The Loan Shark Evil

The Usurer’s Grip
R: Charles Brabin. B: Theodora Huntington (story), Bannister Merwin (scenario). D: Walter Edwin, Gertrude McCoy, Edna May Weick, Charles Ogle. P: Edison Company. USA 1912
Print: Library of Congress

“The optimism of the pre–World War I Progressive Era — when belief in reform of society’s ills through investigative research and government action was at its height — is given its most lively illustration in a fascinating series of films produced between 1910 and 1915 by the Edison company in collaboration with a wide range of enterprising nonprofit organizations. Each film dramatized—and resolved—a social problem within 15 minutes. (…)
The film encapsulates real-world lending practices. Interest on household loans, secured by furniture and other property, was limited legally in New York and most of the nation to 6 percent annually, although virtually all such small loans were made at vastly higher rates, especially after ‘fees’. (…) ‘The loan shark evil’ was thus a long-standing topic of muckraking journal­ism, peopled with real-life melodramas of ‘rapacious money lenders’ and their ‘loan slave’ victims. By far the most effective investigation was undertaken by the sponsor of this film, the Russell Sage Foundation (…).
The name given the film’s beset husband and father, ‘Thomas Jenks’, may be a nod to two of the New York Supreme Court justices — Edward B. Thomas and Almet Jenks — who had in March 1912 struck down ‘fees’ above legal in­terest rates. As in the film (released seven months later), the case, brought by lawyers for the Russell Sage Foundation, centered on a $25 household loan. The court decision freed the District Attorney’s office to prosecute 1,000 lenders before the year was out. The resolution of The Usurer’s Grip relies on just such legal action by a New York district attorney, not on the customary change of heart or poetic justice (as in D.W. Griffith’s The Usurer [1910], in which the lender suffocates in his bank vault). (…)
The loan shark is played with convincing coldheartedness by Charles Ogle, remembered now as the movies’ first Frankenstein monster, in Edison’s 1910 version. He is ready to take sexual favors from Jenks’s wife in place of the second payment.”
Scott Simmon
National Film Preservation Foundation

>>> Griffith’s The Usurer
>>> Frankenstein

Savoia Film, Torino

La moglie del capitano
D: Virgilio Fineschi, Annibale Moran. P: Savoia Film, Torino. It 1913
Print: Museo Nazionale del Cinema / EYE Filmmuseum
Dutch titles

“Pipetto and his two comrades are on leave: they stroll around the city chasing women, until they meet a very attractive one at the marketplace. They offer to help her bringing the shopping bags home. Arrived at home, she asks them to wait in the kitchen; meanwhile she goes to call her husband, who turns out to be their captain. The jealous husband rushes straight to the kitchen to surprise the three reckless soldiers and inflict them a solemn punishment.”
europeana collections

Il focolare domestico
R: Nino Oxilia. B: A. Gera. D: Maria Jacobini, Dillo Lombardi, Giovanni Spano, Alberto Nepoti, Piera de’ Ferrari. P: Savoia Film, Torino. It 1914
Print: Museo Nazionale del Cinema / EYE Filmmuseum (Desmetcolor)
Dutch titles

460-Oxilia Nino Oxilia, died 1917 in WW1

>>> more films by Nino Oxilia

>>> Oxilia’s Rapsodia satanica

Thanhouser’s Stars

The Marble Heart
B: Charles Selby (play). D: James Cruze, Marguerite Snow, Florence LaBadie, William Russell, Burton Law. P: Thanhouser Film Company. USA 1913
Print: Museum of Modern Art

“This story, already a well-known English play of 1854 adapted from an earlier French play, casts the three most popular Thanhouser adult stars in a story of unrequited love, with a dream sequence that parallels the main story. Pale makeup is especially noticeable in some scenes, the answer to orthochromatic film’s blotchy-dark rendering of skin tones. Within a couple of years the technique of film makeup, filtering and lighting would be greatly improved.”

