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Sidney Drew in a Dramatic Role, 6 July 2016

Sidney Drew is the master painter of the title. He takes on Courtenay Foote as his apprentice. However, Drew's eyes and powers are in rapid decline and Foote can see the result in his master's work. One evening, Rosemary Theby comes downstairs to find the younger man working on her uncles painting -- and doing a better job than her uncle is capable of.

Sidney Drew was the uncle of the famous Barrymores (John, Lionel and Ethel). He began his career at Vitagraph and soon established himself as a fine screen comic, adept at playing neurotic middle class people, along with his second wife. Together the two wrote, directed and starred in a fine series of comedies for Vitagraph and later for their own company, releasing through Metro. When Sidney's son, S. Rankin Drew, was killed during the First World War, he went into a decline and soon died. In this rare straight role, he offers a fine dramatic performance.

If you wish to take a look at this movie, a good copy is on the Eye Institute site on Youtube.

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Twins, 6 July 2016

Twins Alice and Edna Nash get their stenographers' certificates. One goes to work for Wally Van, the other for William Humphrey. When the four meet at a restaurant, confusion ensues.

The pretty Nash twins had a bit of a run in the twins, invariably together. This competent but not overwhelmingly funny little comedy has its moments, particularly when Wally Van is displaying a temper by throwing things. Mr. Van was a popular comic actor for Vitagraph in this period, and Mr. Humphrey was a serious actor whose movie career started with serious dramas and extended through the 1930s. This movie never causes any of the four to work very hard, although the presence of pretty twins who dress identically on all occasions is something that would have pleased the audience.

If you wish to see this harmless comedy for yourself, a good copy is available on the Eye Institute site on Youtube.

Our State Fair is a Great State Fair, 5 July 2016

This collection of clips about the Montana State Fair is directed by by longtime Vitagraph director Rollin Sturgeon. Calling him the director seems a bit odd to the modern viewer, since it seems unlikely that when the bull-riding comes up, Mr. Sturgeon told the bull when to leap up in the air. However, in that era, the role of the director was not as well defined as it came to be, and could well include such modern film-making jobs as producer or editor or even set designer.

When this movie was made, Ince was just inventing the assembly-line method, in which one specialist would choose the costumes and another would decorate the set. A director might wear many modern hats in making a film, including editor. This sort of general designation still exists in animation, where a cartoon's director might more properly be called a producer or supervisor -- but isn't.

In any case, this compilation of clips from a Montana State fair shows a combination of animal judging and a rodeo. There are some interesting shots in it and at four minutes on the Eye Institute site on Youtube, is typical of its era.

Do You Remember Sweet Nina, Ben Bollter?, 5 July 2016

John Bunny imagines himself a rake and tries to date Lillian Walker. She laughs and sends him a notes that she will meet him at "Le Hotel des Imbeciles" in New York and he spends his time trying to locate it.

John Bunny was fast becoming the most popular comic actor in America at this point. While most of his vehicles had him as the wise, almost cynical older man, this example of his being the butt of the comic short subject is typically well performed. In addition, there are also some nice shots of Pre-War New York City.

If you wish to take a look at this movie, you can find a good copy of it at the Eye Institute site on Youtube, along with many other rare examples of shorts from the era.

Everybody Dance!, 4 July 2016

Guy Oliver has just moved into his new apartment. He decides to check out the state of his piano by playing "Alexander's Ragtime Band" and when he does, everyone in earshot dances until he stops.

Eclair was a successful French studio in the era; they had pioneered in the production of serials and decided to get in on the lively production scene in America. By the time they shut down in 1916, the American branch had produced almost four hundred short subjects.

Because this was their first year, they wanted to hit the ground running and they must have recycled a lot of old movies. This one is pretty much a remake of Louis Feuillade's 1909 short "La Bous-Bous-Mie". It will not strike the modern eye as particularly cinematic, but imagine it playing on the screen with the orchestra playing to beat the band and you'll get an idea of what was going on in cinema -- or had been going on three years earlier; movies were evolving rapidly.

