Saturday, June 9, 2018

The Adventures of Dollie (1908) -- June 9, 2018

This post is part of the Springtime Silent Movie Challenge: In the Beginning..., hosted by Fritzi at Movies Silently. "Here’s the challenge. Before June 21, 2018, you will:
"Watch 5 movies made between 1906 and 1914
"Watch 5 movies made in 1905 or before
"Share your experience on your blog, on social media or here in the comments (I will set up a special post for the purpose to publish on June 21)"

For my five movies made between 1906 and 1914, I thought I would continue to look at some pioneering efforts.

My ninth film, my fourth from 1906-1914, is Biograph's "The Adventures of Dollie," the first film directed by DW Griffith.
David Wark Griffith was born in Kentucky, which is sometimes called the only state that seceded after the US Civil War.  His father, Colonel Roaring Jake Griffith was a Confederate Army veteran and member of the state legislature who liked to swap stories with his friends.  After Jake died, the family was poor.  DW became an actor in touring countries and tried to write plays. He did not succeed.

In 1907, Griffith visited the Edison company in New York and tried to sell them a script.  They didn't want the script, but they gave Griffith a leading role in Edwin S Porter's "Rescued From an Eagle's Nest."  Griffith and his wife, Linda Arvidson, continued acting in films for Edison and Biograph.  They kept their marriage a secret.

In 1908, Biograph's primary director Wallace McCutcheon fell ill.  His son, Wallace, Jr took over but didn't do a very good job.  Biograph offered the job to Griffith, but he worried that if he failed as a director, he wouldn't get work as an actor.  Biograph assured him he could go back to acting.

One of the first film books I read at the Anza Branch Library was Linda Arvidson's When the Movies Were Young. She spoke disparagingly of "The Adventures of Dollie," and I assumed she was right, since there was no chance I would ever get to see it.  But then, years later, I took a film class at San Francisco State.  We saw a beautiful print of "The Adventures of Dollie" and I found that it held the attention of the whole class.

This is not as nice a print as the one I saw in film class.

I should mention that this movie is steeped in anti-Gypsy prejudice.  The word "Gypsy" is a slur used to refer to people who generally call themselves Romani.  The Roma are scattered over Europe and the Americas.  The Romani are known for living transient lives, usually on the fringes of society.  Stereotypes accuse them of being thieves, con artists and kidnapers of children.  I remember when we visited Italy in the 1970s that the relatives were upset when a band of zingari set up camp by the river.  I will use the word "Gypsy" here because we are talking about a stereotyped depiction.

On bright, sunny day we see a family of three, played by Arthur Johnson as the father, Linda Arvidson as the mother and Gladys Egan as Dollie.  They are all well-dressed.  Dollie is excited.  Father leaves them for some reason that is not clear from the action.

We see two boys dressed like Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn walking down a rough road along a river, on their way to go fishing.

 In the same shot, Dollie and Mother approach and sit by the river.

Still in the same shot, a strangely dressed man approaches.  He is a Gypsy basket-seller, played by Charles Inslee.

Mother greets him politely, but isn't interested in buying a basket.  The Gypsy starts to walk away, but he comes back and snatches her purse.  Mother grabs his arm.

The Gypsy shoves Mother to the ground and is pushing Dollie away when Father enters in the background, sees what is happening, and rushes to the rescue.

Father thrashes the Gypsy, who begs for mercy.  He picks up his baskets and runs away.  He has pulled out a knife sometime during the action, but no one seems to be concerned.  This shot lasted for about 1 minute and 44 seconds.

We see a Gypsy camp.  A sleeping woman wakes up and tends some items on a fire.  Note the barrel by the rear of the wagon.  The Gypsy enters and shows her how he has been injured.  Mrs Gypsy ties a bandage around his arm.  The Gypsy decides to get vengeance.  He pantomimes kidnapping Dollie and putting her in the wagon.  Mrs Gypsy tries to stop him, but he knocks her down and leaves the scene.

Dollie and Father are playing with rackets and a ball.  Mother enters and says something.  Father and Dollie go to follow as she leaves, but Dollie wants to stay and play.

Almost immediately, the Gypsy enters and grabs Dollie.  After he carries her away, Mother reenters and looks for Dollie.  Mother becomes upset and calls for Father, who enters and looks around.  Father calls for help.

A woman enters and leads Mother away.  A man enters and runs off with Father.

We see the Gypsy run down a hillside, holding Dollie,  In the background, a man cuts weeds.

Soon we see Father and the other man.  The man cutting weeds shows them where the Gypsy went and joins them.  He didn't notice that the Gypsy was running with a little girl?

Back at the Gypsy camp, Mrs Gypsy is throwing things into the back of the wagon.  The Gypsy enters, carrying Dollie.  Mrs Gypsy holds Dollie while the Gypsy throws more stuff in the back of the wagon.

The Gypsy senses someone coming and drops Dollie into the barrel and puts on the cover.

Father and the other men enter.  The Gypsy, leaning casually on the barrel, denies knowing anything about Dollie.

Father searches the wagon, throwing out a bunch of junk.  He expresses his frustration and leaves with the other men.  The Gypsies celebrate, and then the Gypsy reloads the wagon.  He finishes by placing the barrel on the tailgate.  They drive away in the wagon.

We see the Gypsy wagon race along a dusty country road towards the camera.

The wagon fords a wide body of water and the barrel falls in.

The barrel floats on a stream towards the camera.  We see the water begin to quicken.

We see the water flow over a weir, a low dam.

The shot holds for a long time.  We see the barrel go over the weir.

In a nice shot, we see the barrel float towards the camera.

We see another shot of the floating barrel.

We see a boy fishing. He may be one of the boys we saw earlier, but it is impossible to tell. He sits at the spot where Dollie and Mother had sat by the river.  The boy spots something in the water.  The camera does not move and there is no cut to what he sees.

The boy hooks the barrel and pulls it in with his fishing rod.

Something startles the boy, who jumps back.  It was probably Dollie making a noise.  He waves his arm and Father runs out from the woods and helps the boy lift the barrel to the riverbank.

They both lean down to listen to the barrel.  Father picks up a rock, breaks the lid, and lifts up Dollie.

Father hugs Dollie and calls to Mother, who runs in from the bushes.  The family is reunited.

And the film ends.

"The Adventures of Dollie" was a success, selling more prints than the average Biograph film.

Variety, 11-July-1908
The poor reproduction of this ad from the 11-July-1908 issue of Variety obscures the photo, but the text is very clear: "One of the most remarkable cases of child-stealing is depicted in this Biograph picture, showing the thwarting by a kind Providence of the attemp to kidnap for revenge a pretty little girl by a gypsy."

Moving Picture World, 18-July-1908
This review says Father lashes the Gypsy with "a heavy snakewhip."  I couldn't make that out from the movie.

"The Adventures of Dollie" does not include any of the techniques for which Griffith soon became famous.  There are no closeups.  There is no intercutting.  The performances are not impressive.  On the other hand, it compares well to other 1908 movies.  I was impressed when I saw it in film class and we all cheered at the end.

Coming Next Saturday: The first Keystone comedy.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comment moderation is turned on. Your message will appear after it has been reviewed.