Monday, October 08, 2012

Martin Chuzzlewit (1914)

Biograph, US 1914. D: Travers Vale; C: Alan Hale (Young Martin), Jack Drumier (Old Martin), Thornton Cole (Anthony Chuzzlewit), Edward Cecil (Jonas Chuzzlewit), Hector V. Sarno (Mark Tapley), Selden Powell (Seth Pecksniff), Arthur Rankin (Tom Pinch), Isabel Rea (Mary Graham), Helen Hart (Mercy Pecksniff), Kate Toncray (Charity Pecksniff); 35 mm (from a 28 mm diacetate positive), 1966 ft, 33' (16 fps); print source: George Eastman House, Rochester, NY. Preservation funded by: National Endowment for the Arts & National Park Service. Teatro Verdi, Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone (Charles Dickens), with e-subtitles in Italian, grand piano: John Sweeney, 8 Oct 2012.

Graham Petrie: "One of only two silent versions of this novel (the other, a 1913 Edison release, appears to be lost), this Biograph film adopts the common practice of isolating a few plot threads and characters from a long and complex text, and largely ignoring the others – the main omission from the cast being the bibulous and garrulous nurse Mrs. Gamp, whose idiosyncratic speech patterns could not easily be conveyed through intertitles, but who provides much of the  entertainment for the book’s readers. What is left deals with disputes about inheritance in the squabbling Chuzzlewit family; the attempts to manipulate these to his own advantage by the hypocritical Seth Pecksniff; the disinheriting of young Martin by his aged grandfather, who objects to his secret engagement to the old man’s ward, Mary Graham (who is then promptly courted by Pecksniff); the scheming of Martin’s cousin Jonas, who succeeds in marrying Pecksniff’s daughter Mercy, and then attempts to claim an early inheritance by poisoning his father Anthony, but commits suicide when the murder is discovered and he has vainly attempted to conceal it through another murder; and a final reconciliation when Old Martin reveals that his behaviour has been designed to test the integrity and moral worth of the family members and that he has been fully aware of Pecksniff’s scheming all along. (This is made clear in the book, at least, though the film implies that he has been genuinely deceived by Pecksniff almost to the very end of the story.)"

"The main plot omission, conveyed elliptically in a couple of short scenes and intertitles, concerns Young Martin’s unsuccessful attempt to make his fortune in America, accompanied by his friend Mark Tapley. This is a lengthy episode in the book which draws heavily on Dickens’s own experiences, and disillusionment, during a recent visit to the United States, and aroused much antagonism among his numerous American readers and admirers when both this book and his travel account American Notes appeared. No doubt an American film company thought it wiser to eliminate it, as a result." GRAHAM PETRIE

AA: A drama centered on inheritance and being disinherited. When the insurance agents witness a poisoning they promise to keep silent if Jonas buys worthless insurance stock. Martin Chuzzlewit returns home, his "spirit broken through failure in America". The pedestrian quality of the director is evident in comparison to the movies D.W. Griffith directed simultaneously at Biograph. The blow-up from 28 mm has been performed very well. The 28 mm quality is obvious but there is reason for gratitude.

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