Volume I: Narrative History


Chapter 3 (1910): An Overdose of Brandy

Home Made Mince Pie, a comedy released on September 27th, told of the Gale family getting ready for their minister and his wife, who were coming for dinner. Highlight of the event was to be the mince pie, and to be sure it was flavored just right, papa added a generous proportion of brandy. Mama Gale had the same idea, and, unaware of papa's activity, added a further good measure of the stuff, as did in sequence daughter Gale, the cook, and the maid. When all was said and done, the potent mincemeat pie felled not only the members of the Gale family and their servants and guests, but also the family cat. The comedy, however, was lost on Walton, who in The Moving Picture News stated bluntly that "true humor does not emanate from cognac," while The Moving Picture World felt that it was "padded" and was not worth 20 minutes [sic] of film time.

Dots and Dashes, released on September 30th, is memorable for the fact that the characters Jack and May are used for the first time. It developed that Lloyd F. Lonergan, who wrote the scenario, liked these names, and during the years to come used them again and again. One can imagine that it must have become a studio joke to decide who was to play Jack and who was to play May. In actuality, names such as Jack and May were used in printed synopses to keep track of who was who, but such names were usually not mentioned in the film's subtitles. Patrons watching the picture in a theatre had not the foggiest idea whether the hero was named Jack, Bertram, or Ezekiel.

The story tells of Jack, the head bookkeeper of a brokerage firm, who discovers the defalcations of a fellow employee. He pushes Jack into a safe as he leans near it, and slams the door shut. May, his sweetheart, expects to go to the theatre with him that evening, and when he does not appear, she goes to his office to see if he is working late. Hearing muffled groans from inside the safe, she realizes that Jack is entombed within and is on the verge of suffocation. But, thank heaven, as a hobby the pair had been practicing the Morse Code earlier, and now Jack taps dots and dashes on the vault wall, relaying the combination to May, who frees him. Later, the dishonest employee creeps back to the office to open the safe to see the fatal result of his dastardly deed. A reviewer in The Moving Picture World told of an interesting twist and a bit of Edwin Thanhouser's droll humor:

It is quite easy to imagine the yell of surprise from the audience when the police come out of the vault instead of Jack and nab the defaulter, who has returned, conscience-stricken, to the scene of his crime. He wants to see if his victim is still alive. Those of us who saw it were wondering where the cops were all the time. We asked Mr. Thanhouser where they were and he said he guessed he had forgotten about them. A moment later when the defaulter opened the vault, the police stepped out of it and arrested him, and the laugh was on us.

Leon of the Table d'Hote, released on October 4th, told of a waiter in a cheap restaurant whose stated love is the fat cashier, Rosa. Seeking a change of pace, Leon goes on vacation to a seaside resort, where he poses as a nobleman and attracts a winsome young heiress, but his further plans are thwarted when Rosa comes to the resort and drags the errant Leon off by his ear. Thanhouser publicist Bert Adler thought the film was so hilarious that he prepared an advertisement stating, in part: "One of the funniest characters that ever frolicked through 1,000 feet of film. You'll wish it were 2,000 when you see him." However, a reviewer for The Moving Picture World had no such wish: "The film is too long. Comedy of this character can seldom be carried through an entire reel successfully." The same writer also described the film as "a rather attenuated comedy dealing with a waiter who posed as a count at a resort and laid siege to an heiress. But his fat cashier lover appears and frustrates all his schemes, while the heiress weds the man of her choice."

Concerning the same picture, The Moving Picture News noted:

The waiter in a cheap restaurant makes furious love to the fat cashier. He departs on his vacation and poses in a seaside hotel as a count. The girls make a mad rush for him. He lays siege to an heiress, backed by her mother. Meanwhile the saucy cashier trails him and there is a jolly mix-up. A humorous film that is humorous.

The unusual phrase "lays (or laid) siege to an heiress" is common to both reviews and suggests that a Thanhouser publicity release or a "canned" review was used as the basis for the articles in each publication.

The Moving Picture World, October 1, 1910, told of improvements to the screening room at Thanhouser headquarters:

J.H. Hallberg has recently equipped the Thanhouser studio...with the new Motiograph moving picture machine and two Hallberg economizers, one economizer to be used on their old machine. Mr. Thanhouser said it is the finest equipment on the market for his purpose, because to test his new films he has to have the best the market affords, as his customers are the purchasers of films and are therefore the best critics. Note

Next on the release schedule came Avenged, October 7, 1910, and Pocahontas, October 11th. The latter film, featuring Anna Rosemond in the title role, utilized as a prop a replica of Henry Hudson's ship, Half Moon, made a year earlier for the 1909 Hudson-Fulton Celebration held in New York City.

A writer for The Moving Picture World visited New Rochelle, saw an advance print of the film, and prepared a detailed commentary:

The story of Pocahontas is always a popular one, but, like all well known stories, its success lies in the telling, and this is the charm of this new Thanhouser offering. We all know the story, but it was left for this enterprising concern to show us John Smith landing from the Half Moon, which was borrowed for the occasion. This occurs at the very beginning and gives the film a stamp of reality that seldom has been obtained in any historical subject. It is deserving to call special attention to this master's stroke of realism. The story all through is sympathetic and true. All matter and backgrounds are carefully dodged and we get nature unadorned.

Still continuing along the line of reality, the minor Indian parts are played by the real natives, and for a wonder they act right. Well selected water scenes follow each other, and the detail throughout is as clear and sharp as a good lens and fine light can make it. Add to all these the costuming, which we know to be correct, because costuming is one of the subjects upon which Mr. Thanhouser is known to be an authority; this added in we have a film that is nearly perfect in every department.

