Volume I: Narrative History


Chapter 3 (1910): Ten Nights in a Bar Room

Ten Nights in a Bar Room, a screen dramatization of one of the most popular of all 19th century American novels and plays, was released in the usual one-reel format on November 4, 1910. Marie Eline took the part of Mary, the young girl who visits the bar room to plead with her father to come home. The New York Dramatic Mirror, ever eager to advance the cause of Patents Company members in general and, now, Selig in particular, by implication found fault with the shorter Thanhouser film and stated haughtily: "The Selig Company announces the production of Ten Nights in a Barroom will not be confined to one reel, but will be given all the film that it requires for proper production. This departure from the restrictive limit of 1,000 feet gives promise that the drama will have adequate treatment." The New York Dramatic Mirror was acting the role of a spoiler, for the Selig version was not released until a half year later, in June 1911, and, except for spite, there was no reason to mention it now.

Then came the releases of The Little Fire Chief, with Marie Eline playing the boy in the title role, and The American and the Queen, a patriotic picture, both to generally favorable reviews, followed by Paul and Virginia, the scenario of which was adapted from a classic French story by Bernardin de Saint-Pierre. In the last-named production, Frank Crane played the part of Paul, using skin-tight clothing to give the appearance of nakedness, but not enough so to deceive at least two observers, one from The New York Dramatic Mirror and the other from The Nickelodeon. The former complained: "Paul in white tights that bagged at the knees and elbows failed to appear like the half-naked youth of the poem and, anyway, he was too tall." The latter suggested: "It is usually good advice to tell a man to 'keep his shirt on,' but we decidedly advise the actor who played the part of Paul in this piece to take his shirt off the next time he essays the role of a child of nature whose costume consists principally of his own skin plus a few trimmings. Baggy underwear, where his skin ought to be, looks like the arch-fiend."

The City of Her Dreams, released November 18, 1910, told of a poor Midwestern girl who longs to see New York City. The Thanhouser cameraman built a plot around Manhattan scenery, to the satisfaction of The Moving Picture World: "The acting and mechanical work on this picture are both of excellent quality." It is evident that Edwin Thanhouser loved New York City, for over the years he used it as a background for numerous films in scenarios which often played upon its faults, but which on balance depicted the city as the ultimate destination for those seeking culture and entertainment. Indeed, Edwin himself was to spend the final years of his life there - in an apartment on Fifth Avenue. By using a scenic background such as New York City - or Coney Island, or Niagara Falls - Thanhouser created films which had two appeals, that of a travelogue in addition to whatever merits the plot might have had.

In a review of the next release, A Thanksgiving Surprise, first screened on November 22nd, The New York Dramatic Mirror took a swipe at two other Independent companies while faintly praising Thanhouser:

After witnessing the camera posing of the Bison and Powers films it is some pleasure to observe the unconscious actions of the Thanhouser players. The story that is told, however, is little improvement over the others in plot, although it purports to point an excellent moral. A wealthy young cad, who abuses his servant and spends money with his gay friends at extremely disreputable-looking saloons, is taught a lesson by his uncle, who has a notice sent to the youth telling him that his allowance is cut off because the uncle died, leaving all his money to charity.

The youth accepts the story without question and goes out on the street to starve, being aided at last by the flower girl and the newsboy whom he had abused in the days of his affluence. When he gets a job and is about ready to marry the flower girl the uncle comes to life with a turkey dinner. The part of the flower girl was particularly well portrayed.

The Wild Flower and the Rose, released November 25th, dealt with the invention of a new airplane, or "aeroplane" as it was then called, and the inventor's dilemma in choosing between his two sweethearts, Daisy and Rose. An aviation meet provided the scenic background.

