Charlie, the Perfect Lady

A Woman
R: Charles Chaplin. B: Charles Chaplin. K: Harry Ensign. D: Charles Chaplin, Charles Insley, Marta Golden, Edna Purviance, Billy Armstrong, Leo White, Margie Reiger. P: Essanay Film Manufacturing Company. USA 1915
Print: Cineteca di Bologna / Lobster

A Woman — the last of a trio of Charlie Chaplin comedies in which he cross-dresses — was clearly the most successful. His previous comedic turns in a dress included both A Busy Day and The Masquerader, but it is only in this film that he seriously attempts to convince the viewer as a bonafide female impersonator. (…)
Despite the growing acceptance of female impersonations (something Laurel and Hardy would make a great play of in their later films), such was the concern in 1915 about Chaplin’s taboo busting in A Woman, the film was banned in Scandinavia until the 1930s. In Britain, the country’s censor the BBFC initially rejected the film for release when first submitted for approval in March 1915. Shortly thereafter, the British censor relented and A Woman was approved for British distribution under the title Charlie, the Perfect Lady.
In terms of cinematic technique, Chaplin developed the use of the close-up in A Woman, something he’d sparingly but notably dabbled with before. Ironically, the significant close-up here is reserved not for Chaplin in his Tramp guise, but when he has discarded his male persona and adopted female clothing. It as if he was challenging his viewers to look at him afresh, without his distinctive and trademark moustache, but yet not as himself as he appeared off-screen (when he was largely unrecognisable to most as the ‘Charlie Chaplin’ from the films). The point being, perhaps, that there was more to this little fellow than a knockabout clown, as he would go on to prove in his future filmmaking endeavours.”
Brian J. Robb
Chaplin: Film by Film

>>>  A Busy Day and The MasqueraderChaplin 1914

Two years before: Another Perfect Lady – Marcel Fabre

Madamigella Robinet
R: Marcel Fabre. D: Marcel Fabre, Nilde Baracchi, Ernesto Vaser, Filippo Costamagna. P: S.A.Ambrosio. It 1913

                587-Marce Fabre

The Great Flood of Paris, 1910

La crue de la Seine
P: Eclipse. Fr 1910

“In late January 1910, following months of high rainfall, the Seine River flooded Paris when water pushed upwards from overflowing sewers and subway tunnels, and seeped into basements through fully saturated soil. The waters did not overflow the river’s banks within the city, but flooded Paris through tunnels, sewers, and drains. In neighbouring towns both east and west of the capital, the river rose above its banks and flooded the surrounding terrain directly.
Winter floods were a normal occurrence in Paris but, on 21 January, the river began to rise more rapidly than normal. Over the course of the following week, thousands of Parisians evacuated their homes as water infiltrated buildings and streets throughout the city shutting down much of Paris’ basic infrastructure. Police, fire-fighters, and soldiers moved through waterlogged streets in boats to rescue stranded residents from second-story windows and to distribute aid. Refugees gathered in makeshift shelters in churches, schools, and government buildings. Although the water threatened to overflow the tops of the quay walls that line the river, workmen were able to keep the Seine back with hastily built levees.”

“At ten minutes to eleven on the morning of Friday, January 21, 1910, almost the very hour at which on another January 21 Louis XVI. mounted the scaffold, the power station from which all the public clocks of Paris are worked by compressed air was flooded by the Seine; all the clocks stopped simultaneously with military exactitude, and with a start of surprise Parisians began to realize that the Seine in flood was not a harmless spectacle that could be watched with the cheerful calm of philosophic detachment, and that the river in revolt was an enemy to be feared even by the most civilized city in Europe. Crowds, it is true, had gathered on the embankments, admiring the headlong rush of the silent yellow river that carried with it logs and barrels, broken furniture, the carcasses of animals, and perhaps sometimes a corpse, all racing madly to the sea; they had watched cranes, great piles of stones, and the roofs of sheds emerge for a time from the flooded wharves and then vanish in the swirl of the rising water, while barges and pontoons, generally hidden from sight far below, rose gradually above the level of the streets, notably one great two-storied bathing barge, a vision of unsuspected hideousness, that threatened at any moment, triply moored as it was, to crash into the parapet.”
Evangeline Holland
Edwardian Promenade