It is needless to review the story itself or to follow the scenes in detail. There is only one scene that is not altogether convincing and impressive, that being the reception of Pocahontas at the court of King James. This one scene appeared to lack to some extent what one would expect in such a scene. Rather unfortunate in arrangement because it did not give a glimpse of any throne, which, according to all precedent, must be in sight as evidence of good faith, as well as for ready grasp of the obtuse. Never leave a throne to the imagination. The scene seemed to lack the element of grandeur, which, in many cases, is obtained by simplicity of line rather than ornate detail. In this scene the background is cut up with a number of queerly shaped windows that have a tendency to draw the eye to them and away from the actors. To the average spectator this would pass without being analyzed, but the impression is that of a conservatory or enclosed veranda. The windows, being odd in shape, start one speculating unconsciously on their form. In all court presentations the acting must of necessity be perfunctory, and it lies with the surroundings to complete the idea of grandeur; hence this long paragraph about a scene that forms but a small part of the picture.

It is quite easy to believe that Mr. Thanhouser would be the first one to refute the assertion that his films have attained to absolute perfection. In the first place he is too sensible a man to entertain such an idea, and secondly, there would be no more worlds for him to conquer. At the present writing the Thanhouser masterpiece is Pocahontas.

Once again, a representative of The Moving Picture World visited New Rochelle, as reported in the issue of October 8, 1910:

We could not resist the cordial invitation to pay another visit to the Thanhouser studio, especially when a ride in Mr. Thanhouser's swift automobile was an added inducement. Since our first visit, which was recorded in a former issue of the World, the Thanhouser studio has been transformed inside. The lighting arrangement, which at first was more or less an experiment, is now permanently installed. Great masses of props are convenient to the stage directors. Dressing rooms have been built for the actors, everything is spic and span. Most important of all was the new equipment of the laboratories. Here is to be found the latest and most approved machinery built by European experts. The improvement and the technical quality of the work more than compensates for this expense, and in this respect the two films which we were shown, Pocahontas and Dots and Dashes, may be taken as excellent examples of progress.

Delightful Dolly, released on October 14th, was one of several Thanhouser films which depicted a doll coming to life. Marie Eline takes the part of a poor little girl who visits a toy shop to admire a beautiful doll. Taking the large doll out of its box, Marie is frightened as she hears a clerk approach. She hides in the doll box, while the doll rolls under the counter. An errand boy picks up the box, Marie and all, and delivers it to the intended purchaser, Daisy Smythe, a rich little girl. Daisy takes the doll from its box and moves its arms and legs. Marie falls into the part naturally, and with jerky motions imitates a doll. When Daisy falls asleep Marie helps herself to Daisy's meal, to Daisy's wonderment when she awakens. Apparently the part of Daisy Smythe was played by an adult, prompting The New York Dramatic Mirror to comment:

The acting of the wee heroine [Marie Eline] is really wonderful; it is spontaneous, lively, resourceful, graceful, and charming. The part of the rich girl, however, although it is capitally played, should have been entrusted to a smaller, if not to a younger, woman. The size of the actress makes the film look bizarre.

Then came Oh, What a Knight, released on October 18th, followed by Their Child on the 21st and Young Lord Stanley on the 25th. The last-named film shows a scene in which the disinherited young Lord Stanley, while in America, encounters a newspaper advertisement Note reading: "Information wanted of son and heir of late Lord Stanley. Apply Snaith, Room 472, Hotel Astor." The unusual surname of Snaith was to recur in later Thanhouser films, such as Miss Arabella Snaith (May 3, 1912) and Professor Snaith (June 26, 1914), and must have had some special significance to the scenario writer, Lloyd F. Lonergan.

In its November issue The Nickelodeon reported an unfortunate accident:

In a collision between a taxi cab and a Broadway [public transit] car at 79th Street and Broadway, New York City, in the afternoon of October 6th, Lucius J. Henderson, director of the Thanhouser Company, moving picture manufacturers in New Rochelle, sustained a lacerated scalp and internal injuries; John Noble, of the same place, his assistant, contusions about the body, while Burton L. King Note was cut by flying glass. The taxi was wrecked. Moving picture apparatus, valued at $1,000, and the taxi cab, were ruined.

Lucius J. Henderson was a relatively new Thanhouser director at the time. He would go on to many accomplishments at the studio during the next two years, departing in the spring of 1913. John Noble, his assistant, would also direct many later productions. In an era in which directors were rarely mentioned in print, it is ironic that one of Henderson's first public identifications with Thanhouser was precipitated by a traffic accident.

On October 27 and 28, 1910 the Thanhouser Company screened a documentary film taken in the city on October 6th, titled Parade of the Volunteer Firemen of Westchester County and Vicinity. Those caring to part with the requisite 25c admission could see not only the parade in question, but also various "notable fires." Note One account Note stated that a Thanhouser film titled The Life of a Fireman was also shown. The Thanhouser Company had an intense interest in fires, it seemed, and when the local firefighters were called to battle a conflagration, they would often do so under the watchful lens of a Thanhouser cameraman who had been tipped off in advance by the fire department dispatcher. The popular local gathering place where this particular screening took place, Germania Hall, owned by Jacob Grab, was located at 16-18 Mechanic Street. In coming years numerous other Thanhouser festivities would be held there.

The next Thanhouser film, The Fairies' Halloween, a children's tale, was praised by The Moving Picture World and condemned by The New York Dramatic Mirror. The same contradiction arose with Mistress and Maid. Concerning the latter film, a reviewer for The Moving Picture World commented: "There is life and animation enough to suit the most exacting, with good acting and clear photography as features of the picture." The New York Dramatic Mirror saw it differently and said it was "far fetched in its melodramatic actions" and was poorly acted and directed.


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