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An Unseen Enemy (1912)

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The physician's death orphans his two adolescent daughters. Their older brother is able to convert some of the doctor's small estate to cash. But it is late in the day, and with the banks ... See full summary »

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Title: An Unseen Enemy (1912)

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Cast

Complete credited cast:
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The Sister (older)
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The Sister (younger)
Elmer Booth ...
The Brother
...
The Boy
...
The Thief
Grace Henderson ...
The Slattern Maid
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Storyline

The physician's death orphans his two adolescent daughters. Their older brother is able to convert some of the doctor's small estate to cash. But it is late in the day, and with the banks closed he stores the money in his father's household safe. The slatternly housekeeper, aware of the money, enlists a criminal acquaintance to crack the safe. She attempts to get into the adjacent room where the sisters tremble in fear, but finds that the door is locked. The drunken housekeeper menaces them by brandishing a gun through a hole in the wall. But the resourceful girls use the telephone to call their brother who has returned to town. He gets the message and organizes a rescue party. Written by Thomas McWilliams <tgm@netcom.com>

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Crime | Short | Thriller

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Release Date:

9 September 1912 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

El enemigo invisible  »

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1.33 : 1
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Film debut of Lillian Gish. See more »

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User Reviews

 
Griffith introduces two legendary actresses in this short drama
25 September 2005 | by (Westchester County, NY) – See all my reviews

It's hard for me to be objective about the merits of this particular Biograph short because my first viewing of it was such a memorable experience: I was fortunate enough to see D.W. Griffith's An Unseen Enemy in the presence of one of its featured players, Miss Lillian Gish. Perhaps I should add that the two of us had some company, in fact there were several thousand others present, as well. Over a period of several days in March of 1987 four famous silent feature films were shown at Radio City Music Hall in NYC, each accompanied by a full orchestra conducted by Carl Davis, and each introduced by someone associated with the production in some way. Two of John Gilbert's movies were introduced by his daughter, Leatrice Gilbert Fountain; Douglas Fairbanks Jr. introduced his father's classic The Thief of Baghdad; and the magnificent drama The Wind was introduced by its star, 93 year-old Lillian Gish, who was greeted rapturously with a roaring standing ovation.

First, however, we were treated to a short film. An Unseen Enemy marked the premiere screen appearances of Lillian and Dorothy Gish in featured roles -- that is, after a stint as crowd extras in another short, which in effect served as their screen test. The very first image we see is a shot of these two beautiful girls, still in their teens, portraying sisters who are in mourning for their recently deceased father. We note right away that Lillian's grave, mesmerizing beauty is already in full bloom, and that both girls seem perfectly natural and at ease on camera. The film's plot is rudimentary, and easily conveyed with a minimum of title cards: the girls have inherited a small sum of money, which is deposited in a safe in their home by their brother who then leaves for work. Unfortunately, the sisters have been left in the care of a low-life housekeeper, who promptly goes after the money. Meanwhile we meet Dorothy's boyfriend Bobby, who is about to leave for college but is unhappy that Dorothy is too shy to give him a farewell kiss. Before long, the wicked housekeeper has enlisted the help of an equally disreputable partner, who sets about cracking the safe while she locks the girls in a small room and keeps them covered with a pistol, which she points through a stove port in the wall. The girls' brother, summoned by a frantic phone call, commandeers an automobile and races to the scene, but it's Bobby who manages to save the day, and earn that postponed kiss from Dorothy.

The race to the rescue was already a Griffith specialty by the time this film was made, but while there are other Biograph shorts that offer more elaborate and exciting versions of the device, the brief chase in An Unseen Enemy is well-edited and effectively suspenseful. The most memorable image from this film is the rather bizarre sight of Lillian and Dorothy being kept at bay by that pistol, held by a gloved hand sticking through a hole in the wall. The girls cower in a corner for an extended period although it appears from the way the scene was staged that the woman holding the gun could not possibly see them. When I saw this movie at Radio City the audience viewed it with respectful interest, generally speaking, but I have to admit this sequence generated some unintended laughter, as did the title card identifying the housekeeper as "the slattern maid."

When Miss Gish stepped out onto the stage, moments after this short drama had ended, she made only a couple of cursory remarks about it and then quickly turned to discussing Victor Sjöström's The Wind, which she told us she considered a great film. It surely is, but for viewers interested in Gish's and Grifith's early work An Unseen Enemy is well worth viewing in its own right, allowing for its simple technique and modest production values. This is a well-constructed and interesting short, and the fact that it showcases the Gish sisters at the dawn of their film careers is reason enough to see it.


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