Émile Cohl, Master of Animation

Cadres fleuris
R: Émile Cohl. P: Société des Etablissements L. Gaumont. Fr 1910

En route
R: Émile Cohl. P: Société des Etablissements L. Gaumont. Fr 1910

Les aventures du baron du Crac
R: Émile Cohl. P: Société des Etablissements L. Gaumont. Fr 1910

Affaires de coeur
R: Émile Cohl. P: Société des Etablissements L. Gaumont. Fr 1909

Cohl (born Emile Eugène Jean Louis Courtet) first established himself as a caricaturist, cartoonist and writer in the 1880s/90s. In 1908 he joined the Gaumont film company, originally as a writer. He soon graduated to directing comedy, chase and féerie (magical films in the style of Georges Méliès) films, but then moved to making animation films, a kind of film only just starting to be created, largely through the example in America of J. Stuart Blackton, whose Humorous Phases of Funny Faces (1906) and Haunted Hotel (1907) opened up a whole new world of cinematic possibility.

Cohl worked with line drawings, cut-outs, puppets and other media. He also took the idea of animation one step further by cresting a character, Fantoche. His first animated film, the delightful stick figure Fantasmagorie (1908), is held to be the first fully animated film, employing 700 drawings on sheets of paper, each photographed separately. Cohl developed a distinctive personal style of animation, where a figure would metamorphose into some unexpected different image, taunting notions of reality and logical sequence. Cohl made over 250 films between 1908 and 1923, working for Gaumont, Éclair (including a spell in America), Pathé and others. Thirty-seven (some of uncertain attribution) survive in film archives.”
Luke McKernan
The Bioscope

Le placier est tenace
R: Émile Cohl. P: Société des Etablissements L. Gaumont. Fr 1910

>>> Fantasmagorie on this website: Early Cartoons



Oil and Love

The Gusher
R: Mack Sennett. D: Ford Sterling, Mabel Normand, Charles Inslee. P: Keystone Film Company. USA 1913

“This early Keystone short seems to have been built around some stock footage of a burning oil well. Mabel Normand is the classic girl next door, except that in this case she lives next door to an oil field. She is courted by both Charles Inslee (who had roles in Making a Living and His New Job) and Ford Sterling (Chaplin’s rival in Between Showers and Tango Tangles). (…) Tinting was used to give the effect of the red fireball against the black smoke and it is quite impressive, especially as Inslee stands in front of it twirling and rubbing his hand in glee. Someone calls in the Keystone Kops, including Mack Swain (later in The Gold Rush and Pay Day with Chaplin) and Edgar Kennedy, (from A Flirt’s Mistake and Mabel at the Wheel) but the real denouement is Sterling chasing off the baddy. The fire rages on in the closing shot.”
Century Film Project

“After the American Civil War, the petroleum industry made continual technological advances that allowed it to emerge as society’s major source of energy and lubrication during the twentieth century. The immense potential of petroleum resources and applications became evermore apparent, attracting the interest of one of the most effective businessmen in history, John D. Rockefeller. Working within the South Improvement Company for much of the late 1860s, Rockefeller laid the groundwork for his effort to gain absolute control of the industry, covering each phase of the process. Rockefeller formed the Standard Oil Company of Ohio in 1870. In the early 1870s, oil exploration in Pennsylvania’s Oil Creek region grew significantly, and the effort would expand to other states and nations during the next decade. By 1879, Standard controlled 90 percent of U.S. refining capacity, as well as the majority of rail lines between urban centers in the northeastern U.S. and many leasing companies at various sites of oil speculation throughout the country. Due to Rockefeller’s efforts and developments, petroleum became the primary energy source not only in the U.S., but for societies around the world.

