Thursday, October 06, 2016

Beginnings of the Western 2, Prog. 2: Cowgirl Films

Sallie's Sure Shot (US 1913).  Myrtle Stedman as Sallie who has a way with the gun. Photo: BFI National Archive, London. Please click on the images to enlarge them.

Beginnings of the Western 2, Prog. 2 Cowgirl Films
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto: Origini del Western 2.
    Teatro Verdi, Pordenone, e-subtitles in English and Italian by Sub-Ti, grand piano: Donald Sosin, 6 Oct 2016.

Broncho Billy's Narrow Escape. The duet of Broncho Billy and Vedah Bertram. Photo: EYE on YouTube.

BRONCHO BILLY’S NARROW ESCAPE (Een moeilijke ontsnapping van Broncho-Bill) (US 1912). D: G. M. Anderson. C: G. M. Anderson (Broncho Billy), Vedah Bertram (Lois Martin), Arthur Mackley (Ben Martin), Brinsley Shaw (Baxter), Fred Church, Victor Potel, Harry Todd, Jack Roberts, Pat Rooney, Willis Elder. PC: Essanay. Rel: 6.7.1912. 35 mm, 940 ft, 13'50" (18 fps); titles: NLD. Source: EYE Filmmuseum, Amsterdam (Desmet Collection).
    Richard Abel: "Ben Martin is a prospector with a partner, Baxter, who wants to marry Lois, Martin’s daughter. Hired by the prospector, Broncho Billy and Lois are attracted to one another, and their singing (to guitar and banjo) irritates both Baxter and her father. The prospector discovers some rich ore and sends Billy off on horseback to stake a claim. Rejected by Lois, Baxter follows and, encountering two sets of cowboys, falsely accuses Billy of stealing the prospector’s horse. After a chase along a wooded hillside, they catch up with Billy, take him into a barn, and threaten to lynch him. Meanwhile, incredulous at Baxter’s accusation, Lois races off on horseback and reaches the barn just in time to prove Billy’s innocence. The film ends with an emblematic close shot of the couple smiling and chatting, until Billy (in an a typical gesture) slides a ring on to her finger."
    "This too is a rather unusual “Broncho Billy” film in that he is an ordinary cowboy falsely accused of being a thief and has to be rescued by the woman he loves, who can ride a horse as well as any man. Also unique is the couple’s pleasure in singing and playing music together, w hich signals their compatibility."
    "Even the camerawork has its unexpected moments, as in several shots near the end, when the characters come forward into silhouette as they pass through the barn door, from the brightly lit exterior to the darkness of the interior."
    "According to David Kiehn, leading lady Vedah Bertram (actual name, Adele Buck) made 22 westerns with Anderson between December 1911 and August 1912, when she suddenly was hospitalized in Oakland, California, with acute appendicitis, and died of a blood clot and inflammation of the heart on August 26, 1912, at the age of 20."
– Richard Abel

AA: In reaction to Richard Abel's thorough program note above I can only confirm that the chemistry between Broncho Billy and Vedah Bertram is appealing, the joy of the duet singing to guitar and banjo is infectious, and the rescue by Lois (Vedah Bertram) is unusual but convincing. Yes, interiors are dark, but the visual quality is ok.

A Girl of the West (US 1912), Rollin S. Sturgeon, starring Lillian Christy, photo Collezione Jay Weissberg.

