children began to find its own, and soon I had disposed of the ten copies that had been returned to me from my first attempt.... St. Elmo indicated that I was early in the game of making picturizations of novels and stage successes. Note

Frank H. Crane had the lead in this picture, while Anna Rosemond and Carey L. Hastings had other parts, as did Edwin Thanhouser's wife Gertrude. Note

The Morning Telegraph commented:

While the story is exactly as described by the manufacturer, yet not to discourage the good work of this new manufacturer, the story that he describes is told by the sub-titles in the film and not so much by the acting. If there would be fewer sub-titles in this film and more acting to show the development of the story it would be a creditable production. In the duel scene Edna is seen lurking around the scene of action as if she were an insane person wandering about, with no object in view. There is only one strong scene, and that is when the duel occurs. The action of the rest of the film is weak. There is no complaint to make about the story.

A reviewer in The Moving Picture World took an opposite view:

The second release of a new house and, unlike some producers, the second was better than the first. It is not what might be termed an engaging story which this firm undertook to present. The play is based upon Augusta Evans Wilson's novel of the same name. It is a religious novel and the dramatic company that has tried to play it has failed to satisfy in all places with one exception. Of course the film is an improvement over the spoken drama, since it is shortened and only the interesting scenes are retained. While the writer has no particular liking for either the story or the drama, he has no fault to find with the reproduction here. It is better than the drama because it eliminates much that is dreary and practically unnecessary to make the story comprehensible and leaves only the better and stronger scenes. The acting is sympathetic and the photographer has performed his part satisfactorily.

The New York Dramatic Mirror printed some observations:

This film adaptation of the popular novel or play of that name is told with remarkable clearness, considering the difficulty that many other producers have experienced in adaptations. However, it must be added that much of this cleverness is due to the numerous sub-titles which introduce nearly every scene. The acting is excellent, although not yet showing enough expressive feeling, which does not prevent the film from proving a notable one among the Independent releases.... In the duel scene the presence of Edna is too conspicuous to have logical appearance, and her approach when he is about to kill himself is not quite convincingly managed.

Continuing its one-film-a-week schedule, with releases each Tuesday, the Thanhouser Company next presented She's Done It Again, which The New York Dramatic Mirror characterized as "just what a moving picture comedy ought to be." Next came Daddy's Double, which, in addition to stock actor Frank H. Crane, featured two players borrowed from the stage, Isabelle Daintry and Fred Santley. Note

The following film, A 29-Cent Robbery, was released on Friday, April 15th. The change from Tuesday was made at the request of exhibitors. Note This picture was the first to feature Marie Eline, aged eight, who was seen in the role of a young girl whose bank is stolen by a robber. The police laugh when the parents file a complaint, so Marie goes to the station on her own and tells the story to the captain, who becomes so fascinated that he assigns several detectives to the case. They soon corral a lineup of suspects. However, Marie does not spot the offender among them, so she plays sleuth herself with good results. Since this subject was only about 750 feet in length, a comedy filler was appended, The Old Shoe Came Back, thus creating the first Thanhouser split-reel release.

Then came Her Battle for Existence, split with Sand Man's Cure, released on Friday, April 22nd, followed on April 29th by She Wanted to Marry a Hero, split with The Cigars His Wife Bought. The hero-seeking "she" was Anna Rosemond, who has a nice enough suitor, but he doesn't measure up to the dashing heroes of Laura Jean Libby novels so he is discarded in favor of a military man, athlete, horseman, and others in succession, all of whom prove to have clay feet, after which experiences she returns to ho-hum George, who, it turns out, is just fine after all. The Morning Telegraph pointed out an error: "The next time the actress jumps in the water and the fellow jumps in after her to save her life, let them come out wet. When they get out of the water in this film they are as dry as before they jumped in." However, this criticism was an exception, and nearly all reviews were encouraging and complimentary.

Friday, May 6, 1910, saw the release of Jane Eyre, a dramatization for the screen of the famous novel. Bert Adler, Thanhouser's publicity man, placed advertisements to drum up orders: Note

We are pleased to announce that we have completed our production of the world-famous Jane Eyre, that we have slated it for release on Friday, May 6, and that it will even be a bigger money-maker for the exhibitor and the exchange than the much talked-of St. Elmo of a month ago. Do you fully realize what this last means? We predict for Jane Eyre more success than attended our mighty successful St. Elmo! And you certainly know what a hit St. Elmo made!...

So when we say that Jane Eyre will beat St. Elmo as a money-maker, you ought to sit up and take notice! And you ought to make your preparations for handling a film that will mean much to the Independent cause, much to the exhibitor, much to you, and much to us. Our superfine production of Jane Eyre is by way of appreciation of the exhibitors' and exchanges' kindly expressed appreciation of the merits of St. Elmo. So please push Jane Eyre to the best of your ability - and watch results! Remember, we want this film judged by those results. If you can let us know what they are in your own territory, at the proper time, we would very much appreciate it.

Drawing upon advance publicity information sent by Bert Adler, The Moving Picture World in its April 30th issue noted:

The Thanhouser Company have completed their production of Jane Eyre and announce it for release on Friday May 6th. The subject is one of the most ambitious efforts made by an Independent manufacturer to date, and the Thanhouser people say that it will surpass their St. Elmo film of a month ago in that it has been produced under better studio conditions and should show the advantages accruing from improved facilities....

