Rouben Mamoulian: Film History Series

Rouben Mamoulian, “Applause”, 1929, Pre-Code Early Sound Film, Screenplay Garrett Fort and Beth Brown, Cinematography George J. Folsey, Running Time 80 Minutes, Paramount Pictures. 

Born in October of 1897 at the Georgian city of Tiflis in the Russian Empire, Rouben Mamoulian was a theatrical and film director noted for his contributions to cinematic art at the beginning of the sound era. Escaping the Soviet regime, he fled to England and later immigrated to the United States where he established his film career. 

Born to an ethnic Armenian family, Rouben Mamoulian studied criminal law at the University of Moscow. Interested in theater, he trained at the Moscow Art Theatre under theatrical director Yevgeny Bagrationovich Vakhtangov who produced some of the most original and bold productions of Russian theater after the Revolution. In 1918, Mamoulian founded a drama studio in his hometown of Tiflis, now Tbilisi. In 1920, he toured with the Russian Repertory Company to England, where he stayed to study drama at the University of London. 

Mamoulian began directing English stage productions in 1922. In the following year, he immigrated to the United States and became, at George Eastman’s request, the director of the American Opera Company in Rochester, New York. From 1925 to 1926, Mamoulian was head of Eastman’s School of Dance and Dramatic Action. During the late 1920s, he taught drama and directed productions at New York City’s Theater Guild. Mamoulian established himself in theatrical circles with his all-black cast production of Dorothy and Dubose Heyward’s 1927 “Porgy”. He would later direct George Gershwin’s 1935 Broadway production of “Porgy and Bess”. 

Rouben Mamoulian, in addition to his theater work, directed Paramount Pictures’s 1929 early sound film “Applause” at their Astoria Studio in Queens, New York. For his film debut, he decided that stylization would be better than realism if done with flourish and skill. For the opening scene of this story, Mamoulian employed a roving camera in a soundproof booth that tracked along a desolate street before turning to follow the sound of a marching brass band. A cutaway in the film then transports the audience to a band practicing in a seedy theater.

In addition to defying the wisdom of a stationary camera, Mamoulian recorded the dialogue on separate microphones and combined them in post-production. He also employed sounds at the end of scenes that anticipated the action about to happen. In order to impose spatial depth, rhythm and momentum to the film, Mamooulian overlaid scenes with sounds of train doors opening, car horns blaring and people singing in the background. This innovation, seemingly simple by today’s standards, made a bold cinematic statement in 1929 when the sound era was just developing.

In 1931, Rouben Mamoulian  directed “City Streets” for Paramount. This pre-code gangster film was written by famed detective-mystery author Dashiell Hammett; it featured Sylvia Sidney and the rising star Gary Cooper as the carnival worker who falls in love with the racketeer’s daughter. In the same year, Mamoulian directed the first sound version of Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”. Considered by many critics as Mamoulian’s masterpiece, the film is known for Fredric March’s transformation between characters, made possible by Mamoulian’s innovative makeup and lighting effects. March was a winner, along with Wallace Beery in Vidor’s “The Champ”, for the Best Actor at the 1932 Academy Awards.

Mamoulian directed two more films for Paramount; the 1932 “Love Me Tonight”, one of the most accomplished of the early musicals due to his seamless blending of action and songs; and the 1933 “The Song of Songs”, a melodrama with Marlene Dietrich that was not well received by critics. Working now for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Mamoulian directed Greta Garbo in the 1933 biography “Queen Christina” and had great success with the 1935 “Becky Sharp”, an adaption of the novel “Vanity Fair”, which was the first feature released in Technicolor. After three more films with MGM that were not well received by the critics, Mamoulian took his talents to Twentieth-Century Fox. 

Rouben Mamoulian directed two distinguished films for his new studio: the 1940 swashbuckler “The Mark of Zorro” with great performances by Tyrone Power, Linda Darnell and Basil Rathbone; and the 1941 “Blood and Sand”, a pageant of the rise and fall of a bullfighter which reunited Power and Darnell and also starred Rita Hayworth. After Otto Preminger secured the rights to Vera Caspary’s novel “Laura”, Darryl F. Zanuck approved Mamoulian to direct the film with Preminger as the producer. When problems developed between the cast and director, Mamoulian was fired and Preminger reshot all the footage. 

