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Trying to Get Arrested (1909)

 -  Short  -  5 April 1909 (USA)
6.0
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Ratings: 6.0/10 from 7 users  
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A tramp tries to get himself arrested so he can sleep in the nice, warm jail, but the police keep ignoring him or arresting the wrong person.

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Title: Trying to Get Arrested (1909)

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Cast

Credited cast:
John R. Cumpson ...
The Tramp
Anita Hendrie ...
The Assaulted Woman
...
The Nanny
Owen Moore ...
The Passerby / In Fight
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Kate Bruce
...
In Fight
Charles Inslee ...
Policeman
Arthur V. Johnson ...
The Fugitive
Marion Leonard ...
Extra
Jeanie Macpherson
David Miles ...
In Fight
Herbert Prior ...
Second Tough Guy
...
First Tough Guy
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Storyline

A tramp tries to get himself arrested so he can sleep in the nice, warm jail, but the police keep ignoring him or arresting the wrong person.

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Short

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5 April 1909 (USA)  »

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1.33 : 1
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Historically priceless, but poor adaptation
26 April 2003 | by (Minffordd, North Wales) – See all my reviews

O. Henry's famous story 'The Cop and the Anthem' was originally published in 'The Sunday World' on 4 December, 1904, and has been widely reprinted ever since. This is the story of a Manhattan derelict named Soapy ... an odd name for an unwashed tramp, until one realises that in 1904 a typical cake of soap was a brown greasy lump of tallow with an unpleasant smell. Winter is drawing nigh, and the streets are getting too cold for Soapy to continue sleeping rough. He decides it's time for his annual ritual of committing some small crime which will bring him a three-month jail sentence: just enough to enable him to spend the winter in a nice cosy prison cell, with room and board at the city's expense. The payoff of the story is one of O. Henry's classic twist endings, but it's funny (and believable) even if you already know the famous ending. The best-known (and best) version of this story is the sequence in "O. Henry's Full House" featuring Charles Laughton as the tramp, with a brief appearance by Marilyn Monroe as a Bowery streetwalker!

'Trying to Get Arrested' is the very first film adaptation of O. Henry's 'The Cop and the Anthem' ... and the only version produced during O. Henry's lifetime. This very short slapstick comedy, directed by D.W. Griffith very early in his cinematic career when he was still feeling his way with this new invention, is historically fascinating but not a very good piece of storytelling. Much of O. Henry's original story takes place entirely within the tramp's mental processes: his original intentions, and his later decision to reform himself, are explained in the narration. "O. Henry's Full House" solved this problem by giving the tramp a companion: an even lowlier derelict (played by David Wayne) to whom he explains his decisions for the audience's benefit. In this crude silent film, the tramp's motivations are explained by some unwieldy title cards. In O. Henry's story, Soapy the tramp invents several clever dodges for getting arrested, all of which fail hilariously ... in this much cruder movie, he pretty much limits himself to starting street brawls in the hope of getting hauled off to the station house. Although this movie is funny, the humour comes from raw slapstick ... unlike O. Henry's original (and much funnier) story, in which the humour derives from human nature and the perversity of fate.

This film omits the streetwalker character from O. Henry's story (possibly for censorship reasons), and substitutes a child-minder played by Florence Lawrence, who is often called 'the first movie star' because she was the first American film performer (of either gender) to be billed onscreen by her right name. Also present in a small role is Jeanie Macpherson, who later had much greater success as Cecil B. DeMille's most important scriptwriter.

This slapstick movie has the feel of an early Keystone film, which is no coincidence as Mack Sennett was D.W. Griffith's assistant at this time ... and he appears in this film as a chucker-out who ejects Soapy from a restaurant when the tramp eats a sandwich he cannot pay for. Years later, Sennett generously praised Griffith as the greatest influence on his own film-making career, saying: "He was my day school, my night school, my university."

The photography by Griffith's favourite cameraman 'Billy' Bitzer is excellent, and this film features a few candid shots of 1909 Manhattan in the vicinity of 14th Street, where the Biograph film studio was located at this time. Far from the best version of this film story, but a fascinating piece of cinema history: I'll rate this movie 7 out of 10.

O. Henry made a fortune from his popular stories, but gave most of it away to friends and complete strangers: when he died (in the Polyclinic Hospital, E. 34th St, a few months after this movie was released), his entire estate totalled 23 cents. Biograph didn't pay O. Henry any money for the film rights to this story, but he would have squandered the money anyway.


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