A GIRL OF THE WEST (De Paardendieven) (US 1912). D: Rollin S. Sturgeon? C: Lillian Christy (Dolly Dixon), Helen Case (Polly Dixon), Helen Galvin (Nell), Robert Thornby (Scar-faced Bill), Tom Fortune (John Winthrop), Tom Powers (Jack Jones). PC: Vitagraph. Rel: 20.01.1912. 35 mm, 902 ft, 13' (18 fps); titles: NLD. Source: EYE Filmmuseum, Amsterdam (Desmet Collection).
    Scott Simmon: "“HOORAY! FOR THE AMAZONS,” shout cowboys in the final intertitle of the slightly mistitled A Girl of the West, which features two gun-toting, rapid-riding young women – the ranch girl (Polly) and the outlaw (Nell) – along with the heroine’s older sister ( Dolly), who lectures her unsuccessfully about proper female behavior in the West. This story has its pleasures, even if the film’s marketing tag – “ Clever as they make’em” – proves to be a bit of a stretch. “ Scar-faced Bill’s” scheme is harebrained even by Western bad-guy standards, and relies on selling a stolen horse to a rancher who has already shaken hands over the purchase w ith the rightful owner. That owner, Dolly’s love, is hardly brighter, failing even to notice that his horse has been stolen until the final shot, when Polly hands him the purchase money she has recovered. Women clearly need to take charge!"
    "The film uses its dull landscapes badly, foregrounding messily staged groups. A Girl of the West is evidently one of the final Westerns Vitagraph shot on the East Coast, and the flat dirt auto roads where the chases are uninventively shot, along with the lack of interiors, add to a visual style that is oddly old-fashioned from this usually sophisticated company."
    "Although Vitagraph had filmed in Southern California on winter tours dating back to 1910, its new Santa Monica studio had opened only the month before this film’s release in January 1912. Its possible director, Rollin Sturgeon, moved West with the new studio, and would prove to be inspired by California landscapes."
    "A Girl of the West’s advertising fails to keep its story straight, conflating the two sisters: “She is full of pluck and able to take care of herself when attacked. ‘She’s a trump.’ Herbeau tells her so and then and there proposes.”Moving Picture World’s review (3 February 1912) makes the same character confusion, and was otherwise underwhelmed. The love-interest sister, Dolly (renamed Daisy in the surviving Dutch print), appears only in the first two and the final shots. It’s as if the ideal heroine needed to be split in two, with our horse woman Polly proving too fully one of the boys to be marriage material. She ends laughingly happy with that.
" – Scott Simmon

AA: Scott Simmon's program note is so good that I can only keep nodding at it. Lillian Christy and Helen Case are attractive as the Western sisters Dolly and Polly. Polly discovers the horse thieves' plot. Plenty of action, but there is little talent in directing and mise-en-scène. Visual quality ok.

The Craven. Anne Schaefer is disappointed at her husband Robert Thornby. He has seduced her with tales of heroism but turns out to be a coward. Photo: EYE on YouTube.

THE CRAVEN (De vrouw van den lafaard) (US 1912). D: Rollin S. Sturgeon. C: Anne Schaefer (Anne [Dutch print: Maud]), Robert Thornby (Harvey Fiske), [William] Eagle Eye (The Mexican), Charles Bennett (Mr. Childs, Anne’s uncle), Fred Burns (Tom Beckett), ? (Black Pete). PC: Vitagraph. Rel: 19.4.1912. 35 mm, 902 ft, 14'50" (16 fps); titles: NLD. Source: EYE Filmmuseum, Amsterdam (Desmet Collection).
    Laura Horak: "“Only goes to s how that the wife is sometimes the ‘betterman’ of the two. A cowardly husband gets credit for bravery that his wife performs, leading others to believe that he is a man to be honoured,” announced a Vitagraph ad for this film."
    "Anne, the niece of a ranch owner, and the local ranch hands all fall under the spell of a boasting city slicker, Harvey Fiske. Anne marries Harvey, but discovers too late that he is a coward. When a Mexican bandit threatens to kill them if they don’t give him $50, Harvey trembles and goes for the money. Anne grabs a gun and chases the bandit off. The ranch hands, none the wiser, elect harvey to be their sheriff. However, when he receives instructions to apprehend another notorious bandit, he tells his wife he can’t do it. Anne yanks off his ammunition belt and straps it to her own waist, grabs her hat and rifle, and stomps out the door. She manages to track down the bandit and, after a thrilling shoot-out among a stand of tall rushes, kills him. Anne returns home and orders Harvey to recover the body and take the credit. From the house, she watches through the window as he rides into town w ith the body and later shakes the hands of the happy ranch hands."
    "The Craven was one of many films from this period that dramatized white male cowardice (e.g., The Honor of His Family, 1910). It was also one of many in which courageous white women took over for incapacitated brothers, husbands, and sweethearts (e.g., On the Western Frontier, 1910; A Western Girl’s Sacrifice, 1910; The Post Telegrapher, 1912). In fact, Anne Schaefer played a similar role in How States Are Made (1912), shown at last year’s Giornate. Schaefer had moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles with Vitagraph regulars Sturgeon, this film’s director, and actors Thornby, Bennett, and Burns (all in this film) in October 1911 to form the Western branch of the Vitagraph Company. The Western Vitagraph films were often praised for uniting spectacular locations with quality photography, complex plots, and mature acting.
" – Laura Horak

