Traffic in Souls

Traffic in Souls
R: George Loane Tucker. B: Walter MacNamara, George Loane Tucker. K: H. Alderson Leach. D: Jane Gail, Ethel Grandin, William H. Turner, Matt Moore, William Welsh, Millie Liston, Laura McVicker, Irene Wallace, Howard Crampton. P: Independent Moving Pictures Co. of America (IMP). USA 1913

“Advertisements for the film said that it was based on the Rockefeller White Slavery Report and on the investigation of the Vice Trust by District Attorney Whitman. In a news item in 17 Dec 1913 NYDM, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. denied that any films about white-slave traffic had his sanction or were in any way approved by the Bureau of Social Hygiene, through which he conducted his investigations of white-slave traffic. Furthermore, he stated that ‘the use of my name in any such connection is absolutely unauthorized, and that I and those associated with me in this work regard this method of exploiting vice as not only injudicious but positively harmful.’ Var [= Variety] commented, ‘there’s a laugh on the Rockefeller investigators in the play in the personality of one of the white slavers, a physical counterpart of John D., himself so striking as to make the observer sit up and wonder whether the granger of Pocantico Hills really came down to pose for the Universal.’

According to modern sources, the film was cast by IMP [= Independent Moving Pictures Company] editor Jack Cohn and was made without the knowledge of IMP officials. Director Tucker quit IMP and went to the London Film Company in England after Traffic in Souls was shot. Jack Cohn cut it from ten to six reels. The popularity of the film (modern sources claim that it cost $5,700 to make and that it grossed approximately $450,000) touched off a wave of white-slave pictures.
The National Board of Censorship of Motion Pictures viewed the film on 27 Oct 1913 and passed it with five minor alterations.”
AFI Catalog

George Loane Tucker’s 1913 Traffic in Souls (aka ‘While New York Sleeps’), one of our earliest feature-length films, pretended a concern with so-called white slavery while offering audiences the titillation they craved in this era of the earliest film femme fatale — the vamp. Traffic in Souls was a huge hit in its time, providing a solid foundation on which Universal Pictures was built, and earning its place on the National Film Registry as a culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant film. (…)

Technology plays a large role in this film. The manager writes the daily returns on a tablet that form magically on a similar tablet in Trubus’ office, the imagination of the film’s creators prefiguring email. Trubus is unmasked for what he is by Mary, dis-charged from the candy store because of the immorality attached to her sister’s situation — kidnapping is no excuse for low morals, apparently — and hired by Mrs. Trubus (Millie Liston) to replace the sexually loose secretary (Laura McVicker) she has discovered smooching with the manager. Mary learns the truth and brings a microphone her father has invented to eavesdrop on Trubus and his manager —an early phone bug. We also have an early example of product placement — Edison recording cylinders are used to record the conversation the bug picks up.
The precision of the police assault on the brothel is a masterful bit of filmmaking. Loane Tucker builds suspense as the police get their orders and man various positions on top of and surrounding the brothel. When the police storm the building, the camera work is kinetic and dizzying, and Burke’s pursuit of the manager to the roof ends in a quick, realistic way with the manager ending as a slick on the cement below, a scene with which moviegoers are now quite familiar.

The ruin of Trubus is the ruin of his family as well — his daughter’s (Irene Wallace) betrothal to the season’s most eligible bachelor unceremoniously ended and an outraged mob screaming for blood at his predatory hypocrisy, his wife killed by the shock and shame of the double life he has been leading. The audience feels that Lorna has learned her lesson about straying into a willful life of her own, redemp-tion for having thrilled to the madam’s whip hovering over her quivering, tearful form.”
Marilyn Ferdinand

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George Loane Tucker became a director in 1910 and went on to make many one-reel films for studios such as IMP and Reliance-Majestic. In 1913, he gained considerable notoriety for making the sensationalistic Traffic in Souls, a racy exposé of white slavery. A tremendous box-office success, the film is credited with starting a trend of increasingly sexy films. Just before the film was released, Tucker had moved to England where he made a few more highly regarded films. In 1917, he returned to the U.S. and continued directing. One of his most acclaimed works was The Miracle Man (1919), the film that featured Lon Chaney in his first starring role. Tucker was highly regarded in Hollywood and when he died of a lingering illness in 1921 at the age of 49, he was hailed as ‘the First of the Immortals”.”
Rotten Tomatoes