Maurice Costello

The Meeting of the Ways
R: Unknown. D: Maurice Costello, Leo Delaney, Julia Swayne Gordon, Charles Eldridge, Dolores Costello, Helene Costello, Norma Talmadge. P: Vitagraph Company of America. USA 1912
Print: EYE
Dutch titles

“A melodramatic story of two brothers. Their ways parted at college where Dick was expelled for hazing while Tom graduated with honor. At their parting Tom gave Dick a locket with their mother’s portrait in it and this was the means of identification when fate brought them together again after many years. Dick, who had sunk to the underworld, had accidentally killed a man who was attempting to rob him of this cherished locket. Tom, who had become a great lawyer, was assigned by the judge to plead Dick’s case and the locket was handed to him. His plea wins and his brother is acquitted. The picture is competently made, well acted and photographed and is pleasing. It has many good qualities but no special strength. Mr. Costello plays Tom, and Mr. Delaney plays Dick. The rather close resemblance between their profiles makes them convincingly brothers.”
The Moving Picture World, January 27, 1912

“The son of Irish immigrants, Costello ((1877-1950) grew up in Pittsburgh where he worked at various odd jobs before gaining a toehold in vaudeville in 1894 with a repertoire of Irish songs. Soon, he was touring in stock companies and melodramas. By 1905 he was in New York and taking film work by day at the Edison studios to supplement his income. In 1907 he moved to Vitagraph which is where he enjoyed his principal time in the sun. In 1911 he became one of the first movie actors whose name was revealed to the public, and thus became one of the cinema’s first matinee idols. Among his many hits was this 1911 version of A Tale of Two Cities. Adverse publicity from several domestic violence incidents negatively affected his career in the mid teens. By the end of end of the decade, he was more of a supporting player, although he continued to work through the 1920s. By that time, his daughters Helene and Dolores had become stage and screen stars — bigger stars than he was at that point. In the sound era, Costello was reduced to being an extra, literally a spear carrier in some films. His last credit is in 1945. But in the meantime his daughter Dolores had become John Barrymore’s third wife (1928-1935). Through this bloodline, Maurice Costello is the great-grandfather of none other than Drew Barrymore.”
Trav S.D.

Mrs. ‘Enry’ Awkins
R: Van Dyke Brooke, Maurice Costello. D: Van Dyke Brooke, Norma Talmadge, Harry T. Morey, Maurice Costello, George Cooper, Kate Price. P: Vitagraph Company of America. USA 1912
Print: EYE
Dutch titles

“A cheery, wholly commendable picture of costermonger life in good comedy spirit which pleased the audience very much. The character portrayals of every one in the cast, there are only four or five who play roles, is excellent; but that of Van Dyke Brooke, the old, gouty father, is very fine. We didn’t recognize him in this part. Liza, the girl, is played most charmingly by Miss Norma Talmadge. Her two lovers are a costermonger owner of a donkey cart (Mr. Costello) and a pugilist (Mr. Morey). The action is brisk and dramatic. It is well photographed and makes a most entertaining release, a very good feature to brighten up an audience on a rainy day.”
The Moving Picture World, April 6, 1912

The Loyalty of Sylvia
R: Van Dyke Brooke. D: Maurice Costello, Florence Turner, James Morrison, Kate Price, E.K. Lincoln. P: Vitagraph Company of America. USA 1912
Print: EYE
Dutch titles

It All Came Out in the Wash
R: Maurice Costello. B: William Wallace Cook. D: Maurice Costello, Lillian Walker, George Ober, Mrs. B.F. Clinton, Richard Leslie. P: Vitagraph Company of America. USA 1912
Print: EYE
Dutch titles
Engl. subtitles


More Costello films:

>>> The Picture Idol
>>> The Days of Terror
>>> Julius Caesar
>>> A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Ugo Falena: Salomé, 1910

R: Ugo Falena. D: Vittoria Lepanto, Laura Orette, Ciro Galvani, Achille Vitti, Francesca Bertini. P: Film d’Arte Italiana. It 1910
Engl. titles