AA: Again the program note – by Laura Horak – fully covers everything. "The newcomer seduces Anne / (Maud in this print) with false tales of heroism". But when there is an invading robber, Anne needs to take care of him. When Harvey, believed to be the hero, is appointed sheriff, he "does not dare refuse". Also the assignment to seize Black Pete needs to be handled by Anne. The psychological depth of this story becomes evident towards the end. Anne's deep shock at the realization that she has killed Black Pete. She asks Harvey to "go ahead and take the reward". Her sorrow and disappointment. Fine performances by Anne Schaefer and Robert Thornby. The landscapes are beautifully photographed. A somewhat duped but ok visual quality.

A Bit of Blue Ribbon. Photo: EYE.

A BIT OF BLUE RIBBON (Het blauwe lint) (US 1913). D: Rollin S. Sturgeon. SC: W. Hanson Durham. C: Mary Charleson (Kitty), Charles Bennett (Jim Hartwell, her father), Anne Schaefer (her mother), Robert Burns (Steve), [William] Eagle Eye (a Mexican). PC: Vitagraph. Rel: 4.1.1913. 35 mm, 741 ft, 11'04" (18 fps); titles: NLD. Source: EYE Filmmuseum, Amsterdam (Desmet Collection).
    Laura Horak: "Kitty, a ranch owner’s daughter, loves Señor, an old racing horse to whom she has tied a blue ribbon. When her father Hartwell tells her cowboy sweetheart Steve to kill Señor, he refuses. (These parts of the story are not explained in the Dutch intertitles.) Instead, Hartwell undertakes the task; just as he is about to shoot Señor, a Mexican appears and tries to steal Hartwell’s horse. A shot is fired, and Hartwell falls to the ground. The Mexican grabs the ribbon out of Hartwell’s hand and puts it in his hat. Steve arrives, and shots are exchanged."
    "The Mexican rides off, and tells the ranch cowboys that Steve has shot the ranch owner. The cowboys find Steve bending over Hartwell and bring Steve to the sheriff. Hartwell regains consciousness, but has amnesia. After Kitty and her mother tend to him, he regains his memory and tells them the truth."
    "However, the sheriff and cowboys are about to hang Steve for the crime. Kitty leaps on a horse and rides off to stop them, but she encounters the Mexican, who is running away on foot. She leaps off and attacks him, but he steals her horse, dropping his hat with the ribbon in it. She grabs the hat and runs to the hanging tree, arriving ust in time to show the ribbon and explain what really happened. The cowboys chase and shoot the Mexican, who falls off his horse. The synopsis says that the Mexican, “confronted with the evidence of his guilt, the bit of blue ribbon... confesses and is sentenced to death,” but we don’t see this in the surviving print. Instead, after Kitty and Steve embrace, Steve shakes Hartwell’s hand."
    "This convoluted plot was written by W. Hanson Durham, a prolific photoplay writer who was hired by Vitagraph in the fall of 1912 to write and edit scenarios for their Western studio. Durham wrote articles for aspiring scenario writers in the magazine The Photo Playwright, advising them to buy a “brain book” and write down any “striking and strong” title that occurred to them. He bragged that he had bought a Maxwell automobile with the proceeds from his screenplays , and the magazine’s editor praised his “good, strong, virile photoplays.”"
    "William Eagle Eye plays Mexican bandits in both The Craven and this film. Born in Globe, Arizona, in 1880 (or 1887), Eagle Eye played Mexican, Indian, and sometimes Chinese villains in over 40 films. Little is known about him, but he declared himself “Indian” and his occupation “buffalo herder” in the 1910 census, which found him working at an Oklahoma ranch."
    "He was likely Apache or Yavapai, as these groups had been forced onto a reservation near Globe in 1872, after silver was discovered on their land. Eagle Eye worked in films between 1911 and 1924, and is said to have died in Los Angeles in 1927 when he was knocked to the ground in a fist fight.
" – Laura Horak

