Volume II: Filmography





December 1, 1914 (Tuesday)

Length: 2 reels (1,870 feet)

Character: "Detective drama"

Scenario: Philip Lonergan

Director: John Harvey

Cast: Claire Kroell (Ida Dean, the counterfeiter's secret accomplice), Frank Wood (John [George in some accounts] Linton, the Secret Service agent), Sam Niblack (George Morley [also spelled Morely in certain listings], the counterfeiter), George Niblack, Marguerite Loveridge (the old clerk's daughter), Nolan Gane, 13 police dogs

Notes: 1. In a review in The Moving Picture World, December 12, 1914, Claire Kroell's surname was misspelled as "Crowell." 2. In different articles (reprinted below) the same dogs are identified as German, American, and French. By actual count (as observed in a print preserved in The National Film Archive, London) there were 13 dogs, although accounts reprinted below indicate from a dozen to 30!


ARTICLE, The New Rochelle Pioneer, October 17, 1914:

"Jack Harvey is letting 'Shep,' his wonderful canine, rest for a few weeks, but is still producing dog stories - his present one - The Center of the Web, having about a dozen police dogs working. Nolan Gane is taking the lead. It is a Phil Lonergan story."


ARTICLE, The New Rochelle Pioneer, October 24, 1914:

"Jack Harvey has completed The Center of the Web, a counterfeiting story, with Claire Kroell in the lead."


ARTICLE, Variety, October 31, 1914:

"Thirty German police dogs are being used in the Thanhouser studios in New Rochelle as part of the film, The Center of the Web. The press matter preserves neutrality by stating that although the animals were trained to commands in German, they will obey orders in French or English."


ARTICLE, The New York Star, December 2, 1914:

"German police dogs are used in The Center of the Web, a two-reeler now in the making at the Thanhouser-Mutual studio in New Rochelle. These dogs only recently arrived in this country from Berlin, where they had been used successfully in the tracking and apprehension of criminals. Closely resembling wolves, the dogs made a queer-looking pack as they awaited Director Harvey's bidding. Heavy collars with sharp nails are used to discipline them. When a dog becomes unruly this collar is turned so that the nails quickly restore him to better temper and obedience. The men in charge of the dogs spoke to them in German, as they are not trained to commands in English. One of the dogs, however, understands directions given him in French. This animal was sold for $1,600, but represents such a splendid type of his breed that permission was given by the new owner, a wealthy Greenwich, Conn. woman, to work him in the picture. The ability of these dogs to follow the trail of human beings was demonstrated when two cats and several rabbits were turned loose near them. Not a dog even as much as looked askance. Their keeper explained that if they were trained to follow animal scents they might some time be led astray from the human trail they were following and thus fail in the one purpose for which they are intended - the hunting down of human malefactors."


SYNOPSIS, Reel Life, November 28, 1914:

"Ida Dean, in league with the counterfeiter, George Morley, meets and falls in love with John Linton who is employed in the Secret Service. Morley threatens her, but she continues to receive Linton's attentions. The action of the latter, however, in helping a young girl who is out of work, rouses Ida's jealousy. Refusing to believe that Linton's action was purely from philanthropic motives, she plots with Morley to involve the girl and her father in the counterfeit scheme and then betrays them to the authorities. Linton visits a suburban police station, and in taking a stroll through the country happens upon the counterfeiters' den. There he discovers his protegée and learns that the woman he loves has been the means of bringing her there. Linton is captured by the gang, and when he fails to return to the police station the officers organize a search party. They reach the den just in time to see Ida Dean save Linton's life from the assault of the infuriated Morley."


REVIEW, The Bioscope, March 18, 1915:

"The measure of the success of the average detective story is the degree of its realism. And that is probably why the Thanhouser Company, whose skill in holding a mirror up to nature has rarely been surpassed, is so unusually successful in plays of this class. The Centre of the Web is a particularly good example of the Thanhouser detective story. Its realism is so acute that one follows it with no less intensity of interest than one feels in an actual drama of the kind in life. For the time being, indeed, one is almost deceived into the belief that it is a chapter of life one is watching unroll upon the screen. The illusion is well-nigh perfect. As a play, The Centre of the Web is constructed on simple but effective lines, the second part being mainly devoted to a very naturally presented and dramatic chase, in which there figure some real American police dogs - introduced here, we believe, for the first time in any film. It is magnificently acted with the restraint and repressed force so invaluable to a work of this description, Mr. Frank Wood's performance as the hero of the story being quite a masterpiece of the kind of art in which every slight change of facial expression bears a definite meaning.