“Incredibly, even before 1910 there had already been seven silent film adaptations of the story of Herodias’ daughter including four release in 1908 alone. The oldest of these seven, the German film Tanz der Salome dates all the way back to 1902, three years’ before Strauss‘ famous opera was first performed. Given the opera’s popularity, it’s not entirely surprising that so many films about the subject were released, nor that Blackton, Capellani and Feuillade were among those to give it a go. Nevertheless, 1910 saw the release of two more films about Salome: Herodiade a French effort by Alice Guy‘s former assistant, Victorin Jasset; and this Italian-based film by Ugo Falena. At the time Falena was working for Film d’Arte Italiana, which as a studio was very much back in third place behind Italy’s biggest two largest film producers Cines and Ambrosio. (…)

The film broadly follows Wilde/Strauss’ variation on the New Testament tale. Certain details such as the Baptist being held in a cistern are drawn straight from the play, but it’s interesting that in contrast to the play opera the cistern is a subterranean pit opposed to an above ground structure. (…) Two elements of the plot are also added. The first is the visit of Vitellius (presumably the future emperor, though of where he is meant to be proconsul at the time of the story is anyone’s guess). The other is a moment where a serving girl spills wine on Herod and is instantly dragged off, tied to stake and stabbed to death by a group of female revellers. Salome’s dance occurs immediately after this incident such that the unfortunate woman’s corpse is visible throughout Salomé’s dance.”
Matt Page
Bible Films Blog


>>> Ugo Falena’s Romeo e Giulietta


Vitagraph’s Cowboy Girl Westerns

A Girl of the West
R: Unknown. D: Tom Powers, Helen Case, Lillian Christy. P: Vitagraph Company of America. USA 1912
Print: EYE (Desmet collection)
Dutch titles
Engl. subtitles

“‘Easy money’ seems to be in sight for ‘Scar-Faced Bill,’ a cattle rustler, when he overhears Jones, a ranch owner, offer John Winthrop $500 for his horse, which Jones very much admires. Bill plans to steal Winthrop’s horse, deliver it to Jones and get away with the money. Winthrop is very much in love with Dolly Dixon, and is very fond of Polly, her youngest sister, who is an excellent horsewoman and a great friend of the cowboys. She happens to be with him when Mr. Jones makes the agreement to buy the horse. ‘Dance Hall Nell’ stands in with ‘Scar-Faced Bill,’ who instructs her to follow him when he gets away with Winthrop’s broncho and to delay, with her winning ways and cajolery, anybody who follows. Early the next morning Polly is out for a ride. She overhears Bill’s friend discussing the stealing of Winthrop’s horse and the carrying out of Bill’s scheme. She spurs her horse and starts at breakneck gallop to warn Mr. Jones. (…)”
Moving Picture World synopsis

“In Vitagraph’s A Girl of the West (January 1912), the plucky sister of the hero’s sweetheart does her own horseback riding to single-handedly foil a rustlers’ plot. (…) Reviewing Essanay’s Broncho Billy’s Narrow Escape (July 1912), the ‘Morning Telegraph’ cited the ‘novel turn’ in which a ranchman’s daughter ‘makes a hard ride’ to prevent the lynching of a ranch hand falsely accused of stealing her father’s horse. (…) Although not known as a producer of westerns, Vitagraph released a good number of films in the genre from late 1911 through the first half of 1912, most of them rather different from A Girl of the West. Their chief characteristics were these: they exhibited the ‘quality’ of the company’s most familiar historical films and literary adaptions, they were directed by Sturgeon, and they often told unconventional stories.