AA: There is nothing to add to Laura Horak's note in which the film makes more sense than in the print viewed (in which important background information is missing, as is the fate of the bandit). A complicated story of misunderstandings, and a last minute rescue of the hero (Robert Burns) by the heroine (the appealing Mary Charleson). High contrast.

UNA OF THE SIERRAS (US 1912). D: Ralph Ince. SC: Marguerite Bertsch. C: Mary Charleson (Una), George Stanley, Anne Schaefer, Earle Williams, Robert Thornby, Florence Turner, E. K. [Edward Kline] Lincoln, Ralph Ince, Tefft Johnson. PC: Vitagraph. rel: 15.11.1912. 35 mm, 924 ft, 13'41" (18 fps); titles: ENG. Source: BFI National Archive, London.
    Laura Horak: "“Brought up in the Mountains Wild, She is more than a Match for a Crafty Financier. She’s a Hummer and Can Do Things,” announced Vitagraph’s ad. Una is the only child of a California prospector. When he dies, she goes to live with her aunt in the city, accompanied by a tidy fortune (“enough gold to pay the national debt!”). She explores her new surroundings with zest, jumping into the driver’s seat and even onto the hood of a moving car and doffing her outer clothes to splash around in the Pacific. Her wealth and liveliness prove popular, but she spurns Sharpe, a shady investor, in favor of the kindly Clifford, also a stock broker. When Sharpe conspires against Clifford, Una thwarts his plan by convincing her uncle to buy up 50,000 shares of stock and showing up at the boardroom to cast her votes and cast igate the scheming company leaders. In this print, the film ends with Una smiling at the gratified Clifford. In the published synopsis, she asks Clifford “if they are engaged,” and he answers with a kiss."
    "Placing a frontiersperson in the city or a city slicker on the frontier was a sure-fire way to get a laugh in the 1910s and also to symbolically resolve the regional tensions of a large, diverse country. Often these contradictions are enacted by cowboys who romp through the big city, in films from The Cowboy Millionaire (1909) to Manhattan Madness (1916), or by coddled city boys who try their hand Out West, from Algie the Miner (1912) to Wild and Woolly (1917). However, city women also give ranch life a go in The Cow Boy Girls (1910) and The Cowboys and the Bachelor Girls (1910), and frontier females take on the city in the Mabel Normand vehicles Mickey (1918) and Rowdy Ann (1919)."
    "With this film, Rollin S . Sturgeon turned to “comedy without chaps,” the New York Dramatic Mirror noted, though the director credit ultimately went to Ralph Ince, younger brother of the producer Thomas H. Ince. The film was written by Marguerite Bertsch, the prolific Columbia University-educated screenwriter hired as a staff writer at Vitagraph in 1911. She not only rose to editor-in-chief of the scenario depar tment in three years, but also directed four films, telling a journalist: “I never wrote a picture that I did not mentally direct. Every situation was as clear in my mind as though the film was already photographed.”"
    "Born in Ireland, actress Mary Charleson moved to California at a young age and performed in more than 80 films between 1912 and 1920. In 1916 she began appearing opposite Henry B. Walthall. They married two years later, after his divorce, had a daughter, Patricia, and remained together until Walthall’s death in 1936.
" – Laura Horak