"The film is splendidly produced and embodies several ideas of considerable originality, including the very striking opening scene where the camera, focused at first on one face, is gradually moved back until it embraces a complete group of figures at full length. Altogether, The Centre of the Web is decidedly a picture to be recommended."


REVIEW, The Cinema, March 4, 1915:

"Detective film dramas are at the present moment as plentiful as ever, but those which can claim some distinct original innovation are few and far between. Amongst the latter, however, there is a Thanhouser release which includes in its cast a pack of American police-dogs. The work of these animals in tracking down the law-breakers is intensely interesting, and decidedly increases the value of the film as a special draw. The producer, too, has given them plenty of scope, with the result that their operations are not cramped and can be thoroughly appreciated and admired. Apart from the dogs, the plot of The Centre of the Web is quite good, without any trace of exaggeration, and deals with the doings of a gang of counterfeiters. A clever touch is given to the heart interest side by having the heroine a confederate to the head of the gang, and the hero an ambitious and promising young detective. They, of course, are made to meet under favourable circumstances, and the lady becomes passionately fond of the secret service man. The latter picks up a clue to the origination of the false dollar bills which are flooding the district. He helps a girl, and arouses the lady's jealousy. In order to incriminate her rival in the eyes of the detective, she engages the girl's old father as a clerk, and at the end of the week pays him with false notes. The father and the girl are arrested, but this move only puts the young fellow on the gang's track. He discovers their headquarters, but is overpowered.

"Then follows the entrance of the dogs, who are put on the trail of the missing detective. They arrive at their destination with the police just as the captured service man's life is being pleaded for by the lady counterfeiter. The majority of the gang escape, but are unable to beat the intelligence of the pursuing dogs. All manner of ways are indulged in, such as hiding in an underground cave and wayside out-houses, and climbing trees, and one of the men even resorts to scaling a haystack and completely envelops himself in the litter. The dog scents him out, and he has to come down to earth under the compulsion of a revolver. Of the two reels the methods of the canine detectives occupy the major portion of the second. They are first seen in their kennels, which represent large cages, which can so be manipulated that all the animals are released simultaneously. A clever piece of double printing is shown at the end of the police-court scene. The hero's evidence of the lady prisoner's attempt to save his life is told in the superimposition. The other episodes, especially those of the false notes in the making, are arranged well, and give the drama a rather convincing atmosphere. The common inclination of depicting a forgery gang at work in some disused underground resort has been dismissed, with the result that with the inclusion of the dogs and a rational love interest, The Centre of the Web can be termed a splendid detective film. It is due for release [in England] April 8th. Length 1,870 feet."


REVIEW by Elizabeth Lonergan, The New York Star, December 9, 1914:

"Recently at the Thanhouser studio, New Rochelle, the writer witnessed an unusual rehearsal. Twenty German police dogs, untrained as actors took part in a number of studio scenes. 'It will be great upon the screen', said one of the spectators. But the work seemed so slow and the patient director went over the scenes again and again before he was satisfied and ready to have the scenes taken. The finished product, The Center of the Web, was shown for the first time December 1, and was greeted with much applause by the patrons of the Stanley Theatre. The dogs, of course, are incidental to the story, but their part is most important and the many unique effects in the landing of the band of criminals are due almost entirely to the clever direction of the canine actors. It is a 'band' story, the clever leader of which is a society woman. She falls in love with the detective who is upon the trail of the criminals, but his identity is not suspected, nor is hers. Then into the story come two pathetic characters, an old man and his daughter, poor, shabby and homeless. The adventuress discovers that the hero is interested in them and plots to have them pass the bad action. There are some fine 'fade-ins' here and later, and the view of the adventuress in her machine passing the girl, the detective and the old man is very effective as she rides on leaving them in the background, unconscious of her presence. Through an advertisement the old man is hired to work for the concern and paid in Confederate [sic; counterfeit was intended] money. The daughter goes with his first earnings to buy some fruit, the tool of the gang tips off the Italian and she is arrested.