Through his career, Mamoulian felt strongly that a director should be given creative freedom; he was never tolerant of creative interference. Disillusioned with Hollywood, he returned to Broadway where he directed two major musical hits, the 1943 “Oklahoma!” and the 1945 “Carousel”. Mamoulian directed just two more films for MGM: “Summer Holiday” in 1948 and the 1957 musical “Silk Stockings”, which starring Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse, featured music and lyrics by Cole Porter. Although he was scheduled to direct the 1958 film version of “Porgy and Bess”, the position of director was given to Preminger. In 1963, Mamoulian began shooting the 1963 epic “Cleopatra”; however, after six days of shooting, he was replaced with Joseph L. Mankiewicz. This was Mamoulian’s last involvement with a Hollywood film production.

Rouben Mamoulian was personally recruited in 1936 by the Directors Guild of America’s co-founder King Vidor to help organize fellow movie directors.  His strong allegiance to the Guild and unwillingness to compromise led to his being targeted in the 1950s Hollywood blacklisting. Mamoulian died of natural causes in December of 1987 at the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital in Woodland Hills, California.

Note: Senses of Cinema, an online film site with interviews and extensive biographies of both actors and directors, has an interesting article on the 1929 “Applause”. Senses of Cinema can be found at:

Top Insert Image: Rouben Mamoulian, Self Portrait, circa 1939, Vintage Black and White Print, 20.3 x 25.4 cm, Private Collection

Second Insert Image: Rouben Mamoulian, “Myrna Loy”, 1932, “Love Me Tonight”, Cinematography Victor Milner, 104 Minutes, Paramount Pictures

Third Insert Image: Rouben Mamoulian, “Fredric March”, 1931, “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”, Cinematography Karl Struss, 98 Minutes, Paramount Pictures

Fourth Insert Image: Rouben Mamoulian, “Gary Cooper and Sylvia Sidney”, 1931, “City Streets”, Cinematography Lee Garmes, 83 Minutes, Paramount Pictures

Bottom Insert Image: Rouben Mamoulian, “Tyrone Power”, 1940, “The Mask of Zorro”, Cinematography Arthur C. Miller, 94 Minutes, Twentieth-Century Fox

Robert Wiene: Film History Series

Robert Wiene, “The Hands of Orlac”, 1924, Silent Horror Film, Running Time 99 Minutes, Cinematography Günther Krampf and Hans Androschin, Producer Pan-Film

Robert Wiene was born in April of 1873 in the German Empire city of Breslau, now the city of Wroclaw in Poland. He was a German film director, producer and screenwriter who worked in a variety of genres including the German Expressionist movement of the early twentieth-century. Wiene was the elder son of theatrical actor Karl Wiene and the brother of Conrad Wiene, who also entered the German film industry. 

Wiene traveled during his formative years with his family throughout Central and Western Europe; he lived in Stuttgart, Vienna, Dresden and Prague. Wiene studied law at the University of Berlin and the University of Vienna where he earned his law degree. He practiced law in the central German city of Weimar until 1908. At which time, Wiene relocated to Vienna for a position as manager of a theatrical company; this position gave him the opportunity to perform in its stage productions. 

Robert Wiene’s initial participation in the German film industry was writing the screenplay for director Friedrich Müller’s 1913 silent film “Die Waffen der Jugend (The Weapons of Youth)”. This film is now considered a lost film. In the following year, Wiene directed his first film, “Er Rechts, Sie Links (He This Way, She That Way)”, a marital short comedy for the Berlin-based Messter Film. Messter Film became the center of the German film industry and played a prominent role in the development of the longer-running feature film. Between 1914 and 1918, Wiene wrote the screenplays for fifteen movies he directed for Messter Film. 

In 1919, Wiene and Austrian film director Heinz Hanus founded the “Association of Film Directors in Vienna”. This association was a member of what would become the Filmbund, a professional support group for the Austrian film industry which was on the verge of collapse. In 1920, Wiene directed what is probably his best known film, the 1920 silent horror film “Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari”, considered the archetypal work of German Expressionist cinema. The script was written by Carl Mayer and Hans Janowitz, both pacifists, and was inspired by their experiences with the military during World War I.  

After the success of “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari”, Robert Wiene became an independent director for the remainder of his career. In 1923 for Neumann-Film-Produktion GmbH, he directed and wrote the screenplay for the 1923 silent drama “Raskolnikow”, an adaption of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s epic 1866 novel “Crime and Punishment”. An avant-garde psychological drama, it starred Ukrainian-born actor Gregori Chmara and premiered in Berlin. This film also had a strong influence on the development of German cinema.