Released on November 29, 1910 was Value - Beyond Price, the story of Levy, a kind-hearted pawnbroker, who accepts little Marie Eline from her impoverished mother, giving in exchange a pawn ticket marked with the notation: "A precious jewel - a value beyond price." The mother dies, and Marie is raised by Levy. Her father, presumed lost at sea, is in reality a castaway on a South Seas island where he lives a la Robinson Crusoe for ten years. Upon his rescue he returns to civilization, learns that his wife is dead, and encounters among her effects the strange pawn ticket. Seeking to investigate further, he finds Marie grown to the age of 15 and being cared for in a fine manner. He thereupon sets up housekeeping with Marie and invites Levy to be a permanent guest in their home. Reviews were favorable, but The New York Dramatic Mirror pointed out the discrepancy in Marie's destitute mother having a maid at the time Marie was pawned.

John Halifax, Gentleman, released on December 2nd, was taken from an old novel and featured Martin Faust in the title role, supported by Frank H. Crane and William Russell. For the next several years William Russell would appear in dozens of Thanhouser films, often as the male lead. Once again, critical opinions differed. The Moving Picture World considered the film to be "attractive" and the parts "played to perfection." The New York Dramatic Mirror, which often had a jaundiced view of Independent films, paid a left-handed compliment of sorts: "This film is not as well acted as Thanhouser films usually are."

The next, Rip Van Winkle, a dramatization of Washington Irving's immortal tale of the 20-year nap, was enthusiastically reviewed by The New York Dramatic Mirror, which found the film very well done and the acting "exceptionally good."

The Girls He Left Behind Him told of the musings of Jack Redfern, a young bachelor who finally succumbs to the sound of wedding bells, only to be tantalized by receiving an anonymous message which reads: "Ever so glad to hear of your approaching marriage. It is the best thing you ever did in your life. I know. I tried it twice. - An old sweetheart of yours."

Was it Betty from high school days who tantalized him, or did Kate, who cheered for him at football games, send the note? Or could it have been Tootsie, an actress at the Gayety - or perhaps it was Elizabeth, who was his sweetheart on graduation day. Or was it Clara, or Jeanette, or Helen? It turns out to be a dream which ends with the vision of his marriage to Mary, with all of his former sweethearts looking on and wishing him good luck. The Iron Clad Lover, appended to the same reel to fill it to the proper length, was a comedy which told of a suitor in a suit of armor who is unceremoniously sold as scrap metal to a junk man.

Love and Law, released on December 13, 1910, featured Julia M. Taylor, a well-known stage actress, in the role of Violet Gray, detective, the first of a series of four films depicting the girl sleuth. As usual, The Moving Picture World thought it was a fine film, but The New York Dramatic Mirror felt that the theme was not sustained by the lead actress, and that "the improbable succession of incidents failed to be convincing."

The character names of Jack and May reappear in the next Thanhouser release, The Millionaire Milkman, first screened on December 16th. The New York Dramatic Mirror found several faults with production details, while The Moving Picture World liked it: "The life and action which characterize the Thanhouser productions are all present, while the photography is satisfactory and helps to make a good picture."

Looking Forward, a comedy released on December 20th, told of life as it might be 100 years in the future. The hero finds at that point in time that women rule the world and that he is a "suffragehim" who has to fight for "men's rights." Next, The Childhood of Jack Harkaway, taken from a stage play based upon a series of boys' stories, was well reviewed.

The Vicar of Wakefield, adapted from Oliver Goldsmith's story, was released on December 27, 1910. The Thanhouser "T. Co." octagonal emblem was used with abandon in this film and was shown on interior walls and in a picnic setting on a tree, where the logotype became the most prominent feature in the scene. The Moving Picture World was laudatory in its review of the film, while The New York Dramatic Mirror considered the acting to be "in every way adequate, but not great."

The last Thanhouser release of the year, Hypnotized, was sent out by the exchanges on Friday, December 30, 1910. William Russell played the role of the conniving hypnotist who attempts to lure innocent May away from her escort, Jack (Jack and May again). Good triumphs over evil, the hypnotist is unmasked as a fraud, and May decides that Jack is just the man she needs to protect her in this uncertain world. The Moving Picture World commented: "It is a good story, well told, and the audience seems intensely interested in it."


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