A young Neapolitan, full of the romance and adventuresome blood of his native heath, joins a secret society, and we witness his initiation. Later the leading lights of the organization undertake to blackmail a merchant, but they fail and resolve to bring about his demise. The band returns to headquarters, and the drawing of balls from a black bag decides who shall commit the deed. They all pull forth black balls until the young man's turn comes, and his fingers are holding a white ball! It is the fateful one. He is the chosen assassin, and the members of the band withdraw from the room. He hastens to the home of his sweetheart and tells her what has occurred; he must keep his pledge by turning murderer. She pleads, entreats, and her parents join her, and they finally induce him to break his oath. He promises them that he will. But this scene has been witnessed by two members of the society, and they take the news back to their chief. From that moment on the society plots to put him ... Written by
Moving Picture World synopsis
Did You Know?
This apparently ordinary short (18 minute) melodrama is important in movie history for one very important distinction: it was the movie that inaugurated the star system in Hollywood (and elsewhere). Up to that time, actors' names were never displayed in the credits of movies (with the rare exception of big stage stars, like Sarah Bernhardt
, who ventured tentatively into the medium). This was deliberate: the star system already existed in the American theater, and film producers did not want the headache of having to pay high salaries for star actors as theatrical producers already did. Also, stage actors, for a number of complicated reasons, were wary of publicly revealing their work in films. However, one actress, Florence Lawrence
became popular with audiences as the anonymous "Biograph Girl." She left Biograph and went to work for an new studio, IMP (Independent Moving Pictures Company), run by a German immigrant named Carl Laemmle
. In 1910, IMP launched a publicity stunt by spreading the false rumor that Miss Lawrence had been killed in New York by a streetcar. They then created and distributed a poster with the header "We Nailed a Lie" (even though it was the studio's own lie), and announcing that Lawrence, whose photo was displayed, was alive and well and appearing in the IMP production "The Broken Oath" (amusingly misspelled "The Broken Bath"). Thus, Lawrence became history's first movie star: that is, the first performer, not already famous in another medium, whose name and likeness were used in the publicity materials of a motion picture to sell tickets. Lawrence did indeed become a star, but she later fell into poverty and obscurity and committed suicide. Carl Laemmle later co-founded and served as first president of Universal Studios. See more