Wiene continued to direct and write screenplays for silent films until 1928. His final silent film was the 1928 “Unfug der Liebe (Folly of Love)” for Max Glass Film. Austrian director Max Glass wrote the screenplay and produced the film, which starred Maria Jacobini and the British actor Jack Trevor. Wiene directed his first sound film, the 1930 drama “Der Andere (The Other)”, at Berlin’s Terra Studios. He shot a French-language version entitled “The Prosecutor Hallers” immediately afterwards with different actors at the same studio. Wiene directed three more films in 1931: “Panik in Chicago”, “Der Liebesexpress (The Love Express)”, and in collaboration with French director Pierre Billon, “Nuits de Venise (Venetian Nights)”. 

In 1933, Robert Wiene directed “Taifun (Typhoon)”, a drama film based on writer Melchior Lengyei’s 1911 play of the same name. This was Wiene’s last film in Germany. In May of 1933 four months after the National Socialist Party took power, the film was banned. The film was seen by the censors as portraying Asian characters as more noble than Europeans; the censors were also concerned the film’s portrayal of the French justice system as incompetent might undermine the audience’s faith in the German system. The film was heavily reshot with an altered plot under the title “Polizeiakte 909”; the Japanese were now portrayed as unsympathetic villains. 

Wiene relocated to Budapest in 1933 and never returned to Germany. In September of that year, he started directing the 1934 “Eine Nacht in Venedig (One Night in Venice)” for Hunnia-Film, at that time the most significant sound film studio in Hungary. Two versions were shot simultaneously, a German language film and a Hungarian version with Hungarian actors. After finishing the film, Wiene traveled to London and finally to Paris where he attempted to make a sound remake of “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” with artist Jean Cocteau. 

Robert Wiene died in Paris from cancer on the seventeenth of July in 1938, ten days before the end of production on his spy thriller “Ultimatum”. The film was finished posthumously by his friend Robert Sildmak, a prominent film director at Universal Films in Hollywood. Robert Wiene was buried at Paris’s Bagneux Cemetery in a temporary concession plot that was later recycled. There is no trace of his grave today. Only twenty of the ninety films Wiene created are currently known to exist. 

Note: Robert Wiene’s 1924 silent horror film “The Hands of Orlac” was based on French writer Maurice Renard’s novel “Les Mains d’Orlac”. It starred Russian Empire-born actress Alexandra Sorina and the prominent German-born British actor Conrad Veidt, who had played the murderous somnambulist in Wiene’s “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari”. The film was shot at the studios of Listo Film in Vienna and had its Berlin premiere in September of 1924.

Several reconstructed versions of the film exist today with new sound scores by such composers as Henning Lohner, Paul Mercer, and Donald Sosin. German-émigré film director Karl Freund, as a final assignment with Metro-Goldwyn Mayer, directed a 1935 adaption of Renard’s novel under the title “Mad Love”. This film starred Peter Lorre as Dr. Gogol, Frances Drake as Yvonne Orlac, and Colin Clive, known for his 1931 role of Henry Frankenstein, as the somnambulist Stephen Orlac.  

In 1960, French filmmaker Edmond T. Gréville directed both an English and French version of “The Hands of Orlac”, based on his screenplay of Renard’s novel, that starred Mel Ferrer, Dany Carrel, Lucile Saint-Simon and Christopher Lee. The film’s cinematography was done by Desmond Dickinson and featured a score by French pianist and jazz composer Claude Bolling. 

Second Insert Image: Robert Wiene, “The Hands of Orlac”, 1924, (Alexandra Sorina and Conrad Veidt), Cinematography Günther Krampf and Hans Androschin

Third Insert Images: Robert Wiene, “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari”, 1930, (Conrad Veidt), Cinematography Willy Hameister

Fourth Insert Image: Robert Wiene, “The Hands of Orlac”, 1924, (Conrad Veidt), Cinematography Günther Krampf and Hans Androschin

Bottom Insert Image: Robert Wiene, “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari”, 1930, (Werner Drauss and Conrad Veidt), Cinematography Willy Hameister

Mauritz Stiller: Film History Series

Mauritz Stiller, “Vingarne (The Wings)”, 1916, Silent Film Scenes, Screenwriters Axel Esbensen and Mauritz Stiller, Cinematography Julius Jaenzon, Original Running Time 69 Minutes, Distributor Svenska Biografteatem

Born in July of 1883 in Helsinki, Mauritz Stiller, birth name Moshe Stiller, was a Swedish film director of Finnish Jewish descent known for his pioneering work in the Swedish film industry. His family of Ashkenazi Jewish heritage originally lived in Russia and Poland before settling in Finland. At that time, these countries were autonomous regions of the Imperial Russia under Emperor Alexander III. 

