Alice Guy in America – 4

Across the Mexican Line
R: Alice Guy. D: Romaine Fielding, Frances Gibson. P: Solax Film Company. USA 1911

Across the Mexican Line was the first of Solax’s regular output of military pictures and, reportedly, the only one to be directed by Alice Guy Blanché. It’s an unremarkable and dated one-reeler. Its main draw is that it was directed by the world’s first female filmmaker. She began making movies in 1896 or thereabouts for the French studio Gaumont. In America, she and her husband formed the Solax studio. Although the output of other early cinema pioneers, like Georges Méliès and Edwin S. Porter, e.g., seems to have grown stale by the 1910s, Guy remained proficient throughout the decade, running her own company, but Across the Mexican Line is not one of her better productions. (…) The story is a bland and jingoistic spy romance set during the Mexican-American War and with the added exotica for the era of an interracial coupling with a ‘half-breed,’ as portrayed by an Anglo actress, though (and which rather gives a double meaning to the ‘Mexican line’ title). Dolores uses her newfound skills in telegraphy to betray her Mexican countrymen and to save her beloved American. Harpodeon’s print is missing some footage, which is filled in by text explaining the missing scenes – although they don’t explain the seemingly poor use of crosscutting between Dolores on top of a telegraph pole and a shot of two soldiers firing guns. The editing suggests that they fired at Dolores, but the subsequent scene of her shows her apparently unharmed, and we don’t see another scene of the two soldiers. Oh well. It compares poorly to, say, the crosscutting last-minute-rescue films of D.W. Griffith, from around the same time.”

Parson Sue
R: Alice Guy. D: Blanche Cornwall, Darwin Karr, Gladden James, Billy Quirk. P: Solax Film Company. USA 1911/12
Print: Nelson Collection / National Film Preservation Foundation (NFPF)

“Before 1912 trade papers used the term  ‘western’ in a descriptive sense, as in the phrase ‘Wild West dramas’.  At that time the films that today would be called ‘Westerns’ were known under various genre categories: military films, Indian films,  sometimes even ‘Western dramas’ and  ‘Western comedies’.  Apparently, the first appearance of the term ‘Western’ to describe a film generically appeared in The Moving Picture World on July 20, 1912.  Ironically, the westerns shot in and around Fort Lee had their heyday in 1911; by mid 1912 the western ‘fad’ appeared to be over. According to a variety of articles and editorials in The Moving Picture World, the audience was tired of them. (…) Of course, the migration of film companies to California brought spectacular light and landscapes, real Indians, real bronco riders, real Mexicans and stars like Tom Mix and William S. Hart to the genre, giving it a new life by 1915.

Alice Guy Blaché had inaugurated her film company, Solax, in the fall of 1910, in Flushing, NY.  She discovered that the Cheyenne Days Company troop of cowboys on hiatus between Orpheum Circuit engagements when she was in Ft. Meyer, Va., supervising the production of some military films.  She told The Moving Picture News that she hadn’t thought of making a western until she saw these bronco riders in action. (…) The Cheyenne Riders starred in The Girl and the Broncho Buster (Solax, 1911) which was released July 14, (now a lost film) and the next Solax western, Outwitted by Horse and Lariat (Solax 1911, released July 28th) (still extant). (…) Parson Sue was released January 17, 1912, and it was the first Solax film to feature the newly hired Billy Quirk, a veteran of Biograph.
The Solax promotional summary for the film in Moving Picture World describes the film as a ‘Western Comedy’ that achieves its hilarity without ‘resorting to moss-eaten methods.’ (…) Guy pushed at the boundaries of the Western genre when she moved from having a woman using her smarts to get herself saved, to a woman as a parson and inspire cowboys to reform, to a woman throwing her own lasso and shooting her own gun. The latter happens in Two Little Rangers, sometimes also known as ‘The Little Rangers’ (released August 12, 1912). The final triangular tableau, reminiscent of a pietà arrangement, is typical of Guy’s endings for her action films; we see a very similar tableau at the end of Greater Love Hath No Man (Solax 1911). At this point she had pushed the genre as far as she could.”
Alison McMahan
Alice Guy-Blaché

God Disposes
R: Alice Guy. D: Mace Greenleaf,  Blanche Cornwall, Darwin Karr, Magda Foy. P: Solax Film Company. USA 1912
Print: EYE

>>> Alice Guy in America – 1,   Alice Guy in America – 2,    Alice Guy in America – 3