Volume I: Narrative History


Chapter 8: 1915 A $5,000 Bet

The Thanhouser release schedule continued with The Crogmere Ruby, issued on August 15th, featuring Hector Dion and Ethyle Cooke in a mystery story involving a phony Sherlock Holmes. The subject item of the film's title, a rare gem, disappears on a transatlantic voyage and is first found in a cake of soap, but is found to be a fake. Then the real ruby is located in the bowl of a tobacco pipe. In keeping with trade journal practice of the time, this one-reel drama was generally overlooked by reviewers, who were busy with multiple-reel features at the time. The Marvelous Marathoner, distributed through the exchanges on Monday, August 16th, was the first entry in the expanded two-a-week Falstaff comedy schedule.

When Hungry Hamlet Fled, a two-reel comedy released on August 17th, was backed by pressagentry which gave the impression that creating a comedy of more than one reel in length was nearly an impossibility. The Morning Telegraph Note related:

Edwin Thanhouser is $5,000 richer today as the result of a wager with Seton C. ("Cyclone") Pierce, a Minneapolis traction operator, who has known Mr. Thanhouser since the days of the Thanhouser Stock Company in Milwaukee. Mr. Pierce was visiting New York and had dinner with Mr. Thanhouser, the company including B.F. Juddel, manager of the Mutual Minneapolis office, and J.B. Reissman of the Dale Theatre, St. Paul. The discussion turned to comedy, and Mr. Thanhouser then broke the news that the Falstaff comedy brand would hereafter release two comedies per week instead of one. Somehow this brought a turn in the talk, which led Mr. Pierce to ask Mr. Thanhouser whether he believed he could make comedy in more than one reel which would equal a certain brand in which is featured a comedian Note whose name is now a by-word all over the world; furthermore, Mr. Pierce volunteered the opinion that the very fact that this comedian is not procurable makes the task of equaling those comedies impossible. Thanhouser was thinking hard. He had never before made a two-reel comedy that could be considered in the light of the present-day conception of comedy, particularly the brand referred to by Mr. Pierce. Finally Mr. Pierce turned to him and said: "Ed, you can win five thousand if you can do it!" Edwin Thanhouser responded without removing his cigar, "All right, Pierce."

The conditions were quickly arranged. The judges were to be jury of all those present; besides Messrs. Juddel and Reissman there were Mrs. Juddel, Harry L. Bateman, Mrs. Bateman, and Mr. Pierce's son, Seton, Jr. It was left to Mr. Thanhouser to make any character of two-reel comedy he liked, and the jury was to give its verdict by open verbal vote without leaving the projection room where the picture is submitted. Both Mr. Pierce and Mr. Thanhouser placed a check for $5,000 in Mr. Juddel's hands. Mr. Thanhouser won. The comedy he made is When Hungry Hamlet Fled. It is a farce which consistently avoids slapstick, making Mr. Thanhouser's feat all the more remarkable because he was practically pitted against the cleverest slapstick comedy ever made. Frederick Sullivan was the director and Lorraine Huling, Harry Benham, Claude Cooper and Frances Keyes are in the cast.

Someone in the Thanhouser Film Corporation's publicity department erred, and the film was listed as a drama, not a comedy, in most release schedules.

Next on the schedule was the Falstaff comedy Help! Help! issued on August 20th, followed by In a Japanese Garden on the 22nd. The cast of the latter film featured the Maida Imperial Dramatic Company, a troupe which had come from Japan to perform at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. As part of a trip around the United States the players visited New Rochelle, where the picture was produced. Glorianna's Getaway continued the Falstaff series on August 23rd. Snapshots, a two-reel drama released on August 24th, featured many scenes taken in Central Park in New York City.

M. Lecoq, also advertised as Monsieur Lecoq, based upon Émile Gaboriau's famous French detective stories, was issued on August 26th as a four-reel Mutual Masterpicture. Louis Reeves Harrison had this to say in The Moving Picture World:

Thanhouser has always been strong in the preservation of atmosphere in his productions, taking infinite pains to eliminate those details which dissipate the naturalness of a pictured story, and he has succeeded in making Monsieur Lecoq decidedly French, even in the exteriors. The constructive methods of Gaboriau lend themselves admirably to the building of a photodrama dependent upon arousing curiosity at the outset and maintain suspense by holding up the solution of a mystery. Thanhouser has followed the Gaboriau method so closely that he has literally transferred the detective story from the printed page to the screen. This might fail utterly, however, with careless handling - it might easily become mechanical, even repulsive - but foresight and skill have made the complete product satisfying to the eye and to that sense of consistency which has become the common property of picture theatre audiences.

The story opens with the usual Gaboriau activity, a murder mystery upon which Monsieur Lecoq stumbles. His active work leads him rapidly to a warm trail - there can be no possible doubt that he is in pursuit of the real criminals - he actually sees them enter the house of a man of high social station and spotless career. Yet he is brought up against a blank wall through which the murderer and his accomplice seem to have vanished. There is but one resource left, the smallest clue points a way to a solution of the mystery. Lecoq puts the man of lofty rank and clean reputation under a test. This brings to light a family skeleton with an interesting and humanizing finish to the story.

That Poor Damp Cow, the Falstaff entry for August 27th, featured Riley Chamberlin in the lead role. Then followed The Vagabonds, a one-reel drama based upon a famous poem, Roger and I, by J.T. Trowbridge. Next was A Massive Movie Mermaid, a Falstaff comedy issued on the 30th. Closing out the month was Reincarnation, a two-reel drama released on the 31st, featuring Florence LaBadie.


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