If you wish, you can look at this on the Eye Institute on Youtube. There's no soundtrack, but I'm sure a vintage rag can be found somewhere on the site.

The Horrors of Incest, 4 July 2016

Maurice Costello and Leah Baird are brother and sister -- but don't know it. When their mother died many years ago, she left them orphans, separated and raised in different foster homes until chance brought them together: Maurice rescued Leah from a thief and they fell in love. Will nothing save them from the sin of incest?

The sort of rampant coincidence and intention-free sin the sorts of thing that made up the public view of melodrama and which made it so easy to burlesque after it had fallen out of favor. Yet the truth is that, as with any form of entertainment, people go to have a good time. Unless the people offering the show call attention to its flaws, or the audience goes disposed to mock, the public will be pleased -- which is why I watched the musical version of SWEENEY TODD -- starring Angela Lansbury -- twice yesterday.

It's why if you go to the Eye Institute site on Youtube, you likely will enjoy the copy of this film that has been posted there. MR. Costello and Miss Baird are fine performers and the story is well told.

Pyramus and Thisbe, 3 July 2016

Harry Beaumont and Bessie Learn are in love, but their respective uncle and aunt, back fence neighbors, feud bitterly with each other and insist the youngsters have nothing to do with each other. The young leads come up with a plan in this pleasant Edison comedy.

There are some nice bits in this piece as directed by Edison regular C.J. Williams. Not only is the acting good, but there is a pleasant structure offered by the title cards which show what a difference a week can make. you can see this one for yourself. It is in the Eye Insritute site on Youtube.

Harry Beaumont's career as a movie actor would only last until 1918, but that would not end his involvement with the movies. Beginning the year after this picture, he would start directing and his career would extend through 1948, including a long tenure at MGM, where his career would peak in the 1930s.

Women May Want Votes, But Men Want Dinner, 3 July 2016

John Bunny comes home, hoping for a hot dinner. However, Flora Finch is out at a suffragette meeting and so her husband gets heartburn. He decides to teach her a lesson in this short Vitagraph comedy.

Fat John Bunny, often teamed with skinny Flora Finch, was the leading American comedy star before Charley Chaplin showed up. This is one of his typical efforts, in which the comedy on offer takes the form of a practical joke. Because it involves Bunny using the Old Boys Network to play a joke on his wife, it won't play particularly well with a modern audience. Given that there would be another Bunny movie out in a week or so, it probably did not have much of an impact at the time.

If you wish to see it for yourself, a good copy can be found on the Eye Institute site on Youtube.

Some Problems, 2 July 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

When his wife dies because a poor musician cannot afford medicine, he goes mad. Their daughter, however, triumphs on stage, performing his compositions in this early film directed by Van Dyke Brooke.

According to the IMDb, this was originally released as a split reel. However, the copy that appears on the Eye Institute site on Youtube is fourteen minutes long. I believe it was edited down from its original length, probably cutting the subplot in which men try to seduce the daughter; in the version on YouTube -- the European release -- that issue is never resolved in any satisfactory manner and so was likely dropped for the American release.

This argues some good editing at Vitagraph, which is hardly surprising. Certainly at Edison and Biograph, there were some enormous changes going in in those fields. If a move towards a more subtle, less stagy form of pantomime is not demonstrated by everyone, that evolution in movie-making was still in progress, even in D.W. Griffith's stock company. Brooke would be making his own advancements in how things were done.

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Money Equals Boredom, 1 July 2016

When Dorothy Phillips meets a wealthy bachelor, she throws over her working-class beau and marries the rich man. After five years, she visits her married sister and realizes how empty her life is in this smug Esannay short subject.

Essannay is remembered for westerns, frequently starting do-owner Broncho Billy Anderson and for a series of shorts by Charley Chaplin after he left Keystone. Their audience was the same set of working class people who could not afford live theater and they frequently catered to their prejudices against the wealthy in pieces like this one. While their production values were as good as any studio of the era, their movies reflected their audience's prejudices. In this one, the effort to say that the rich are not happy is obvious and not particularly well done.

If you wish to see this movie, there is a good copy of it on the Eye Institute site on Youtube.

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