AA: A comedy about a girl from the Wild West (Mary Charleson) who arrives at the city, an early instance of a theme that was still valid in Beverly Hillbillies and Coogan's Bluff. (The Finnish counterpart would be Rovaniemen markkinoilla). Mary Charleson is funny as the wild girl, restless in a moving car, throwing her clothes off at the beach, surprising everybody at the shareholders' meeting. A fine roster of female players (with Anne Schaefer and Florence Turner). Well directed, well acted. The acting is natural. A fine print with some duped passages.

SALLIE’S SURE SHOT (US 1913). D: ?. PC: William Duncan. SC: Cornelius Shea. C: Myrtle Stedman (Sallie), William Duncan (deputy Fred), Lester Cuneo (Coyote Jim), Tom Mix (“Injun” Sam), ? (Rob Ralston, Sallie’s father). PC: Selig. Rel: 4.7.1913. 35 mm, 973 ft, 14'25" (18 fps); titles: ENG. Source: BFI National Archive, London.
    Laura Horak: "“A Tale of Devotion and Dynamite.” Coyote Jim and his gang plan to jump Ralston’s mining claim when he leaves his daughter Sallie alone at their mountain cabin. Sallie pulls a gun to scare off “Injun” Sam, who spies on the cabin. After Fred, Sallie’s sweetheart, warns the gang, Jim, Sam, and the others go ahead w ith their plan. They threaten Sallie and take her to the nearby claim. While Fred slowly approaches the claim, the gang prepares to dynamite the cabin, lighting a fuse they have run out a window. As the gang begins to celebrate, Sallie grabs a rifle, keeps them at bay, and whirls to cut the fuse in half with a “sure shot.” After Sallie and Fred return to her cabin Jim relights the fuse, but Fred grabs the dynamite and throws it at the gang. In the explosion’s aftermath, he and Sallie tie them all up and hand them over to the sheriff.
    "Selig films had long dramatized the grit of Western women, from the hardworking sisters who run a Colorado farm in Girls in Overalls (1904) and the dangerous cross-dressing Female Highwayman (1906) to the athletic cowboy girls portrayed by Pansy Perry, Myrtle Stedman, Betty Harte, and Kathlyn Williams. In fact, Sallie was not the first Selig heroine to display such impressive shooting skills – in The Girl from Montana (1907), Pansy Perry’s character races on horse back to rescue her falsely accused sweetheart and shoots through the suspended rope just as he is hung."
    "Myrtle Stedman (née Lincoln) appeared in more than 200 films between 1910 and 1938, the year she died. In addition to cowboy girls, she played militant suffragettes in Selig comedies like When Women Rule (1912) and The Suffragette, or The Trials of a Tenderfoot (1912). Stedman left Selig later in 1913 and worked for several companies. In 1915 she starred in Lois Weber’s film The Hypocrites, and became the first woman elected to the short-lived Motion Picture Board of Trade of America. A journalist noted that Stedman was“ blessed with an abundance of brain, diplomacy and popularity.” Her son, Lincoln Stedman, became a movie actor and theatrical producer."
    "The film was shot in Prescott, Arizona, where the local Chamber of Commerce had lured Selig’s Colorado unit in January 1913, when Lubin’s Western company left for Mexico. Selig made Westerns in Prescott for more than a year, building the Diamond “S” Ranch just outside the town. Tom Mix plays the “half-breed” Sam, which was a regular type for him at this time, unless he was playing the cowboy hero for which he became famous.
" – Laura Horak

AA: A tale of female heroism. Myrtle Steadman is convincing as Sallie, the prospector's daughter, who thwarts the villains' intention to jump her father's claim. Together with her sweetheart Fred she resists the villains' gang, but Sallie's marksmanwhip is crucial: she cuts the dynamite fuse with her bullseye shot. There is a touch of comedy in the finale when the villains are packaged together with rope. An ok, fair print.

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