Mauritz Stiller was raised by family friends after the death of his father in 1887 and the subsequent suicide of his mother. Interested in acting from an early age, he was offered the opportunity to practice his acting skills in the city theaters of Åbo and Helsinki. In his twenties, Stiller received a draft notice to enter the army of Czar Nicholas II, who as the last Emperor of Russia had ascended to the throne in November of 1894. Instead of entering service, Stiller chose exile and settled in Sweden where he later became a citizen in 1921. 

By 1912 at the age of twenty-nine, Stiller had become a member of Sweden’s developing silent film industry. He initially was a scriptwriter, actor and director for short silent films. Stiller appeared as an actor in four films in 1912, his first being the role of a passenger in the 1912 “Trädgårdsmästaren (The Gardener). After these four films, Stiller focused on his writing and directing; he acted in only two more of his films: the 1914 “När Svärmor Regerar (When the Mother-in-Law Reigns)” and the 1916 “Vingarne (The Wings)”. 

As his skills developed, Mauritz Stiller began directing feature-length productions. His 1918 feature “Thomas Graals Bästa Bam (The First Child of Thomas Graal)” received critical acclaim. This comedy on the best way to raise children starred actor and director Victor Sjöström and the stage and film actress Karin Molander. By 1920, Stiller had directed more than forty films and was considered a leading figure in the Swedish film industry. Among these films was the 1919 sixteenth-century crime drama “Herr Arnes Pengar (Sir Arne’s Treasure)” based on author Selma Lagerlöf’s 1903 “The Treasure”. This silent film was the first to feature illustrator Alva Lundin’s handwritten artistic title cards.

Stiller met a young actress named Greta Gustafsson at the Royal Dramatic Theater in Stockholm. He cast her in the secondary but important role of Elizabeth Dohna in his 1924 romantic drama film “Gösta Berlings Saga (The Atonement of Gosta Berling)”. In 1925, Stiller accepted an offer from Louis B. Mayer to direct for Metro Goldwyn Mayer Studios. He relocated to the United States accompanied by Gustafsson, soon to be given her acting name Greta Garbo, and the actor Einer Hanson, who had appeared in Stiller’s films. Both actors became successful at  MGM; although Hanson achieved greater success with his move to Paramount Pictures.

Mauritz Stiller was assigned to direct the 1926 “The Temptress”, Greta Garbo’s second film with Metro Goldwyn Mayer. After repeated arguments with the studio’s executives, he was replaced on the film by Fred Niblo, who had recently finished work as principal director on the 1925 silent epic “Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ”, the third highest-grossing silent film in history. His contract terminated, Stiller was immediately signed by Paramount Pictures for whom he made three successful films in 1927. However because of continuing disagreements with Paramount’s executives, Stiller was terminated in the middle of his fourth film.

Mauritz Stiller returned to Sweden in 1927; he died in Stockholm from pleurisy, an infection in his lungs, at the age of forty-five in November of 1928. His body is interred at the Northern Cemetery in the Solna Municipality of Stockholm. For his contribution to the motion picture industry, Stiller was given a star in 1960 on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. A monument in Stiller’s honor was erected in the southern Swedish city of Kristianstad.

Notes: Mauritz Stiller’s 1916 silent film “Vingarne (The Wings)” was adapted from Danish author Herman Joachim Bang’s 1902 novel “Mikaël”, based on the life of sculptor Auguste Rodin. The novel would serve, eight years later, as the source for director Carl Theodor Dreyer’s 1924 silent film “Mikaël: The Story of the Third Sex”. Besides being an early homosexual-themed film, “Vingarne” is noted for its plot presented through flashbacks, as well as its use of a framing story, a main narrative that sets the stage for a set of shorter stories. The film is largely lost; only thirty minutes of its original seventy minute length still survives. There are several versions of the remaining film with added soundtracks on YouTube.