A good example is How States Are Made (February 1912, see below), which, as the ‘World’ put it, ‘deals with a well-known phase of the Western life that everybody seems to have overlooked in the mad scramble to supply the demand of ‘Western stuff’: the Oklahoma land rush of 1893. The ‘Mirror’ not only praised the feat of depicting hundreds of settlers lined up to dash across the Cherokee Strip but also found the ‘events leading up to the exciting ride’ so convincing ‘that the whole story seems like history instead of acted fiction’. A year later, the ‘Mirror’ cited this film specifically in demonstrating that Sturgeon was a major filmmaker. Another is The Greater Love (May 1912), which, the ‘Mirror’ argued, made ‘an exceptionally virile and decidedly new version of this rather timeworn situation’: an outlaw and a sheriff are rivals for the same woman. (…) The Craven (April 1912, see below) is perhaps the most unusual of all: in the ‘Mirror’s words, ‘a significant example of the peculiarly strong type of Vitagraph Western picture.’ Here a woman discovers the man she has married is really a coward, even though his boastfulness has led to his election as sheriff.”
Richard Abel: Americanizing the Movies and “Movie-Mad” Audiences, 1910-1914. University of California Press 2006, p. 73-74

How States Are Made
R: Rollin S. Sturgeon. D: Fred Burns, Anne Schaefer, Robert Thornby, Charles Bennett. P: Vitagraph Company of America. USA 1912
Print: EYE (Desmet collection)
Dutch titles
Engl. subtitles

The Craven
R: Rollin S. Sturgeon. D: Robert Thornby, Anne Schaefer, Eagle Eye, Charles Bennett, Fred Burns. P: Vitagraph Company of America. USA 1912
Print: EYE (Desmet collection)
Engl. subtitles

Maciste – The First Superhero

R: Luigi Romano Borgnetto, Vincenzo Denizot. B: Agnes Fletcher Bain, Giovanni Pastrone. K: Augusto Battagliotti, Giovanni Tomatis. D: Bartolomeo Pagano, Ada Marangoni, Amelia Chellini, Didaco Chellini, Arline Costello, Louise Farnsworth, Leone Papa, Clementina Gay, Robert Ormand, Leone Papa. P: Itala Film. It 1915
Print: Cineteca di Bologna / EYE
Dutch titles, Engl. subtitles

“The phenomenon known as Maciste was first introduced in the film Cabiria (1914), the most famous of all the early Italian epics. This immensely popular blockbuster was nearly upstaged by one character, Maciste the Nubian slave, portrayed by Bartolomeo Pagano. Maciste proved so popular and charismatic that Pagano was showcased in his own film the following year, Maciste, and a series of Maciste productions would continue through the silent era. In this, Pagano’s second appearance as Maciste, the line between character and actor blurs. The heroine, in need of a hero, hides from her pursuers in a movie theater showing Cabiria, where she witnessess the on-screen derring-do of the strong and benevolent Maciste. (…) Pagano starred in a little more than thirty films in his short career, which ended in 1928. All but four were part of the Maciste series. Many of these films were called ‘peplum’ films, after the short skirt or tunic worn by characters in films that took place in ancient times. Though variations on Maciste often appear in historical or classical tales, he was very much a modern invention, the creation of director Pastrone and Cabiria screenwriter Gabriele D’Annunzio. (…)

Cabiria laid the foundation for the Maciste phenomenon, which melded the character and the actor who played him into one of the modern world’s first superheroes. In Maciste, we first see the actor demonstrate his great strength by lifting a dumbbell with another man on it. This was standard fare in the age of the Strongman, or ‘Uomo Forte’, who extolled the virtues of physical training, good health and exercise. (…)  Whether the setting of the film was historical, as in Cabiria, or contemporary, as in Maciste, the character came to represent a nationalistic ideal of virile and paternal strength. Film historian Pierre Sorlin points out that ‘the same description applies perfectly to his contemporary, Benito Mussolini.’ And Sorlin goes on to say, ‘Fascists never used Maciste for their propaganda, but the character perfectly fitted the kind of human being they wanted to promote.’ Mussolini himself did not use movies to spread propaganda until the 1930s, relying instead on a combination of personal appearances, self-penned newspaper articles and radio. He did finally open the Cinecitta film studio in 1937 to promote Italian and fascist ideals. Perhaps the cinema didn’t interest Mussolini until he, through it, could talk. (…) The legend of Maciste spread with the international distribution of his films. According to a 1917 New York Times article, ‘Maciste is the Douglas Fairbanks of Italy. As a matter of fact, he out-Fairbanks Fairbanks, since he is almost twice as big as our own favorite athletic actor…Maciste makes the whole Austrian army shake in its boots.’”
Aimee Pavy
San Francisco Silent Film Festival

