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The Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots (1895)

Not Rated | | Short, History | 28 August 1895 (USA)
This short film, one of the first to use camera tricks, depicts the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots.


Alfred Clark




Credited cast:
Robert Thomae Robert Thomae ... Queen Mary
Mrs. Robert L. Thomas Mrs. Robert L. Thomas ... Queen Mary


A short film depicting the execution of Mary, Queen of the Scots. Mary is brought to the execution block and made to kneel down with her neck over it. The executioner lifts his axe ready to bring it down. After that frame Mary has been replaced by a dummy. The axe comes down and severs the head of the dummy from the body. The executioner picks up the head and shows it around for everyone else to see. One of the first 'camera tricks' to be used in a movie. Written by Sujit R. Varma

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Not Rated

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The film takes place on February 8, 1587. See more »


Featured in Edison: The Invention of the Movies (2005) See more »

User Reviews

Alfred Clark Introduces the Film Edit
25 December 2017 | by Tornado_SamSee all my reviews

The Edison company had originally begun production for the Kinetoscope parlors in the year 1894, with Scottish filmmaker and inventor William Kennedy Laurie Dickson employed to discover one of the world's first motion picture systems by Thomas A. Edison. Beginning with the earliest film tests (1890-1892) the first commercially exhibited presentation using the Kinetoscope actually took place on May 9, 1893; yet, since the Black Maria film studio for the Edison company was still being completed that year, production for the Kinetoscope parlors began in 1894. Films such as "Souvenir Strip of the Edison Kinetoscope", (retitled "Sandow No 1") "Carmencita", and many others were among the first films to be shown when the Holland Brothers' Kinetoscope parlor first opened on April 14, 1894. W. K. L. Dickson and his partner Heise then continued to work for Edison until 1895, when Dickson soon quit the company and took up a job working for American Mutoscope & Biograph. To replace Dickson, a new groundbreaking director joined to take his place: Alfred Clark, former worker for the North American Phonograph Company and director of this film.

Originally, the Edison company had started attracting popularity by filming various vaudeville acts and dance routines, which in a sense promoted the filmed performer by providing a brief sneak-peek at the act. People like Annabelle Moore, Eugen Sandow and others were some of the most popular performers of their day. However, when Clark joined the company in 1895 (which turned out to be the only year he worked for the company) these things changed. Admittedly, he did somewhat pick up where Dickson left off by shooting movies of the Leigh Sisters' and Yola Yberri's dance routines, but the majority of his output for Edison appears to have been groundbreaking, revolutionary and ahead of Georges Méliès by a year. Clark was the first one to do reenactments of Joan of Arc's execution and Capt. Smith's rescue by Pocahontas (both of which used trained actors and actually had little mini-plots) and in addition created some of the first drama films with "A Duel Between Two Historical Characters" and "A Frontier Scene". Compared to what filmmaking was like at the time and the fact that almost all the earliest Edison films were of performances, these movies were part of what changed the industry from a mere fad to a form of entertainment. Nearly all appear to be lost.

"The Execution of Mary Stuart" seems to be the only known surviving work by Alfred Clark. As such, it's important in that regard. Arguably featuring the world's first film edit (another innovation of Clark's) this brief 15-second clip features a woman (Mary Stuart, played by Robert Thomae who was the Secretary and Treasurer of the Kinetoscope company) laying her head onto a chopping block only to have it hacked off in one blow by the executioner, which is then held it up for all to see. (Since about five people on IMDb have already pointed out that it took three blows instead of one to get the head off, I won't even bother going into the historical background). Additional details include costumed actors posing as soldiers standing in the background.

The morbid subject matter should not surprise anybody. From the very beginning the Edison company had earned its reputation as being a dirty business by filming such things as scantily-clad (for the time) dancers showing their ankles and boxing (then considered a low-brow sport at the time). If you think about it , Edison could really be considered one of the main reasons motion pictures are so violent and sexy nowadays, with Hollywood and other companies producing such garbage. Instead of using editing to produce magic (like Méliès would later begin to do) the admittedly obvious edit here is used to recreate a scene which could not have been done in real life. (Many people didn't actually assume this, however; most were actually so terrified by the movie that it got to the point where they believed the woman had actually allowed herself to be killed for filming). If you don't believe how dirty they were, just check out the now-lost title of the only other candidate believably featuring the first edit: "Indian Scalping Scene" of the same year also by Clark (where the edit was no doubt probably used to show Indians scalping white men). Both candidates just go to show how the company was out to provoke and shock--and they got the expected reaction for all the work they put into it. Even so, for being possibly the first horror short and one of the first films to feature film editing, "The Execution of Mary Stuart" deserves credit as being the only surviving work of the now-forgotten pioneer Alfred Clark.

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Release Date:

28 August 1895 (USA) See more »

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Execution See more »

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Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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