“Vingarne” tells the story of a devious countess (Danish actress Lili Bech) who comes between gay sculptor Claude Zoret (Norwegian actor Egil Eide) and his bisexual lover and model Mikaël (Swedish actor Lars Hanson). This leads to Zoert’s death at the base of a statue depicting Mikaël as the mythological winged Icarus. It should be noted that openly gay Swedish actor Nils Asther, later a Hollywood star, had his first film role, albeit uncredited, in Stiller’s “Vingarne”. 

A biography of Nils Asther can be found in the Film History Series archive of this site. 

Top Insert Image: Arnold Genthe, “Mauritz Stiller” Date Unknown, Photo Proof

Second Insert Image: Mauritz Stiller, “Hotel Imperial”, 1927, Film Poster, Cinematographer Bert Glennen, Production Famous Players-Lasky, Paramount Pictures

Third Insert Image: Roger Tillberg, “Greta Garbo and Mauritz Stiller”, 1925, Gelatin Silver Print

Fourth Insert Image: Mauritz Stiller, “The Street of Sin”, 1928, Film Poster, Cinematographer Bert Glennon, Harry Fischbeck and Victor Milner, Production Adolph Zucker and Jesse Lasky, Paramount Pictures

Bottom Insert Image: Photographer Unknown, “Mauritz Stiller, Pola Negri,  George Siegmann”, 1927, Film Set of “Hotel Imperial”, Gelatin Silver Print

James Searle Dawley: Film History Series

James Searle Dawley, “Snow White”, 1916, Silent Fantasy Film, Cinematographer and Producer  H. Lyman Broening, Running Time 63 Minutes, Starring Marguerite Clark and Creighton Hale, Production Company Famous Players Film Company

Born at Del Norte, Colorado in October of 1877, James Searle Dawley was an American film director, screenwriter, producer, stage actor and playwright. During his career, he directed over three-hundred short films and fifty-six features with such actors as Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, Harold Lloyd, and John Barrymore. Dawley also wrote several Broadway productions as well as plays for repertory companies. 

The youngest of three sons born to James Andres Dawley and Angela Searle, James Dawley received his initial education in Denver and later attended the city’s Saxton College of Oratory. As a child, he permanently lost the vision in his right eye, an injury which challenged his later career as actor and film director. At the age of seventeen, Dawley had his first stage performance as François in the Lewis Morrison Company’s 1895 New York City production of Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s “Richelieu”. Three years later, now billed as J. Searle Dawley, he served both as performer and stage manager for the Morrison Company’s productions. 

Dawley left the Morrison Company and performed on the vaudeville circuit from 1899 to 1902. He returned to the theatrical stage as a member of the Edna May Spooner Stock Company based in Brooklyn. Actress and playwright Edna May Spooner and her family were a fixture in Brooklyn’s theater life and operated its Bijou Theater for several years. Recognized for his past production experience, Dawley both performed on stage and managed the company’s productions. He also wrote and produced fifteen plays during his five years with the company. 

In May of 1907, J. Searle Dawley made the decision to start a career in the rapidly expanding motion-picture industry. He was hired by Edwin Porter, the production head at Edison Studios, to serve as director for the company’s main film facilities in the Bronx, New York. His first project as director was the now-lost 1907 comedy “The Nine Lives of a Cat”. After experiencing some initial frustrations, Dawley quickly established himself as a reliable director who could produce a wide range of releases, often two or more films in a single week. Through his career with Edison Studios, he directed over two-hundred single-reel films. Among these were “Bluebeard”, adaptions of both “Michael Strogoff” and “Faust”, and “Rescued from an Eagle’s Nest”, noteworthy for its special effects and an early screen appearance by film director D. W. Griffith.

By 1910, Dawley was directing increasingly elaborate productions for the Edison Company. Although they were still one-reel films, they included the 1910 Charles Dickens “A Christmas Carol” and two presentations of historic naval battles: “The Stars and Stripes”, a depiction of John Paul Jones’s victory in 1779, and “The Battle of Trafalgar”, the story of British Admiral Lord Nelson’s 1805 triumph over the French and Spanish warships. In both of these productions, Dawley oversaw the creation of large maritime sets inside Edison’s Bronx studio, construction of the ships’ decks, and simulated views of the battles using small-scale models and silhouettes. 