Madam Blanche, Beauty Doctor
R: Arthur Ellery. B: Lloyd F. Lonergan. D: Harry Benham, Riley Chamberlin, Mrs. S. Stevens, Mignon Anderson, Ray Johnston, Edward N. Hoyt, Morgan Jones, Ethel Jewett. P: Thanhouser Film Company. USA 1915
Print: BFI

“A good example of the clever light comedy Thanhouser produced for its Falstaff label, while other studios cranked out broad slapstick comedies. Harry Benham and Mignon Anderson were versatile and popular Thanhouser stars, here showing considerable skill in light comedy, a genre that invites plenty of satirical social observation such as the burgeoning beauty-salon industry here. Cinema technique shows much more intricate editing and freer use of closeups than just a year or two earlier.”

Harry Benham

Exploring Character Psychology

The Little Girl Next Door
R: Lucius Henderson. B: Philip Lonergan. D: William Garwood, Marguerite Snow, Marion and Madeline Fairbanks, William Russell. P: Thanhouser Film Company. USA 1912
Print: British Film Institute

In a Garden
D: Riley Chamberlin, Marie Eline, Leland Benham, Marguerite Snow, James Cruze, Harry Benham. P: Thanhouser Film Company. USA 1912
Print: British Film Institute

Just a Shabby Doll
D: Mignon Anderson, Harry Benham, Lila Chester, Helen Badgley, Marie Eline, David H. Thompson. P: Thanhouser Film Company. USA 1912
Print: British Film Institute

“For the most part, the changes in style at Thanhouser bespeak a narrational trajectory not uncommon for many production companies during this period: shot counts increase over the period, indicating mounting cutting rates in keeping with industry norms (although they were far outstripped by rates at Biograph); the number of distinct spaces deployed for staging dramatic action proliferates; analysis of that space occurs more frequently through a broadened range of shot scales and angles, including cut-ins to close-ups, either for reaction shots or details of small-scale actions that might be misunderstood otherwise; there is a shift from a reliance on staging to ensure that dramatically important narrative action is in the foreground of the playing space to the adjustment of camera position to draw the viewer’s eye to the portion of the frame where that action occurs; and the number of expository titles decreases, with dialogue titles assuming a more prominent narrational role. (…)
While this overview confirms that the general narrational shifts at Thanhouser conform to those evident industry-wide, one can still point to certain distinctive stylistic features that indicate particularities of narration, and may constitute the foundation for identifying a house style. For one, Thanhouser seemed drawn to the possibilities that visions and flashbacks afforded for exploring character psychology, especially in 1912-13. Vision scenes often performed the crucial role of precipitating the moral conversion of characters tempted to pursue an ill-advised course of action in the plots of several films from this period, evident in such examples as Get Rich Quick (1911), The Voice of Conscience (1912), The Little Girl Next Door (1912), and Just a Shabby Doll (1913). For their part, flashbacks became a sufficiently privileged device for entire narratives to become structured around a central character’s recollections, as in In a Garden (1912) and Just a Shabby Doll (1913). While the vision and the flashback doubtless aided in promoting increased viewer understanding of character motivation, their relatively obtrusive representational status relegated them to the status of narrational novelty and they were not relied upon consistently.”
Charlie Keil: Narration in the Transitional Cinema: The Historiographical Claims of the Unauthored Text. In: Cinémas Volume 21, Numéro 2–3, Printemps, 2011, p. 107–130

>>> Get Rich Quick and The Voice of Conscience on this site

Exploitation and Performance

The Soap Suds Star
B: Lloyd F. Lonergan. D: Carey L. Hastings, Reginald Perry. P: Thanhouser Film Corporation. USA 1915

“Comedy about a down-and-out vaudeville team who attempt Shakespeare and destroy their career. Theater, particularly vaudeville, has been an endless source of material for movies. This energetic comedy features a down-and-out actor and a funny laundry proprietor who are hired as a vaudeville act. They become a big hit, but when they try Shakespeare, they destroy their showbiz career. The Soap Suds Star was released under the Falstaff banner, the comedy arm of Thanhouser.”