The New York Dramatic Mirror on May 7th said about the same thing:

Jane Eyre, which is to be released Friday of this week by the Thanhouser Company, will prove, it is confidently expected, the best release the Thanhouser people have yet made. Unusual pains were taken in its preparation, and with the experience this new firm is gaining in the production of motion pictures it may be that it will turn out a notable film of which any company might be proud.

Thanhouser's advertising and publicity produced results. After the film was seen by reviewers, the printed commentaries were, on balance, laudatory. For the first time, the Thanhouser Film Company had more orders than it could fill, and the laboratory had to work overtime to turn out extra prints. Later, Edwin Thanhouser was to mark Jane Eyre as the point in his motion picture career at which his company went from tentative to assured success.

The Morning Telegraph informed its readers:

The photography in the entire film is as good as any film ever shown; the story is told in a direct manner, with nothing which would weaken the story. Only in one section of the film was action lagging. That is when the uncle of Jane Eyre dies and the members of the family of the dead man do not show the proper emotion at their loss. Otherwise the subject is excellent.

The Moving Picture World had this to say:

The clever work of the latest American Independent manufacturer has been a subject of general comment.... The story is very clearly told and is acted with a degree of perfection that would do credit to many older concerns. All except one scene in particular, which is supposed to show us a fall from a horse. This could have been suggested far better than it has been reproduced, which looks simply like a clumsy dismount. But apart from this trivial blemish the film is very good. There is an ailment known as caput augmenti, which sometimes attacks grownups as well as precocious youngsters, and if more praise is bestowed on Mr. Thanhouser he may succumb to flattery and be satisfied with the progress that he has made. But, after all, there are many earmarks of inexperience in even his best work, and only time and careful attention to details will round out the quality of his product. This, we know, it is his ambition to do.

The New York Dramatic Mirror liked it as well:

This is the best thing the Thanhouser people have yet produced, showing that this young company is continuing to make steady progress towards film perfection. Any novel or play is difficult to arrange and produce in films, and Jane Eyre is probably as hard a job in this line as could have been selected. And yet the Thanhouser producers have presented it, clearly and intelligently, in a way that brings out the vital points of the story with admirable strength and feeling.... The acting is excellent. In one particular, however, it might be improved. The players make too much effort to keep faces to the front - so much so that they sometimes appear to be inattentive to the business at hand.

Jane Eyre was the first Thanhouser film for which an extensive listing of cast members was furnished to the press, an anomalous situation for it was not repeated until much later. Playing the role of Jane Eyre as a young girl was Marie Eline, while Gloria Gallop took the part of Georginia Reed, Frank H. Crane posed as Lord Rochester, Martin Faust was Uncle Reed, Charles Compton played John Reed, Amelia Barleon had the part of the insane Mrs. Rochester, and additional characters were portrayed by Irma Taylor, Alphonse Ethier, and William Garwood.

The last named actor, William Garwood, had been with Thanhouser since December 1909, as he later reminisced: Note

I started my picture career one Christmas. There was not much doing in the legitimate line and I disliked being idle, and the idea of acting for motion pictures was suggested to me. I hesitated a good deal but finally applied at the Thanhouser studios and was taken on at once. I was really very nervous over my first pictures; it all seemed so new, but when I realized the importance of this branch of the dramatic art and foresaw its immense possibilities and future, I made up my mind to concentrate all my attention and energy on making a hit on the screen, and I was soon playing leads.

The Best Man Wins, released on May 13th, featured Anna Rosemond in the role of a rich heiress, Martin Faust as a wealthy physician, Frank H. Crane as a poor lawyer, and little Marie Eline as the young daughter. "It is a good story well told," stated The Moving Picture World, while The New York Dramatic Mirror felt that it was "not particularly strong in plot" and although the acting was "intelligent and effective," it "can be improved by avoiding camera consciousness."

The following film, Cupid at the Circus, distributed on May 20th, featured scenes taken by special arrangement with Barnum & Bailey. Reviews were positive, and The Morning Telegraph advised readers that "This is a good clean story told in a pleasing manner; photography is also very good," while The New York Dramatic Mirror stated that "this company continues to produce pictures that are of commendable quality," and The Nickelodeon commented that "photography, staging and acting are up to their regular Thanhouser standard." Increasingly, reviewers were expecting quality productions from the New Rochelle studio.

Thanhouser films were achieving success with exhibitors as well, and a number of theatre owners wrote to the studio to that effect. From time to time Thanhouser Company advertisements reproduced such comments, as in The Moving Picture World, May 21, 1910:

We have run all of your releases to date and have been tickled to death with the whole bunch. Your last three are right up to the notch as far as costuming and everything else is concerned. Your development is A-1, and is, in fact, better than lots of stuff that's been out years, instead of months; and as manager of the Royal I want every Thanhouser that is released. I am featuring Thanhousers and Imps and am giving just as much attention to you as the other, because they are both first class. I'll push your films to the limit here in Marion. - Miss Dolly Spurr, treasurer, Royal Theatre, Marion, Indiana.


Copyright © 1995 Q. David Bowers. All Rights Reserved.