In 1910, J. Searle Dawley was screenwriter and director for the longer running (fourteen minute) silent horror “Frankenstein”, the earliest known screen adaption of Shelley’s novel. Staged and filmed in three days at the Bronx studio in mid-January, Dawley used special effects for the creation of the monster. A burning papier-mâché human figure was shot on red film, separately and in reverse, and then spliced into the master negative for the final print. This reverse action produced a creation scene in which the monster forms slowly as it rises from a cauldron of blazing chemicals. 

In the same year, Dawley traveled to California and set up Edison Studios at Long Beach. This new arrangement required him to write more screenplays and direct film productions on both coasts. Dawley made several attempts to create films longer than the fifteen-minute one-reel film; however, Edison had little confidence in the attention span of the audience. In 1913, Edwin Porter hired Dawley to work with him at Adolph Zuckor’s new studio, Famous Players Film Company. Dawley directed its first thirteen releases, among which was the romantic comedy “An American Citizen”, the first feature film for actor John Barrymore.

After leaving Famous Players in May of 1914, James Searle Dawley, along with Frank L. Dyer and J. Parker Read Jr, established the film company Dyreda. In the fall of 1914, arrangements were made with World Film Corporation to distribute their releases; Dyreda would later merge with Metro Pictures, a forerunner of Metro Goldwyn Mayer. Dawley returned in 1916 to Famous Players, later Paramount Pictures, for two years. During this period, he directed over a dozen films, including “Mice and Men” and “Snow White”, both in 1916; two 1917 films “”Bab’s Diary” and “The Seven Swans”; and the 1918 “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”, a five-reel film produced by Adolph Zucker and Jesse L. Lasky.

Dawley freelanced as a director for several years before joining Fox Films in 1921. The last feature film he directed was the 1923 drama “Broadway Broke”, produced by Murray W. Garsson and distributed by Lewis J. Selznick. Months later, Dawley made his final directorial works in collaboration with the inventor of the first practical electronic amplifier Lee de Forest. Their two experimental sound films, “Abraham Lincoln” and “Love’s Old Sweet Song”, were both released in 1924. Dawley worked through the late 1920s and 1930s in radio broadcasting, journalism, and sound-film technologies. 

James Searle Dawley married Grace Owens Givens in June of 1918; the couple remained together over thirty years until Dawley’s death, at the age of seventy-one, in March of 1949. He died of undisclosed causes at the Motion Picture Country Home in Woodland Hills, Los Angeles. Dawley’s ashes were interned in the columbarium at the Chapel of the Pines Crematory. Silent film star Mary Pickford and director Walter Lang spoke at the service. Dawley’s personal papers, scrapbooks and several Edison production scripts are housed in the Margaret Herrick Library at the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences in Beverly Hills, California. 

Note: Dawley’s 1916 “Snow White” was considered a lost-film destroyed in a vault fire. A substantially complete print with Dutch subtitles, albeit missing a few scenes, was located in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, in 1992. It was subsequently restored through the work of the George Eastman House, the world’s oldest museum dedicated to photography.

Second Insert Image: James Searle Dawley, “The Harvest Moon”, 1920, Film Poster, Six-Reel Silent Film, Cinematographer Bert Dawley

Third Insert Image: James Searle Dawley, “Frankenstein”, 1910, Film Poster, One-Reel Silent Film, Cinematographer James White

Fourth Insert Image: James Searle Dawley, “A Virgin Paradise”, 1921, Film Poster, Eight-Reel Silent Film, Cinematographer Joseph Ruttenberg and Bert Dawley

Bottom Insert Image: “Marguerite Clark and Creighton Hale”, Silent Film Clip Photo, “Snow White”, 1916, Five-Reel Silent Film Director James Searle Dawley, Cinematographer H. Lyman Broening

Segundo de Chomón: Film History Series

Segundo de Chomón, “Hôtel Électrique”, 1908, Running Time 8 Minutes, Producer and Distributor Pathé Frères

Soundtrack Courtesy of Japan’s Euodia Chamber Ensemble

Born in the Aragon city of Teruel in October of 1871, Segundo Victor Aurelio Chomón y Ruiz was a cinematographer, film director and screenwriter. A pioneer in camera and optical techniques, he is regarded as the most significant Spanish silent film director in the international context. Known for his technical quality and creativity, Chomón worked with the most important film companies of the time, including Italia Films and Pathé Frères. 