John D. Rockefeller and Standard Oil first demonstrated the potential market domination available to those who controlled the flow of crude oil. Rockefeller’s system of refineries had grown immensely by the close of the nineteenth century, allowing him to demand lower rates and eventually even kickbacks from rail companies that transported his products. One by one, he drove his competitors out of business, making Standard Oil into what observers in the late 1800s called a ‘trust’ (today known as a monopoly). Standard Oil’s reach extended throughout the world, making it a prominent symbol of the ‘Gilded Age’, when businesses were allowed to grow unregulated, benefiting only a few wealthy parties; reformers vowed things would change.”
Brian Black
The Encyclopedia of Earth

Lassie’s Predecessor

Shep’s Race with Death
R: Jack Harvey (as John Harvey). D: Mrs. Whitcove, J.S. Murray, Marie Rainford, Marion Fairbanks, Madeline Fairbanks. P: Thanhouser Film Corporation. USA 1914

“If you thought Lassie had little to draw on in way of predecessors, there’s a revelation in store in this silent 1914 melodrama and its titular star, a fun-loving collie who appeared in several Thanhouser films in 1914 and 1915 and who here proves fully capable of outwitting a horse, a speeding train and a disagreeable old lady.”
Robert Avila

Ireland a Nation

Ireland a Nation
R: Walter MacNamara. B: Walter MacNamara. D: Barry O’Brien, P J Bourke, Fred O’Donovan, Barney Magee, Patrick Ennis, Dominick Reilly. P: MacNamara Feature Film Co. USA 1914. Irish release (Gaelic Film Co) 1917.
Part 2 – 4, including actuality footage (1914-1920)

“The film is mainly concerned with Irish political and military events between 1798 and 1803. A review of the original version of the film in Irish Limelight in February 1917, following the first Dublin screenings, is the most complete and critical account seen of the film (…):
Ireland A Nation was marred by anachronism and inaccuracies. Some of these, in fact, were too patently ridiculous for serious criticism. The film opened with the passing of the Act of Union, in which an excellent reconstruction of the scene of the old Anglo-Irish House of Commons was spoiled by the delineations of Grattan and Castlereagh – the former depicted as heavy and opulent, and the latter – probably to please the gallery – as the very acme of masculine ugliness. A messenger from Dublin was shown bringing the news of the passing of the Act of Union in 1800 to Father Murphy (who was killed in 1798) as he was addressing his parishioners after Mass, and straightaway the priest (then two years dead) converted his congregation into an insurrectionary band and placed himself at their head. At the same time a deputation of Anti-Unionist M.P.s burst in on the studies of Robert Emmet, told him the Union was passed, and asked him to go to Napoleon for armed aid which, according to the film, Emmet immediately did. Fr Murphy with Emmet in Marshalea Lane Depot, Emmet taking the oath, giving evidence, and defending himself – in typical Yankee fashion – at his own trial, and Michael Dwyer apparently marrying Anne Devlin, and certainly taking off with her to Australia, were amongst other outstanding anachronisms and inaccuracies.’
The surviving film, amounts to approximately 26 minutes of dramatised material and about eight minutes of actuality footage, which are reels 2, 3 and 4 of the re-issued 1920 version of the film. (…) Actuality footage follows of a Home Rule meeting (1914); of Eamon de Valera’s visit to the USA (1919-20); of the deaths on hunger strike in 1920 of Terence McSwiney and Michael Fitzgerald; of the auxiliary military force, the Black and Tans, being reviewed by the British Prime Minister, Lloyd George, before being dispatched to Ireland; of the burning of buildings and military patrols during the War of Independence.”
Trinity College Dublin

Ireland a Nation was not a Hollywood production. The film was a highly charged political melodrama, the brainchild of Walter MacNamara, an Irish born American filmmaker. MacNamara formed his own company to produce a film about Ireland’s long struggle for independence with the intention of garnering sympathy in America for this Irish cause. To this end, the film’s narrative is rich in nationalist commentary that links the Irish cause to America’s own historical struggle for independence.”
High Beam Research

>>>  Old Ireland – more films about Ireland on this website

Standard Crazy Stuff

Clarence Cheats at Croquet
B: Lloyd Lonergan. D: Alfred Hickey, Barbara Gilroy, Charles Emerson. P: Thanhouser Film Corporation. USA 1915
Print: Library of Congress

