Friday, October 07, 2011

Salomy Jane

(California Motion Picture Corp., US 1914) P: George E. Middleton, Alexander Beyfuss; D: Lucius Henderson, William Nigh; SC: based on the story “Salomy Jane’s Kiss” by Bret Harte and the play Salomy Jane by Paul Armstrong; DP: Bert Mohr, Arthur Pawelson, Arthur Cadwell; cast: Beatriz Michelena (Salomy Jane Clay), House Peters (The Man), Matt Snyder (Madison Clay), William Nigh (Rufe Waters), Ernest Joy (Jack Marbury), Andrew Robson (Yuba Bill), Clarence Arper (Colonel Starbottle), William Pike (“Red Pete” Heath), Harold B. Meade (Baldwin), Harold Entwistle (Larabee), Clara Beyers (Lize Heath), Demetrio Mitsoras (Gallagher), Willie Smith (Walter Williams), Jack Holt (cowboy); 35 mm, 6400 ft, 87’ (19 fps); from: Library of Congress Packard Audio Visual Conservation Center, Culpeper, VA. English intertitles. Viewed at Teatro Verdi, Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone, with e-subtitles in Italian, grand piano and flute: Stephen Horne, 7 Oct 2011.

Scott Simmon (GCM Catalogue): "The visual beauty and directorial sophistication of Salomy Jane, the inaugural feature from the California Motion Picture Corporation, upend assumptions of what a film by an untried regional company ought to look like. In 1914, feature-length films were still novel, and the San Francisco boosters behind the company had not the slightest experience making movies. One expects rough techniques, but Salomy Jane arguably surpasses the year’s best-remembered movies from mainstream studios."

"Reviewers recognized something of this at the time, with admiration split between the film’s photographic splendor and its dramatic arca. Moving Picture World praised the “exceptionally fine photography” and also “the love story that becomes more and more interesting toward the close.” The Chicago Tribune labeled it “a picture of fire and beauty,” while Variety noticed that “The scenario is a model of clarity, despite its emphasis upon swift and frequent incident” – this at a time when writers were wrestling with longer film structure. The New York Dramatic Mirror summarized the film this way: “Unless nature betters her handiwork in the forests of California, it is difficult to see how producers are going to improve upon the scenic beauty of Salomy Jane … Through a long cast, each character is made to stand out as a distinct personality … Salomy Jane is in all ways a big Western drama, and soon audiences will draw their own conclusions about its most striking points. They may disagree on details but hardly on the essential fact – it’s a winner.”"

"That the film is forgotten is due primarily to all known complete prints and negatives from the California Motion Picture Corporation going up in flames in 1931 at its abandoned Marin County studio. A single projection print of Salomy Jane, found in Australia in 1996, was preserved by the Library of Congress. Happily, what survives is the original 7-reel version; it was cut down to as few as 5 reels in later screenings."

"The film promotes its locations in its full onscreen title: Salomy Jane, A Story of the Days of ’49, Produced in the Famous California Redwoods. In expanding Bret Harte’s 1898 story “Salomy Jane’s Kiss” into a four-act stage play in 1907, Paul Armstrong borrowed characters from other Harte writings, filled in backstory hints, and invented vengeance subplots. Productions of the play were regularly praised for their ability to bring the outdoors in. “The wonderfully realistic sylvan…settings shared honors with the actors,” wrote a reviewer of one 1913 staging. The play was thus a natural for movie location shooting, and photographs from stage versions reveal that the film costumes were borrowed directly from them."

"Although titled for its central character, Salomy Jane is a community story, set in the summer of 1852 in Hangtown (a California gold-mining settlement more welcomingly renamed Placerville in 1854). The film deftly interweaves older honor violence brought from the East (a feud from Kentucky and revenge for a wronged sister) with new Western threats (a stage robbery, quick-to-lynch vigilantes, and rivalries over Salomy as a young woman among the forty-niners). Playing the title role is 24-year-old Beatriz Michelena, in her first film. She’d been onstage since age 11, first alongside her father, a Venezuelan immigrant and opera tenor, and by age 17 she was promoted in lead soprano roles as “America’s Youngest Prima Donna.” In Salomy Jane, she conveys the no nonsense independence that soon made her America’s first Latina movie star."

"Perfectly matched with her is British-born House Peters, the only cast member with experience in major features. His convincing presence as “The Man” (he reveals his name – Jack Dart – to Salomy in Harte’s story, but not in the film) is reinforced by his return to Paramount-Lasky three months later to play essentially the same role in Cecil B. De Mille’s forty-niner film, The Girl of the Golden West (1915) – again as an outlaw secretly harbored by a tough Western woman."

"The smarmiest of Salomy’s five suitors is played by William Nigh, also the co-director of this film (the first of more than 100 features that he directed)."

"The California Motion Picture Corporation had high ambitions to promote Northern California, especially through an arrangement to adapt several Harte works. In mid-1914 it constructed a glass-enclosed studio as impressive as any at the time, in San Rafael, across the Golden Gate from San Francisco. The company launched its Golden Gate Weekly newsreel (none of whose issues is known to survive) and then plunged into Salomy Jane. Locations for the feature were spread along the Bay Area coast, standing in for the Sierra foothills. The gala October 8, 1914, premiere of Salomy Jane at San Francisco’s St. Francis Hotel led off with the Golden Gate Weekly, including a segment on Ishi, “the last wild Indian,” then living on the University of California’s San Francisco campus. In just two years, however, the California Motion Picture Corporation would be defunct, a victim primarily of the growing stranglehold on the distribution of features by vertically integrated production companies with theater chains. Salomy Jane survives to give vivid witness to the flourishing of the regional feature film in the years just before the conglomeration of Hollywood." – Scott Simmon

AA: A Western. A rambling, violent story involving a stagecoach robbery and vigilante "justice" with instant lynching. The structure of the movie is not completely polished, but there are valuable features such as Beatriz Michelena's performance in the leading role and the impressive use of the magnificent redwoods landscape with rivers and mountains. A story against vigilante "justice". The image quality is often fine, but there are passages with a duped look.

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