Segundo de Chomón was the son of Isaac Chomón Gil, a military doctor, and Luisa Ruiz Valero, born in the city of Calamocha located in the Teruel Province. It is believed he undertook engineering studies; however, there are no known records of graduation. Chomón resided in Paris between 1895 and 1897 where he discovered the cinematic works of Auguste and Louis Lumière, French pioneers best known for the films produced through their Cinématographe motion picture system. While in Paris, Chomón met French silent film actress Julienne Alexandrine Mathieu whom he would later marry. In addition to acting in Chomón’s films, Mathieu would collaborate with Chomón on scripts and special effects.

Between 1897 and 1898, Chomón fulfilled his military service in Cuba; upon his return to Paris, he became interested in film production. At Georges Méliès’s recently founded film company Star Films, Chomón worked alongside his wife in the workshop where they hand-colored film, frame by frame. He designed some celluloid templates that facilitated this work and achieved greater precision in color delimitation. With slight changes, this system was later patented by Pathé Frères under the name “Pathécolor”. At the turn of the century, Chomón relocated to Barcelona where, acting as an agent for Pathé Frères, he opened a workshop to publicize and distribute the company’s films. 

In 1901, Segundo de Chomón began making films on an independent basis with distribution through Pathé. His first film was the 1901 silent short “Descente du Mont Serrat”. In the following year, Chomón produced a series of films which were inspired by the stories he found through the book publisher Editorial Calleja. He experimented in this period with double exposures and techniques to create gigantic effects which he used successfully in his 1903 “Gulliver en ie Pais de los Gigantes”. Due to the quality of his films, Chomón received financial support for his filmmaking from Charles Pathé who desired to compete with Georges Méliès’s company, Star Films. 

Now a valuable asset to Pathé, Chomón relocated in 1905 back to Paris, where in addition to directing films, he was given charge of the color stenciling workshop. In 1907, he was selected to co-direct the remake of Pathé’s top director Ferdinand Zecca’s 1903 “Vie et Passion de Notre Seigneur Jésus Christ”. Chomón’s most productive years were between 1907 and 1912, a period in which he worked with Zecca and such talented directors as Gaston Velle and Émile Cohl. In 1912, Chomón accepted an invitation to make films in Italy. He worked on the special effects for other directors’ films, most notably Giovanni Pastrone’s 1914 epic “Cabiria”. Pastrone recipocally collaborated on Chomón’s last directorial film, the 1916 “La Guerra e il Sogno di Momi”. 

After his move to Italy, Segundo de Chomón’s own films became less frequent. In 1924, he worked in a collaboration with Swiss engineer Ernest Zellinger on a color cinema system for which they won the Gold Medal at the International Exhibition of Photography, Optics and Cinematography in Turin. Instead of directing his own films, Chomón primarily worked in visual effects for the films of others, including Italian actor and director Guido Brignone’s 1925 “Meciste in Hell” and French actor and director Abel Gance’s 1927 “Napoléon”. Both these directors were highly regarded: Guido Brignone was the first Italian director to win at the Venice Film Festival, and Gance’s epic “Napoléon” is widely considered one of the greatest and innovative films of the silent era, if not all time. 

Chomón was a meticulous and perfectionist technician who would spend months to perfect a special effect, even if it would only last a few seconds on screen. In his films, he used a vast repertory of special effect techniques including colorization of film, the use of models, double exposures, overprints, schüfftan effects (covering part of the camera’s view with a mirror to create an image with multiple parts), pyrotechnics, camouflage and crank pitch, the removal of an object while the camera is turned off and then on to cause a disappearance.

Best remembered for his special effect films, Segundo de Chomón died in Paris on the second of May in 1929 at the age of fifty-seven. Over the course of his career, he received credits on one hundred forty-five films from 1901 to 1916.

Notes: The 1908 silent French comedy-fantasy film “Hôtel Électrique” was directed by Segundo de Chomón and produced by Pathé Frères. The film’s cast included just Segundo de Chomón as Betrand and his wife Julienne Mathieu as Laura. This eight-minute film is one of the earliest uses of stop motion animation in history, though it is not the first. Chomón used the technique in his 1906 film “Le Théâtre de Bob”, which animated puppets, and the American director J. Stuart Blackton used stop motion for his 1907 “The Haunted Hotel” produced by the American Vitagraph Company. However, the “Hôtel Électrique” is unique in its early use of pixilation, a technique using live actors as the frame-by-frame subjects.  

