Thanhouser Classics Volume Two:
Under the Mutual Banner (1912 - 1914)
A review by Robert Klepper
A Silents Majority Featured Video

Copyright 1996 by Robert Klepper. All rights reserved

In 1912, Edwin Thanhouser sold his interest in the Thanhouser Company to the Mutual Film Corporation. Volume Two represents the films produced under the management of Charles Hite, whose career ended when he died in a 1914 car accident.

The Cry Of the Children (1912), the first short featured in this volume, was saved by the George Eastman House just in time. Most of us who watch educational television have seen clips from this film featured in many documentaries, but the complete film has been unavailable to the general public until not. This film is the best of the non-Griffith dramatic shorts of the early 1910's and gives a powerful message against the exploitation of children forced to work under grueling conditions in the factories of the time. Marie Eline ("The Thanhouser Kidlet") plays a little girl named Alice, the daughter of a factory worker. She is singled out by her family as the one child who will be kept "out of the shadow of the factory." Due to the ridiculously low salaries paid by the mill, the family falls upon hard times financially. The mill owner's wife, played by Lila H. Chester, takes a liking to the girl, and offers to adopt her. The girl's father leaves the decision in her hands, and she chooses to stay with her family. so, the mill owner and his wife offer them a nice sum of money, and the girl still refuses at first. Then, when the family becomes absolutely desperate, the girl finally relents and agrees to be adopted to help her family. When she goes to see the mill owner's wife, it seems that the acquisition of a dog has gotten her over her whim for the child, and she non-chalantly waves her off and tells her she doesn't want her anymore. [This sequence really charged my blood pressure up a few points, and my first thought was that there is a special place in hell reserved for people like the mill owner and his wife!] In desperation, the little girl goes to work in the factory herself to help her family with extra income. She dies from the strain of the hours and hard work required. This is truly an eloquent statement of social commentary, and its punch is just as powerful today as it was over 80 years ago. The film's use of symbolism makes it an artistic masterpiece as well. The Cry Of the Children should be required watching in all film history courses, and is a title that no serious collector of silents should be without.

The next selection is a comedy titled The Petticoat Camp (1912), acquired from the Library of Congress. A group of husbands and wives go on a camping trip. The women overwork themselves waiting on their husbands hand and foot while the husbands have fun fishing and hunting. Florence LaBadie (81k jpg) convinces the other women to go on strike. They leave a note to the husbands saying they are going on strike and camping out on the next island. The note is signed "Your former slaves." Pandemonium occurs when the husbands return from fishing and find the women have left. The husbands try to travel to the "petticoat camp" of their wives to break the strike, but the wives are ready - with guns. The husbands finally surrender and call a truce. Also featured in the cast of this film is William Garwood, and a special guest appearance by the Jordan sisters, who were highly acclaimed professional divers of the time. A truly delightful comedy that will have you rollicking with laughter.

The Star Of Bethlehem, which was released on Christmas Eve of 1912, was one of the most ambitious films of 1912, featuring a cast of over 200 players. Among the important cast members featured are Florence LaBadie as Mary, the mother of Jesus; James Cruze in the roles of Micah and Joseph; and William Russell as Herod. This is the first time that any of William Russell's earlier work has been available to us on video. Until now, only two of his later films, A Sporting Chance (American Film Company: William Russell Productions, 1919) and Anna Christie (Thomas H. Ince, Corp, for First National, 1923), with Blanche Sweet, were accessible to us. Russell was one of the popular leading men of the 1910's who starred as the male lead in William Desmond Taylor's spectacularly successful 30 chapter serial, The Diamond From the Sky (North American Film Corp., 1915), a lost film with Lottie Pickford, Mary's sister. He died in 1929 from pneumonia at age 42. This early epic of the birth of Christ was originally three reels long. All that has survived is an edited one-reel version of 15 minutes. The film starts out with the three wise men arriving at the court of King Herod. The three are also shown following the star over Bethlehem to the birthplace of the promised Messiah. The special effects of the star were elaborate for the time. The scene of the birth of Christ is beautifully filmed, with angels shown in double exposure photography. Florence LaBadie is by far among the most attractive actresses to have played the virgin Mary on screen. This rare film was acquired from the British Film Institute.

The Decoy (1914) marks the video debut of silent screen actress Muriel Ostriche. Miss Ostriche was one of the most popular female stars of the mid-to-late 1910's, and usually placed in the Top Ten in popularity polls of the time. [In 1913, one popularity poll placed Ms. Ostriche second only to Alice Joyce in popularity.] From 1915 - 1920 she was known not only for her work in films, but as the "Moxie Girl" whose face adorned the Moxie soft drink advertisements. She married in 1921 and retired from films. For many years, none of Miss Ostriche's work was known to have survived. In the late 1980's two Ostriche one-reelers were re-discovered in Australia. In The Decoy, Miss Ostriche plays a country girl who visits with her city relatives. The aunt and uncle use her to lure wealthy patrons to their card-sharping operation. Muriel ends up exposing the aunt and uncle, and marrying the undercover police investigator. This is a rare chance to see why Muriel Ostriche was so popular. She was a very capable actress as we see in this film. She was also extremely attractive to go along with her talent. Miss Ostriche, fortunately, lived to see the day that she would be re-discovered. Q. David Bowers wrote a biography on Miss Ostriche in the 1980's after having tracked her down in St. Petersburg, Florida. She died in 1989 at the age of 93. The release of this film on video finally brings Miss Ostriche w step further into the limelight and out of obscurity. The source material for this video comes from the print in the British Film Institute.

Animal lovers will especially enjoy the last selection of this volume, A Dog's Love (1914). This rare print comes out of the Museum of Modern Art, and features the video debut of Baby Helen Badgley (1910 - 1977), who was Marie Eline's successor to the title of "The Thanhouser Kidlet." Also featured in this film is Shep, known as "The Thanhouser Collie" (a contemporary of Jean, the Vitagraph dog, the first major dog star of the silent screen). Baby Helen is charming as a "poor little rich girl" for whom money can't buy happiness and friendship. She finds her first friend in the neighbor's dog, a beautiful collie. They become friends when tragedy strikes - Helen is hit by a car. Shep summons help immediately, but Baby Helen dies later. Shep grieves by refusing to eat and by making daily trips to the florist to put flowers on Helen's grave. The dog is consoled somewhat when Helen's ghost appears demonstrating that her love for the dog went beyond life. You may want to keep your Kleenex box close by for this one. This film really demonstrates what an emotional impact a mere 11 minutes of motion picture images can have!

Thanhouser Classics Volume Two: Under the Mutual Banner (1912 - 1914) (Thanhouser Company Film Preservation, Inc., 1996). B & W. 86 minutes. The print quality is very good. The musical selection are specifically composed organ scores, by Andrew Crow. Thanhouser Classics Volume Two: Under the Mutual Banner (1912 - 1914) is available on video as part of the Thanhouser Classics series, from Thanhouser Company Film Preservation, Inc..