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Cast overview:
Count Sergius - a Russian Diplomat
Charles Eldridge ...
Professor Bain
Isabel, Professor Bain's Daughter
Earle Williams ...
Lieutenant Bruce
Edith Halleran ...
The Maid


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Drama | Romance | Short





Release Date:

5 October 1912 (USA)  »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs

Sound Mix:

Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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User Reviews

mise en scène versus continuity editng
21 October 2016 | by (France) – See all my reviews

Although the story is slight and of frightfully original, this is a rather good example of the superiority attained by Vitagraph at this period in mise en scène and imaginative use of the screen-apace, which would be an important influence on the development of European film. There are still too many unnecessary titlecards but note, for instance, the "meaningful" cutting (not just a question of continuity) or the use of mirrors or the fluid, naturalistic movement (as when the diplomat crosses in front of the lieutenant at the ball). Or the naturalness of the ball-scene itself (no identifiable "at the ball" characters standing around like stage extras as in Griffith films). It is still rare in most US films of this time for characters to turn their back on the audience (they were regarded as being "on set" as in the theatre) but here it is used very effectively (in the scene of drunken violence).

The story is extremely well told. The marriage with the diplomat is not that abrupt. The heroine is under pressure from fer father who is in favour of the match and does not know that the lieutenant has proposed to her (that is the secret of the vase revealed later in the film). And the end, which I shall mot reveal, is far more interesting than the fatuous, conventional "happy end" that was already beginning to become de rigueur in US films. The last frame of the film is particularly beautiful and it is the ending that makes this film rather special amongst Vitagraph films of the year. The fact that we have no clue to the emaning of the title till this moment is very much in the film's favour. A shame really that we do not know who the director was.

There is little of the genius here of the European film-makers who would flourish over the next decades (Bauer in Russia, Sjöström and Stiller in Sweden, Blom and Christensen in Denmark, Feuillade and Perret in France, Pastrone, Guazzoni and Oxilia in Italy and the earliest German masterpieces) but the basic mechanics are in place with the exception of camera movement, which will only begin to appear in European films in 1913-19i4 (most famously in the 1914 film Cabiria).

The example of Vitagraph would have relatively little influence in the US itself where, following Griffith, there would be an over-reliance on editing which meant relatively little attention paid to mise en scène (background was in any case increasingly obliterated by back-lighting) and little interest in camera movement (simply cut, cut, cut). Not until the twenties would the great Russian and French directors (Gance, Epstein, Duvivier, Pudovkin, Eisenstein, Dovzhenko)successfully combine the two elements to produce "meaningful" montage effects rather than editing based purely on continuity and suspense.

But the Vitagraph films of this period, now readily available in increasing numbers thanks to the EYE institute, are evidence of the choice of styles that was still available in US film before the complete domination of the continuity/action film mentality - a Russian film of the twenties refers to Griffith as "the bolshevik" of Hollywood.

There was another window of opportunity in the mid to late-twenties (as both European naturalism and European expressionism began to have a small influence in the US (Vidor's The Crowd, for instance, or The Phantom of the Opera and several of the Lon Chaney films of the period) but Hollywood was already too set in its ways and the advent of sound sealed the fate of such tentative experimentation and confined US cinema more securely in the cinematic straitjacket of so-called "classical realism". Continuity, glamour, action and suspense triumphs over mise en scène, context and meaning.

Like the film's love story, it might all have been otherwise

For other good Vitagraph shorts of the year (all from the invaluable EYE collection) see The Picture Idol and The Bond of Music. These three rank along with the medium-length The Invaders, The Post Telegrapher (both Ince), The Land Beyond the Sunset (Edison) and Griffith's The Musketeers of Pig as perhaps the best US photoplay shorts of the year. Three other medium-length films of the year are also of interest - On Secret Service (Ince), The Mills of the Gods (again Vitagraph) and Feature Photoplay's The Adventures of Lieutenant Petrosino (all in the same collection) as being some of the earliest films of this length (35-45 mins)to be made in the US.

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