The Colonel's Escape (1912) Poster

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8/10
Carlyle Blackwell and Alice Joyce in Early Film
drednm23 December 2016
This 1912 short film from the Kalem Company (1907-17 sold to Vitagraph) is a fine example of the West Coast films directed by Kenean Buel. Kalem was one of the first New York companies to film in California.

Buel's "stock company" included Carlyle Blackwell, C. Rhys Pryce and Alice Joyce, seen in this 13-minute film. Pryce basically plays himself, a soldier of fortune, who discovers an American customs agent, James Boyd (Carlyle Blackwell) dumped in a cave by Mexican smugglers. Later, when Pryce is on the run, he hides out in Boyd's house, where his sister (Alice Joyce) hides him.

When Boyd recognizes Pryce as the man who saved him, he helps him escape, only to be arrested and sentenced to death by the Mexican army. It's then up to sister to find Pryce to help rescue her brother from the firing squad.

More action than plot (it's 13 minutes), but along with the exotic landscape, there's one terrific and beautiful shot when Pryce leaves Boyd's house through a window. The stationary camera watches as Pryce goes through the window to his horse, then Blackwell and Joyce move into the frame and watch (along with us) as Pryce escapes. We see the backs of their heads in silhouette against the bright outside.

This is an excellent example of early filmmaking. The camera never moves, The intertitles simply describe the action in the upcoming scene. There's no plot detail, no dialog. We simply drop in on a story already in progress and must figure out the details of the plot. It's also easy to see why Carlyle Blackwell and Alice Joyce became big stars of the silent era.
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4/10
Gunsmoke
boblipton18 October 2016
There is a civil war going on in Mexico. Two men on opposite sides help each other escape from their own forces, because they are Americans in this visually excellent but muddled short film from Kalem.

There is some interesting work in terms of composition in this movie; window frames and clouds of smoke from guns redefine the size and shape of the screen constantly throughout this movie, but it is as if that same obscuring smoke obscures the story; there is an enormous amount of exposition through titles throughout this picture. That inability to tell the story purely through images makes this a failure as a motion picture.

A copy of this film has been posted to the Eye Institute site on Youtube.
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