American Virtues

Thirty Days at Hard Labor
R: Oscar Apfel. B: Based on a story by O. Henry. D: Robert Brower, Mary Fuller, Harod M. Shaw. P: Edison Manufacturing Co. USA 1912

“In Thirty Days at Hard Labor, the story is adapted to the screen with taste and sensitivity, retaining the general outline of the plot: a rich boy courts a rich girl, but her father, a self-made man, objects to her marrying a spoiled idler. He requires the boy to prove himself by earning his living for thirty days by the work of his hands. The boy soon finds that his tender hands are, indeed, no match for digging ditches or shoveling coal; but ultimately he finds a way to satisfy the letter of the law, bringing the story to a sweetly enjoyable conclusion.
The director of Thirty Days, Oscar Apfel, was a prolific director during these years (he would famously co-direct The Squaw Man with DeMille in 1914), but today’s film enthusiast is likely to remember him onscreen as an even more prolific character player in the sound era. Here, as a director, Apfel demonstrates his ability: the story is told with subtlety and charm, and the players deliver restrained performances. Cinematically, too, the film benefits from some effective lighting/photographic touches. One interesting effect appears in the early part of the film: the young lovers are seen on a balcony before a romantic setting, moonlight reflected on water. The moonlight and water are not the real thing, but a theatrical illusion conjured up by electric light and moving silhouettes — holdovers from the stage being a frequent device in films of this period.”
J.B. Kaufman

The Totville Eye
R: C.J. Williams. B: Bannister Merwin. D: Walter Edwin, Yale Boss, Robert Brower, Charles Ogle, Bessie Learn, Edward O’Connor. P: Edison Manufacturing Co. USA 1912

“Because of its structure — an assortment of episodes linked by a common thread — The Totville Eye is inevitably compared to such Griffith films as Pippa Passes. (…) Just as Griffith had assembled a company of familiar players who regularly appeared in his films at Biograph, so Edison by 1912 had a regular ‘stock company’ of its own. Some of its most familiar faces are on display in The Totville Eye: Robert Brower, Edison’s resident curmudgeon (whose career would continue throughout the silent period), as the hidebound editor; lovely Bessie Learn as the young bride-to-be; Charles Ogle, best remembered today as the Monster in Edison’s 1910 Frankenstein, as the landlord.
Like many films of this period, The Totville Eye packs a wealth of subtle incident and detail into its spare one-reel length. Audiences of 1912 were conditioned to a certain economy of style in their movies, and easily comprehended nuances which we, today, may miss on first viewing. Kevin Brownlow has written of the scene in The Musketeers of Pig Alley in which a gangster in a dance hall spikes Lillian Gish’s drink, not in closeup but as one of several actions simultaneously occurring in the frame. It’s a key plot point, but today’s viewer, unschooled in such refinements of technique, may miss it altogether. There’s an analogous scene in The Totville Eye, when a friendly drunk lurches into the drugstore and mischievously pours some whiskey from his own bottle into the pastor’s glass. The action is staged a little more conspicuously than that in Musketeers, but the scene does show us the drunk positioning himself between the table and the pastor and distracting him, the pastor soberly entering into the conversation, the drunk simultaneously holding the bottle behind his own back and emptying it into the glass, and the office boy standing in the background and observing the whole incident — all at the same time, and in the same shot.”
J.B. Kaufman