>>> Maciste alpino on this site

A Niagara Falls Drama

The Diver
R: Harry Lambart. B: Marguerite Bertsch. D: Earle Williams, Rose Tapley, Mlle. Ideal, Lillian Mulhearn, Charles Wellesley. P: Vitagraph Company of America. USA 1913
Print: EYE / Jean Desmet Collection
Dutch titles

“Margaret Brachen and her guest Rita Malrose, a handsome young widow, are extremely jealous of Mlle. Vivian, the Diver, whom Rupert Brachen, Margaret’s husband, and John Hawley, see performing at the Hippodrome. They are indignant when the two men invite the charming diver to perform at a lawn fete which Margaret has gotten up at their country place at Travis Sound. But Rita gets an opportunity to make Hawley suspicious and she puts her plans into execution. Some flowers are sent to Margaret by her husband for a sick friend, but arrive after Margaret has started for the friend’s house. Rita sends them to Vivian unidentified, and bribes the messenger boy to drop a handkerchief marked with Brachen’s initials in Vivian’s room. When Hawley sees the flowers and the handkerchief his suspicions are fully aroused. Rita sends a note to him saying that if he would know Vivian’s true character, to watch her house at midnight. She dresses up in some evening clothes belonging to Brachen, who is away, and when Hawley comes to Vivian’s house, walks down the front steps in full view, returning then to the Brachen home, thus confirming his worst suspicions. The Brachens and their guest Rita stop at Niagara Falls before returning to the city. One day little Agatha, Vivian’s daughter, wanders away and gets into a boat which some boys are playing with by the river. The boat slips from the grasp of one of the boys and is carried into the swift current toward Niagara Falls. Vivian, in Niagara to open her season there, while standing on a cliff above the falls sees the child coming down the river. She throws off her pumps and dives into the water. (…)”
Moving Picture World synopsis

“A two-reel feature number in which the chief figure is a famous diving woman, Mlle. Ideal. The remarkable swimming feat in the second reel, when she saves the life of a child about to be swept over Niagara Falls in a boat, is the strongest thing in the offering. The fore part of the story seemed rather below the Vitagraph standard, being in the nature of a common love intrigue, involving the husband of one woman and the lover of another. The spectacular features are of chief interest in this.”
The Moving Picture World, November 22, 1913

About Marguerite Bertsch
“Beginning as a staff writer at Vitagraph in 1911, Bertsch had risen by 1914 to become editor-in-chief of the scenario department — succeeding Beta Breuil — where she was responsible for evaluating hundreds of scenarios submitted weekly to the company, selecting promising properties, and revising scripts, all while continuing to write her own original scenarios. Contemporary reports, like that in the New York Telegraph in 1916 emphasize her professional achievements and intellectual acumen, describing her as ‘a big woman mentally’ and ‘delightfully feminine, but with the brain of a diplomat.’ (…)  In interviews, Bertsch articulates both the practical principles of cinematic craft and an idealistic vision of ‘the future of the photoplay,’ themes that she would develop more fully in her 1917 book, ‘How to Write for Moving Pictures: A Manual of Instruction and Information’. Bertsch’s approach combines traditional principles of literary and dramatic criticism with an eye to the particular demands of motion pictures, explaining the narrative functions of techniques such as close-ups, cross-cutting, dissolves, subtitles, as well as the practical economics of production.”
Jennifer Parchesky
Women Film Pioneers Project

>>> Lumière’s film Niagara (1897)

An Early Screwball Comedy

Le baromètre de la fidélité
R: Georges Monca. D: Max Linder, Jeanne Marnac. P: Pathé Frères. Fr 1909

