Live music by Donald Sosin
With theater owners doing their best to attract a more upscale clientele, producers responded by plundering history and literature. High-class French and Italian imports provided the model, and by 1912 most studios were looking to the classics to add a veneer of respectability to their programs of one-reel comedies and melodramas.
Program runs approximately 70 minutes.
All films from 1912.
A Japanese Idyll
Dir. Lois Weber. 35mm, Library of Congress. Universal-Rex. Madame Butterfly was still under copyright, so Universal’s most ambitious writer-director-actor came up with her own one-reel version of the bittersweet encounter between a Japanese maid (Cherry Blossom, played by Weber herself) and a visiting American. Of course, with an adaptation this free, no one will mind if you fix the ending.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Dir. Lucius Henderson. 35mm, Library of Congress. Thanhouser. Robert Louis Stevenson’s diabolical tale of split personality had been a great success onstage, and would prove a natural for screen adaptation as well. Director Lucius Henderson was highly praised for his performance of both main roles—although recent scholarship suggests that it may not always be Cruze under all that makeup.
The Cry of the Children
Dir. George Nichols. 16mm, Thanhouser Company. Thanhouser. A horrifying progressive-era attack on child labor, with interiors shot in a satanic mill near Thanhouser’s New Rochelle studio. Quotations from Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s 1843 poem seem designed to make everything less appalling, but even poetry can’t do much to soften this film’s hopeless conclusion.
Dir. Ètienne Arnaud. 35mm, Fort Lee Film Commission. Éclair. Shot at Éclair’s new studio in Fort Lee, this earliest surviving Robin Hood film was inspired less by Howard Pyle’s illustrations than by Reginald De Koven’s once-popular operetta. The half-hour epic was intended to combine European style and sensibility with American stars (Robert Frazer as Robin, Barbara Tennant as Maid Marian) and locations (whatever the Palisades might offer).
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