“Edwin Thanhouser was a successful stage actor, director, and theatre manager when he decided to found a movie studio in 1909. The Thanhouser Company in New Rochelle, New York, produced over 1,000 films and became an important independent company, which had a specific meaning in that pre-Hollywood era. Thomas Edison tried to monopolize production and distribution through the Motion Picture Patents Company or Patents Trust, which charged high royalties and fees for the use of his equipment. The nine major studios of the era, the primary distributor, and the chief supplier of raw film stock were members of this Trust. In spurning this system, Thanhouser didn’t have access to Edison’s equipment, but made up for it by being prolific and attracting audiences and critics through the care taken with story and production values.Many independents fled from the New York/New Jersey axis to California not only for the climate but to escape the Edison Trust’s constant legal persecution. Thanhouser, too, extended his reach through auxiliary studios in California, Chicago, and Florida. The Trust finally collapsed in the face of competition and legal decisions. Founded at the end of 1908, it dissolved in 1915, and the viability of Thanhouser was one element in its fall. Most companies that didn’t go West closed by 1917 in the face of a changing industry, Thanhouser among them. Though still in the black, the company shut its doors that year as Thanhouser retired from film. (…)
The Soap Suds Star (1915) is a funny comedy that bases its slapstick on character development and the ambiguous concepts of exploitation and performance. An agent makes vaudeville stars of a bickering couple because the audience thinks they’re a riot even when they’re not pretending. This goes to their heads.”
Michael Barrett

449-Thanhouser and family-2

Edwin Thanhouser and family, 1912

The Vicar of Wakefield

The Vicar of Wakefield
R: Theodore Marston. B: Oliver Goldsmith (story). D: Martin J. Faust, Frank H. Crane, Anna Rosemond, William Garwood, Marie Eline, Bertha Blanchard, Lucille Younge, William Russell. P: Thanhouser Film Corporation. USA 1910
Print: EYE (Desmet collection)
German titles

“The German title of this film was ‘Der Landprediger von Wakefield’. A print with this title is preserved by the Library of Congress. The Thanhouser emblem was used with abandon in this film and appears prominently on various interior walls (including a prison cell) and even on a tree in a picnic scene. This practice, common at the time with many film companies, was to minimize the possibility of unauthorized copies being made.
BACKGROUND OF THE SCENARIO: ‘The Vicar of Wakefield’, one of the most popular works of fiction in the English language, is from the pen of Oliver Goldsmith (…). This landmark work, published in 1764, rescued Goldsmith from impending arrest for debt. ‘The Vicar of Wakefield’ is difficult to categorize and is a complex story about the great priest (the Vicar), husband and father, Dr. Primrose, and the romantic escapades and near-marriages of his lovely children. The end is famous for its hilarious out-of-control double wedding and consequent ‘happily ever after’ sentiment.”

“The daughter of vicar Dr Charles Primrose is swept off her feet by a wealthy nobleman, who suggests they elope to get married. The squire however is deceiving the girl: he has arranged for one of his farmers to pose as a clergyman, so that the marriage is not legally binding. When the girl learns the truth she runs. The squire then has the vicar imprisoned for debt. In prison, the vicar learns that his daughter’s marriage actually is legitimate, because the squire’s farmers had enough of his antics and sent a real minister. The squire’s father insists that his son fulfills his obligations.”

“‘The Vicar of Wakefield’ – subtitled ‘A Tale, Supposed to be written by Himself’ – is a novel by Irish writer Oliver Goldsmith (1728–1774). It was written from 1761 to 1762 and published in 1766. It was one of the most popular and widely read 18th-century novels among Victorians. (…) In literary history books, ‘The Vicar of Wakefield’ is often described as a sentimental novel, which displays the belief in the innate goodness of human beings. But it can also be read as a satire on the sentimental novel and its values, as the vicar’s values are apparently not compatible with the real “sinful” world. It is only with Sir William Thornhill’s help that he can get out of his calamities. Moreover, an analogy can be drawn between Mr. Primrose’s suffering and the Book of Job. This is particularly relevant to the question of why evil exists.”

More early film adaptions of Goldsmith’s novel:
1912 – Dir: Frank Powell. P: Britannia Films. UK
1913 – Dir: John Douglas. P: Hepworth. UK
1913 – Dir: Frank Wilson. P: Hepworth. UK
1916 – Dir: Fred Paul. P: Ideal. UK
1917 – Dir: Ernest C. Warde. P: Thanhouser Film Corporation. USA