Adele DeGarde, Arthur V. Johnson, Beggar girl, Billy Bitzer, Cartoonist, Cask of Amontillado, Crooked politician, D.W. Griffith, Edgar Allan Poe, Gambler, Lovers, Mack Sennett, Marion Leonard, Period film, Silent film
NOTE: All three movies were viewed courtesy of http://www.archive.org – go check it out!
The Sealed Room (1909)
D: D.W. Griffith / 11m
Cast: Arhur V. Johnson, Marion Leonard, Henry B. Walthall
Based on “The Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allan Poe, The Sealed Room is a period piece involving a count (Johnson), his wife (Leonard), and her minstrel lover (Walthall). The count is madly in love with his wife, and while she returns his affections in public, in private she has eyes only for the lute-playing minstrel. When the count arranges for a room in his apartments to be sealed – apart from one of the doors – so that only he and his wife can have access to it, he doesn’t envisage his wife and the minstrel using it themselves for some “alone” time. He discovers them in mid-tryst, and in a fit of rage, has the remaining doorway blocked up, sealing them inside.
Using just two adjoining sets, Griffith populates the outer room with as many people as he can while foregrounding the main characters. It’s here that his background in the theatre is most obvious, with his attention to blocking and everyone having something to do (Walthall’s facial expressions, combined with his lute playing while the count and his wife hug and kiss, are an unexpected viewing bonus.) The cod-theatrical acting style, all declamatory arm-waving and brash physical posturing, is all present and correct, and while Griffith does very little to rein in the hysterics, he still manages to elicit good performances from his leading actors (bearing in mind the acting style of the times).
There are some lapses – the lovers fail to hear the doorway being sealed up, and when it’s done the count is clearly enjoying listening to their cries of horror – but The Sealed Room is an entertaining, if overly dramatic, movie that makes the most of its two-camera set up and basic structure.
Rating: 7/10 – straightforward adaptation of the Poe tale and told with plenty of enthusiasm; a lively endeavour with Griffith’s direction providing much of the movie’s flair.
The Golden Louis (1909)
D: D.W. Griffith / 6m
Cast: Adele DeGarde, Charles Inslee, Owen Moore, Anita Hendrie
A young girl (DeGarde) is begging in the snow-covered streets but she is so frail and underfed she only manages to make it as far as some nearby steps before collapsing. While she sleeps a passing stranger (Moore) sees her and, taking pity on her plight, places a gold coin in the shoe she’s been using as a collection plate. Nearby, a gambler (Inslee) is having bad luck at the tables. Leaving the gambling den he spies the coin and, convinced his finding it is providential, takes it and returns to the gambling den. There the coin does indeed prove a godsend, and he wins a lot of money.
While the gambler congratulates himself, the young girl wakes. She returns to where she first began begging. Meanwhile, the gambler, wanting to repay the young girl for her unwitting kindness, returns to the steps and finds her missing. He looks for her, while the girl, still having no luck with her begging, retraces her steps and collapses again on the steps. The gambler eventually finds her and takes her up in his arms (thereby, presumably saving her).
The Golden Louis shows Griffith working again in a studio, but using the usual static camera placements in such a way that there’s a sense of space and depth to the images throughout. As usual, Griffith’s compositional skills are highly effective, and the set dressing makes it look convincingly cold. The acting is less histrionic than usual, and the editing complements the action more judiciously than many of Griffith’s other works from the same year. There’s even room for some social commentary in the plight of the young girl, a theme that Griffith would return to often in his career. On the downside, the girl’s waking and wandering off, while adding an element of tension to the story, is undermined by her returning to the very same spot (and by the gambler searching in the same circular manner).
Rating: 8/10 – some contrivance at the end aside, The Golden Louis entertains throughout and shows Griffith making better use of the physical aspects of the production; ultimately redemptive, the movie succeeds on more than one level, and is a must-see for silent movie fans.
Politician’s Love Story (1909)
D: D.W. Griffith / 6m
Cast: Mack Sennett, Marion Leonard, Herbert Prior, Arthur V. Johnson
When crooked politician Boss Crogan (Sennett) is shown a satirical caricature of himself in the newspaper, his outrage is such that he grabs a gun and races to the newspaper’s offices to shoot the cartoonist, called Peter. After threatening what seems like half the newsroom he is directed to Peter’s Corner, only to find the cartoonist is a woman (Leonard). Shocked by this unexpected turn of events, Crogan refrains from shooting her, and instead becomes besotted by her. He tries to get her to go out with him but she refuses his offer.
Crogan returns home but finds himself restless. This time leaving his gun behind he goes back out, and ends up at a nearby park. He sits down on a bench and looking lost and forlorn, watches as a succession of loving couples walk past. In time he gets up and is leaving the park when he spies “Peter”. As he approaches, “Peter” is stopped by another man. Crogan warns the man off, and finds “Peter” grateful for his intervention. They walk back into the park, and the previously rebuffed politician gets a kiss.
Half filmed in the studio and half on location, Politician’s Love Story sees Griffith try his hand at an early romantic comedy, with mixed results. The comic elements – which consist largely of Sennett waving a gun around the newsroom and having the staff all duck down repeatedly – are heavy-handed and suffer from the repetition. The romantic elements are too fleeting, and the parade of lovestruck couples in the park serves only to pad out the running time; it’s clear Crogan is a sad figure at this point (it also gives Griffith a chance to appear on screen as well – he and Dorothy West are the first couple to pass Crogan). “Peter”‘s change of heart is a little too sudden also.
That said, the wintry location photography, credited to regulars Billy Bitzer and Arthur Marvin, is a bonus, and gives Griffith a chance to spread his wings beyond the confines of the studio. His positioning of the camera in these shots though is slightly tentative, and as expected there’s no attempt to break away from the standard medium shot that characterised Griffith – and many other silent film directors’ – approach during this period. But as a possible experiment, the movie retains some interest.
Rating: 4/10 – minor Griffith, and indicative of the perils associated with making one hundred and forty-nine short films in the same year; one for completists only.