Clarence Cheats at Croquet was preserved under the direction of the Library of Congress from a 35mm tinted nitrate print loaned by EYE Filmmuseum in Amsterdam. The original nitrate print was scanned at a high resolution and output to 35mm polyester film stock at Colorlab Corp. with support from Thanhouser Company Film Preservation, Inc., and the NFPF.
National Film Preservation Foundation

“A pleasant and genteel little comedy, produced by the Thanhouser company in New Rochelle, NY – one of the many films produced by this pioneering studio in the early days of motion pictures. The premise is standard stuff, centering around a croquet match between two opponents squaring off for the affection of a young woman.
Nicely photographed and deliberately paced with mild slapstick and subdued characterizations. Of special interest now as an example of the wide range of short comedy subjects being produced at that time outside of the major comedy ‘factories’ like Keystone.”
Matt Barry
The Art and Culture of Movies

Charlie’s Brother Syd

Gussle’s Wayward Path
R: Charles Avery,  Syd Chaplin. D: Syd Chaplin, Phyllis Allen, Wesley Ruggles, Billie Brockwell. P: Keystone Film Company. USA 1915

“Syd enjoyed some discernible success with his Gussle character at Mack Sennett’s Keystone studios, where he secured a comfortable niche among the bulging eyes, blatant gestures, and wild pratfalls that were the slapstick norm for the production company.  While his brother constantly fought for greater creative control throughout his 36-film tenure at Keystone in 1914, Syd was initially more interested in exploring the intricacies of comedy. (…) While the Gussle character has the same comically unrefined approach as many of the Keystone stalwarts, by the time of A Submarine Pirate, Syd had modified his approach to settle more comfortably within the changing mode of comedy that had been initiated by brother Charlie.  By this time, Charlie was making his transitional comedies at the Essanay studios, reinventing slapstick as one that stems from a central character that has some depth and substance.”
James L. Neibaur
Senses of Cinema

A Submarine Pirate
R: Charles Avery, Syd Chaplin. B: Mack Sennett. D: Syd Chaplin, Phyllis Allen, Glen Cavender. P: Keystone Film Company. USA 1915

“This short comedy stars Charlie Chaplin’s brother, Sydney Chaplin, whom Charlie had managed to get a job at Keystone before he left for Essanay. Syd only worked for Mack Sennett for a short while before going on to become Charlie’s manager, so this movie is one of the few insights we have into his talents. Like Charlie, he had learned his stuff doing broad comedy on the British vaudeville circuit, and he seems comfortable with slapstick. (…) The cook in the kitchen is a young Harold Lloyd, but he doesn’t really show off his future talents in this piece. Syd realizes that the guests have something cooking with a submarine, and figures out how to eavesdrop on their discussion and steal the papers the ‘inventor’ was giving the other man to make him commander of the submarine. (…)
At the time of release, submarine warfare was no joking matter in the US, as Germany had moved to ‘unrestricted warfare’ in the Atlantic and sank the RMS ‘Lusitania’ in May, 1915 (the movie came out in November), killing more than 100 American passengers. Syd’s character, therefore, is hardly sympathetic, and there may have been some satisfaction in seeing him get his comeuppance at the hands of a navy vessel. To be sure, all the violence in this movie is cartoonish slapstick, and no one is shown in danger of actually drowning or being blown up, but there may be an element of propaganda to it nonetheless.”
Century Film Project

“What gave Sydney Chaplin a real break was his contract with Fred Karno’s Speechless Comedians in July 1906, one of the most famous and successful entertainment troupes in England. Sydney was so successful with Karno that he became the leading comedian. Two years later, he recommended Charlie Chaplin and helped him land a job with Karno, which eventually led Charlie to the United States. Later, when Charlie Chaplin was to leave Keystone in 1915, he suggested Sydney as his replacement. Sydney Chaplin made a dozen comedies there and found success with a character he called ‘Gussle’. With Charlie Chaplin’s rise to stardom, Sydney was soon handling the majority of Charlie’s business affairs, negotiating most of his big contracts and appearing in a few films during the First National era, including A Dog’s Life, Pay Day, The Pilgrim and the famous Shoulder Arms. In his later films, Sydney Chaplin enjoyed wide popularity for his comedy performances in Charley’s Aunt (1925) and The Better ‘Ole (1927).”
Charlie Chaplin