"The scene showing the detectives in the office and the apprehension of both girl and father is well played. Then the detective meets them and decides that they have been driven to pass the money through necessity. The web closes about the band and the detective goes to make further investigation. He is discovered and a fight follows. At first he is victorious, then overcome and carried a prisoner into the house. The adventuress confronts him. Their mutual surprise is well played and she tries to help him but cannot do so. In a thrilling scene, she smashes a window with a chair and saves him just in time. In the meantime, his absence has worried the authorities and the police dogs are set upon his track. It is almost uncanny to watch the pack at work. They reach the house, enter it and then continue the shadowing until each criminal is captured. One follows a man to an upper window, jumps after him to the ground, follows him over hill and meadow, finally standing beside him until the police arrive; another jumps through a transom, the door being locked; others climb down trap doors, jump through doors and high windows; one ascends a haymow and holds the man captive, while the greatest feat of all is a 'tree climbing' stunt. One of the huge wolf-like creatures actually climbs a tree while the audience watches breathlessly! The human actors played their parts exceptionally well. Frank Wood as the detective gave a fine portrayal of the part and caused some excitement by his fine fighting with the villains. Marguerite Loveridge in the small part of the daughter, gave a sympathetic performance and made much of her few opportunities. Claire Kroell had the part of the adventuress and was at her best in the dramatic scenes; while the minor roles were well taken. The play was directed by John Harvey and from the pen of Philip Lonergan."


REVIEW, The Moving Picture World, December 12, 1914: This review is reprinted in the narrative section of the present work.


REVIEW by Louis Reeves Harrison, The Moving Picture World, December 12, 1914:

"That part of the cast not mentioned in Center of the Web, the four-footed detectives employed in tracing a gang of counterfeiters, will probably make a hit with the average motion picture audience. They play their roles with a spontaneity and enthusiasm that is far from theatrical and just that much more delightful. Their action is admirably timed, and is spirited throughout the period in which they are shown. The story is commonplace and almost destitute of that genuine requisite of success - characterization. Claire Crowell [sic] stands almost alone in this respect, possibly through her strong and attractive personality. The men do all that is required of them and do it well - the fault is one of play structure, and it is a common fault in many five-reel [sic] adaptations from stage plays.

"Some attempt is made to present the leads in a manner that will enable the audience to recognize them in swift action and follow their movements. We can separate the cheap counterfeiter from the society crook, and both from the young detective bent on capturing the gang, but the presentation of many other characters, quite often en masse, leads to temporary confusion and consequence lapse of interest in the story. There are entirely characters shown where they are not actually required - they interfere with that differentiation which enables the spectator to fasten attention on the leads. When most of the action falls to subordinates and still others are introduced to show how the gang manages to 'push the queer' through innocent people, the main lure of interest is abandoned and the detective's achievements nullified by dependence on mere luck. The charm of continuity is broken and levity of action replaced by intervention of the unnecessary, the injection of a side issue. Out of it all is finally evolved, through the spirited struggle of Miss Ida Dean, her preservation of the young detective's life, though no logical reason is given why it should be spared for such a purpose. Arbitrary and artificial scenes in detective stories have seen their day.

"Now come the dogs. The detective's prolonged absence leads to the use of police dogs, The chase following their discovery of the counterfeiters' den is remarkable in many respects. They spring through windows, even through a single pane, over transoms at a bound and out of second-story windows with cat-like agility. They leap into lofts; they mount haystacks; they even climb trees. Without the savagery shown by French police dogs in tackling a criminal, they are relentless in pursuit and finally round up all the counterfeiters, and the play ends with a sentence passed upon all but the girl who saved the detective. The dogs enliven the picture every moment they are in evidence and count heavily in giving value to the release."

# # #


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