“It is clear that the setup will result in disaster, but it is the way that the film goes about delivering its climax that is both satisfying and amusing. Yet again, Linder’s physical movements are impeccable in these final movements, every gesture is so considered as he manages to deliver his inimitable performance without ever over-exaggerating or playing down a particular comic moment. Linder succeeds where so many other actors fail in silent film: communicating with his audience without them ever wishing he was able to utter a single word.
Although we would struggle to find a fidelity barometer in a modern day romantic comedy, the entire structure of Le baromètre de la fidélité is genre specific to the romantic comedy, with several considerable exceptions. As with film of the same year Princess Nicotine, the humour is dark and sassy. Its brand of humour makes it a forerunner for the screwball comedies of the thirties and forties. The film oozes with a level of charm and cheekiness that you will rarely find in a modern romantic comedy; for example, the lack of moralising makes a most welcome change.”
Film: Ab Initio

>>> Georges Monca’s Rigadin series


An Italian Western – hybrid style

508-nel paese dell'oro

Nel paese dell’oro
D: Alberto Collo, Oreste Grandi, Matilde di Marzio. P: Cines. It 1914
Print: EYE Filmmuseum (Desmet Collection)
Dutch titles

Print temporarily not available

“In Italian western Nel Paese dell’Oro (1914) the star was not a gunslinger, but Toby the faithful dog, who helped to build barricades, did his level best to throttle the villain, and even rescued a lost tot from kidnappers and cold water, Rescued by Rover style. A canine who can.”
Pamela Hutchinson
Silent London

“This is an interesting film hybrid. The first reel tells a western story of thwarted romance, revenge, and rescue, apparently set in Mexico. The second reel begins years later, with the same characters now in modern-day Vera Cruz, and it looks more like a contemporary Gaumont thriller from Louis Feuillade or Léonce Perret. A missing intertitle makes the shift in time and place rather abrupt.
As a gold-mine owner, Marco Gallegos has grown rich while refusing to hire cowboy neighbors. One of these “lazy cowboys,” Alonzo, has long been in love with Gallegos’s daughter Matilde, and is upset when she falls in love with the newly arrived Giovanni Fargas. Rebuffed by Gallegos, Fedro and José persuade their friend Alonzo to join in an attack on Gallegos, Matilde, and Giovanni. Setting the miner’s house on fire, they kill Gallegos, beat up Giovanni, and Alonzo seizes Matilde. But Giovanni manages to track down the villains and, with the help of his dog Toby, rescues her. They then escape their pursuers by hiding in a cave. A few years later, in Vera Cruz, the married Giovanni and Matilde take their son to a zoo, run by a friend named Bark. Fedro and José, now working as zookeepers, recognize Matilde and kidnap the boy in revenge and carry him off on bicycles. After Giovanni fails to catch them, again it is Toby who pursues the villains and rescues their son, while one kidnapper dies falling into a ravine and the other drowns in a river.
The most striking part of the first half of the film is the siege of the Gallegos house, in which the camera cuts in closer and closer to Gallegos, Matilde, and Giovanni as they barricade the door and window, firing rifles at the attackers, and then are forced to flee as the fire rages through the walls. Also of interest is the scene of Giovanni, Matilde, and Toby climbing down into the darkened cave and then escaping through another opening. If the second half seems more conventional, despite a well-executed chase and leaps into a river, it does include an unusual close-shot of Fedro and José edging up the interior of a chimney (before kidnapping the boy) – probably with the actors crammed into a set on the floor and filmed from above by a slowly dollying camera.”
Richard Abel
Le giornate del cinema muto


A Deadly Car Ride

536-automobile della morte

L’automobile della morte
Director and actors unknown. P: Società Anonima Ambrosio. It 1912
Print: Nederlands Filmmuseum
Dutch titles

Print temporarily not available

“Hier zeichnet sich der Übergang vom effektvollen, mit Attraktionen und rapiden Szenenwechseln aufwartenden ‘Ereignis’-Film zum narrativen, mit komplexer Handlungsführung ausgestatteten ‘Kinodrama’ der 1910er Jahre ab. Denn erst nach umständlich erzählter Vorgeschichte, die psychologische Dimensionen integrierte und schauspielerische Leistungen herausstellte – Kategorien, die in den Filmen der Frühzeit kaum ausgeprägt waren – , kommt es zur Attraktion der tödlich endenden Autofahrt.”
Dorit Müller: Gefährliche Fahrten. Das Automobil in Literatur und Film um 1900. Königshausen & Neumann 2004, S. 230