Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Spoilers (1914)

US 1914. PC: Selig Polyscope Company; D: Colin Campbell; ass D: Al [Alfred E.] Green; SC: Lanier Bartlett (n.c.), based on the novel by Rex Beach (1906) + the play by Rex Beach & James MacArthur (1907); DP: Alvin Wyckoff, Harry W. Gerstad; AD: Gabriel Pollock; C: William Farnum (Roy Glenister), Kathlyn Williams (Cherry Malotte), Bessie Eyton (Helen Chester), Wheeler Oakman (Drury, alias The Bronco Kid), Thomas Santschi (Alex McNamara), Frank Clark (Dextry), Jack McDonald (Slap Jack), N. MacGregor (Judge Stillman), W. H. Ryno (Struve); première: 14.4.1914 (Strand, New York City); orig. l: 9500 ft; 35 mm, incomplete, 7336 ft, 122' (16 fps); print source: Library of Congress Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation, Culpeper, VA. English intertitles. Teatro Verdi, Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone (Selig Polyscope), e-subtitles in Italian, grand piano: Elaine Loebenstein, 10 Oct 2012.

Andrew Eaton: "William Selig’s efforts to attract a large middle-class audience by expanding the length and content of his motion pictures came to fruition through his production of The Spoilers (1914), the first 2-hour feature film made in America. Selig was no doubt inspired by the success of such multi-reel Italian productions as The Last Days of Pompeii and Quo Vadis? The Spoilers was an astute choice of a surefire property: a best-selling novel, it had been successfully adapted for the theater just a few years earlier. That meant a built-in audience for an American story by an American author."

"The film retained all the principal components of the novel: While returning to Alaska from a vacation in the States, Glenister and Dextry, co-owners of the Midas, the largest gold mine in Nome, save pretty Helen Chester from a gang of thugs. Crooked politician McNamara and his associates plot to seize the area’s gold mines from their rightful claimants. Glenister and Dextry learn of the conspiracy and are aided in regaining the Midas by dance-hall hostess Cherry Malotte, who carries a torch for Glenister. Helen becomes aware of the scheme and risks her life and virtue to help them. Along the way, Glenister dynamites the mine and engages in a sprawling fistfight with McNamara."

"Selig’s top director Colin Campbell directed The Spoilers, with future DeMille cinematographer Alvin Wyckoff supervising a team of cameramen. The cast consists almost entirely of players from the Selig stock company. The exception was popular Broadway actor William Farnum, making his motion picture debut as Roy Glenister. Between the film’s production and release, Kathlyn Williams, costarring as Cherry Malotte, had become a star, thanks to her role in the first American movie serial, The Adventures of Kathlyn (1913-14). The Spoilers was in production for 8 weeks, from July to early September 1913. Many of the interiors were shot at Selig’s Edendale studio; an elaborate set depicting the major thoroughfare in turn-of-the- century Nome was constructed at the company’s Mission Road zoo and backlot. The harbor at nearby San Pedro doubled for the Nome waterfront. The most impressive set built for the production, the Midas gold mine and its attendant buildings, was constructed in the mountains just north of Los Angeles."

"William Selig arranged for the film’s premiere to coincide with the grand opening of the Strand. On Broadway in the Times Square district, it was the first motion picture palace built in New York City, with a seating capacity of nearly 3,500. The premiere was noted for attracting an audience consisting of both a “Who’s Who in Society [more] suggestive of a night at the opera than a motion picture entertainment” and “enthusiasts to whom the motion picture is the only and favorite entertainment.”"

"The Spoilers was critically acclaimed in newspapers across America. The New York Clipper declared, “Selig’s remarkable revelation of the new art form (motion pictures) … [is] a remarkable volume of Americana … in length and quality [it] outclasses any motion picture made in this country.” A total of 172,000 people saw the film during its 2-week engagement at the Strand. The Spoilers was an international phenomenon as well, playing Rangoon at the end of 1914, Singapore in 1915, and Shanghai at the beginning of 1918. In later years William Selig often ruminated that had he gotten out of the business immediately after The Spoilers, he would have been an extremely wealthy man for the rest of his long life. It has been filmed a total of 5 times, with subsequent versions in 1923 (Milton Sills and Anna Q. Nilsson), 1930 (Gary Cooper and Betty Compson), 1942 (John Wayne and Marlene Dietrich), and 1955 (Jeff Chandler and Anne Baxter)."

"Among the more immediate effects of The Spoilers’ success was the imitation of its length. Before the end of 1914 Universal created a Special Features Branch producing features of 4 to 6 reels, and Paramount, the Warner Brothers, and William Fox were all releasing 5-reel films. To accommodate the longer features movie projectors were redesigned to accommodate larger reels and theaters were compelled to acquire a second projector to avoid interruptions for reel changes. Because multi-reel features cost more to produce, theater owners were charged more to exhibit them, forcing nickelodeon operators accustomed to daily changes in their relatively inexpensive programs to give way to larger, more elegant movie palaces that could recoup their rental fees over a longer period."

"The Spoilers employs what Kevin Brownlow has termed “the giveaway title,” whereby the intertitles announce what action is about to occur, robbing the succeeding moments of suspense or surprise for the audience. The intertitles also redundantly supply the name of the character speaking within the dialogue titles, adhering a little too faithfully to the novel on which it was adapted. These are among the growing pains evident in this first American feature film." ANDREW ERISH

AA: I may have seen the MoMA print of this first film adaptation of The Spoilers when it was screened in the The Road to Hollywood cycle in Pordenone in 1988, and in case I did, I have no recollection of it, perhaps because of the wooden touch of the director Colin Campbell. The storytelling and the visual quality are pedestrian, but there interesting aspects in the movie (I watched the first hour = half of the movie): the living presentations of the actors in the opening credit sequence, the startling squalor of the Alaskan "street" views (they are mudholes), the feeling of relentless corruption; "law" and "justice" have ceased to exist, the lawyer is a drunkard, the sheriff is on the take ("McNamara appoints his own marshal"), the judge can be bought; the Hobbesian universe where the rightful owners of goldmines can be bullied away just like that, the homo homini lupus violence, the dreary saloons, and the interesting montage of dissolves of faces in the saloon sequence. Because of this startling vision this "on the road to Hollywood" adaptation of The Spoilers is remarkable and different from the other, later, slicker adaptations, an example of how the world was viewed before any version of a Production Code was imagined. This is truly a Wild North movie. Unfortunately the visual storytelling is so conventional. The print has a somewhat duped look.

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