Volume 2: Filmography

 

THE COMMUTED SENTENCE

 

November 2, 1915 (Tuesday)

Length: 2 reels

Character: Drama

Director: Ernest C. Warde

Cast: Thomas A. Curran (governor), Ethyle Cooke (wife), Dorothy Benham (daughter), Samuel Niblack (Casey), Lindsay Morison (butler), Frank Gereghty

Note: This film addressed the question of circumstantial evidence, a common theme in Thanhouser pictures of several years earlier.

 

ARTICLE, Reel Life, November 6, 1915:

"A wonderful drama of human justice has been accomplished by Thanhouser talent under the title, The Commuted Sentence, scheduled for release on the regular Mutual Program, November 2nd. Thomas A. Curran impersonates the governor, who possesses deep penetration into the characters of his fellowmen. An ex-convict, paroled by him because he has made an exceptional prison record, and is resolved to lead an honest life, becomes the object of the wise governor's sympathetic interest. By a strange coincidence, the pardoned man is later convicted, on circumstantial evidence, of the slaying of the governor's father-in-law. An acute situation arises, involving, on the one hand, the execution of the supposed murderer, and, on the other, the ruin of the governor's domestic happiness. How the dilemma is solved is shown in the thrilling finale of this remarkable play."

 

SYNOPSIS, Reel Life, November 6, 1915:

"A famous ex-convict, freed by the governor, called and thanked the head of the state for his clemency. The convict promised to lead an honest life. Well meaning police officers, however, watched the paroled prisoner closely, and by telling of his prison record rendered it difficult for him to obtain employment. At last, starving and desperate, he crept through the open window of a handsome house and was seized by the servants as he was about to commit theft. The master of the house chanced to be the governor's father-in-law. He saw that the convict had been forced into wrongdoing, talked to him gently, gave him food and a place to sleep for the night. Early the next morning the paroled prisoner stole away, his heart full of gratitude. Several hours later he was overtaken by a police officer and arrested, charged with murder of his elderly benefactor. He was searched and jewelry belonging to the wealthy old man was found in his possession. He was brought back to the scene of the tragedy, and the officers tried to force a confession.

"The evidence against the man, however, was so conclusive that the detective in charge of the case, although strongly believing that the prisoner told the truth, had no option except to order the ex-convict's arrest. The prisoner was placed on trial. A verdict of guilty was soon reached and the convict sentenced to death. Only the detective and the governor believed that there might be some doubt of his guilt. The governor had been tempted to commute the ex-convict's sentence to life imprisonment, but he was deterred by his wife's words:

"'If you stop the execution of my father's slayer,' she declared, 'my child and I will leave you forever.' And so he deferred taking action until the night before the execution, when, spurred on by the consciousness that he was in danger of allowing a terrible wrong to be committed, he ordered the execution stopped and changed the prisoner's sentence to life imprisonment. The following morning his wife and child came to the executive mansion. The Governor pleaded with her but to no effect. Just as the woman and child turned to leave the room the door opened and the detective entered. In a few words he told how he had just succeeded in trapping the butler of the murdered man, and that the servant had confessed to killing and robbing his employer."

 

REVIEW, The Moving Picture World, October 30a, 1915:

"A two-reel subject in which a governor twice commutes the sentence of a convict. The first time he lets the prisoner out on parole. The convict meets with bad luck, being falsely blamed for a murder. The governor's father-in-law was the victim and the wife naturally wants the convict sent to the chair. But the governor is persuaded the prisoner is innocent and later the real murderer is found. The story is a mere recital of certain incidents and has no particular motive behind it, unless it is to show that innocent men frequently stand in the shadow of death. This is fairly strong."

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