Shakespeare’s Richard III

Richard III
R: Frank R. Benson. B: William Shakespeare (play). K: Will Barker. D: Frank R. Benson, James Berry, Alfred Brydone, Kathleen Yorke. P: Co-operative Cinematograph, Stratford Memorial Theatre Company. UK 1911
Print: BFI

“The Co-operative Cinematograph Company also made similar recordings of Benson‘s Julius Caesar, Macbeth and The Taming of the Shrew (and possibly Twelfth Night and The Merry Wives of Windsor), though these have been lost.
Richard III marks a step forward from Dickson‘s film in that each shot is heralded by a scene – setting intertitle and a very brief citation from Shakespeare‘s text, but the concept remains essentially the same. The thirteen scenes add up to a précis of the whole play, including most of the obvious set-pieces, though these are usually presented in such a compressed and cryptic form that prior familiarity with the text is not so much recommended as essential.
It also draws on a convention first established in Colley Cibber‘s eighteenth-century adaptation, in that it opens with explanatory scenes from ‘Henry VI’ Part III, an approach that would be continued by the two British feature film Richard IIIs, by Laurence Olivier (1955) and Ian McKellen (d. Richard Loncraine, 1995). Benson also adopts now obsolete but then current convention by casting women as the young princes, an inversion of practice in Shakespeare’s time, when women were famously played by boys.
Aside from some wildly gesticulatory performances, presumably exaggerated to compensate for the lack of sound, there is little attempt at cinematic reinvention, aside from two scenes. The murder of the princes in the Tower, described verbally by Shakespeare, is turned into a silent pantomime here (concluding with their murderer Tyrrel’s subsequent remorse), and Richard’s nightmare on the eve of the battle of Bosworth involves a series of dissolves from one accuser to the next. But even here, the camera is rooted to the ground (or, more literally, the stalls), and each scene is presented as a single unbroken shot encompassing the whole stage.”
Michael Brooke

More about Shakespeare on Film:
Encyclopaedia Britannica

>>> more Shakespeare on this site: Shakespeare on Screen, Film d’Arte Italiana

Subtle Understatement: Sessue Hayakawa

The Cheat
R: Cecil B. DeMille. B: Hector Turnbull, Jeanie Macpherson. K: Alvin Wyckoff. Ba: Wilfred Buckland. D: Fannie Ward, Sessue Hayakawa, Jack Dean. P: Jesse L. Lasky Feature Play Company. USA 1915

“The silent melodrama The Cheat (1915) was a key film in the early career of Cecil B. DeMille – one that helped establish his reputation as a top-echelon director. According to DeMille biographer Anne Edwards, the film ‘set standards of acting, decor, frame composition and lighting which were not surpassed for years.’ Although D. W. Griffith‘s The Birth of a Nation, released the same year, has received more attention, The Cheat also had a profound influence on filmmaking, especially in its innovative camera techniques and ‘sexually charged content’. The movie was named to the National Film Registry in 1993.
Re-released during World War I, when Japan was an ally of the U.S., The Cheat so offended members of the Japanese government that Tori’s nationality was changed to Burmese and his name became Haka Arakau. A master of subtle understatement at a time when most film acting was flamboyantly histrionic, Hayakawa achieved stardom thanks to his oddly sympathetic performance in The Cheat and an earlier performance in The Typhoon (1914). He formed his own production company in 1920 and enjoyed international success as a leading man and character actor. He was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance in The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957).
The Cheat, which was remade several times but never to greater effect, won much critical praise for DeMille, especially for its striking visuals and low-key lighting effects. ‘Never before has the skillful play with light and shade been used to such marvelous advantage’, wrote one reviewer. But the director himself was less impressed by great reviews than in popular acceptance. After The Cheat enjoyed only lackluster box-office success in the U.S., DeMille reportedly dismissed it (despite its commercial success in France). Film historian Kevin Brownlow has written that, after the disappointing reaction to The Cheat and other innovative efforts of his early career, DeMille ‘lowered his sights to meet the lowest common denominator, so the standard of his films plummeted.'”
Roger Fristoe
Turner Classic Movies