From 1907 to 1909, Julienne Mathieu was credited in at least forty-two films, many of them shot by Chomón with her assistance on special effects. She also appeared in films by Ferdinard Zecca, Gaston Velle, Albert Capellani, and Lucien Nonguet. Mathieu ended her film career in 1909. From 1912 to 1925, she is reported to have been living with her family in Turin, Italy. On the first of December in 1943, Julienne Alexandrine Mathieu died at the Ospizio della Carità (Hospice of Charity) in Chieri while the city was under German occupation after the fall of Fascist Italy.

In the Ultrawolves Archive, there is a 2018 article on Segundo de Chomón’s French 1908 colorized short silent film “La Grenouille (The Frog)”. This rather unusual film for the era can be located at:

Second Insert Image: Segundo de Chomón, “Les Roses Magiques (The Magic Roses)”, 1906, Pathé Frères

Third Insert Image: Segundo de Chomón, “La Voyage sur la Planète Jupiter”, 1909, Pathé Frères

Bottom Insert Image: Segundo de Chomón, “Les Oeufs de Paques (Easter Eggs), 1907, Pathé Frères

Mime Misu: Film History Series

Mime Misu, “In Nacht und Eis (In Night and Ice)”, 1912, Written and Directed by Mime Misu, Film Runtime 42 Minutes, Continental-Kunstfilm, Berlin, Germany,

Remastered with English Subtitles and Score by Swiss Composer Christophe Sturzenegger

Born in January of 1888 at the county seat of Botosani in the northern part of Romania, Misu Rosescu was a pantomime artist, ballet dancer, film actor and director. He was nephew to the prominent writer Rahel Levin Varnhagen whose home became a center for the intellectual and political figures of German culture. Born into a family of musicians, artists and performers, Rosescu made his stage debut as a child performing ballet and pantomime.

Rosescu’s many talented performances were recognized and gained him free entrance into the Bucharest Art Academy. During his studies, he was assigned to the Royal National Theatre in the capital city of Bucharest. After his graduation with honors, Rosescu began a successful career appearing in theatrical performances at the provincial theaters of Romania. After his performance at the 1900 World Fair in Paris, Rosescu established his own theatrical production company and toured Berlin, Budapest, Vienna and London. 

Misu Rosescu, now using the name Mime Misu, entered into the growing film industry. In Paris, he was initially employed by Lux, a film production company located in the 14th arrondissement, and later at Pathé Frères which was becoming the world’s largest film equipment and production company. In 1912, Misu signed with Berlin’s newly established Continental=Kunstfilm which had just begun to release a mix of comedies, melodramas and documentaries. mis

Through Continental-Kunstfilm, Mime Misu wrote and directed three films in his first year. The 1912 silent film “Das Gespenst von Clyde (The Ghost of von Clyde)” was a media story of Count Arthur Hamilton who died in the British Castle of Clyde under mysterious circumstances. Misu’s 1912 “In Nacht und Eis (In Night and Ice)” was a silent adventure-disaster film depicting the recent sinking of RMC Titanic. Having achieved some success with his drama-documentary narrative style, Misu made the 1912 “Das Mirakel (The Miracle)”. Based on the thirteenth-century temptation legend of Sister Beatrice, the film later appeared under the title “Das Marienwunder: Eine alte Legende (The Miracle of Mary: An Old Legend)” due to legal rulings in the United Kingdom and the United States.

Misu made one more film in Germany, the 1913-1914 “Der Excentric Club”, for Projektions-AG Union, a Frankfurt film production company that soon moved to Berlin, the new center of the German film industry. He traveled to the United States where he made one film, the 1914 “Money God”, under his personal production company Misugraph-Film. Lacking support in the United States just as the First Great War began, Misu returned to Europe and settled with his new wife, Bertha, in Berlin’s inner-city district of Wilmersdorf. In 1915, he directed in the Netherlands his last film, a disaster film of a sinking ship entitled “Ontmaskerd (Unmasked)”; the credits list his birth name, Misu Rosecu, as director.

Mime Misu traveled to the United States every year from 1915 to 1917. He maintained office space in Berlin for his production company Misugraph-Film until 1921. There is, however, no record of any artistic activity from 1915 to 1921. In 1921, Misu apparently misrepresented himself as to his involvement with the Famous Players Film Company, a film venture owned by Paramount Pictures’ founder Adolph Zukor. This led to the publishing of their exchanged letters in Berlin’s film journal Fil-Kurier. An accomplished stage performer and director of six films, (Mime) Misu Rosescu died in Antwerp, Belgium in the summer of 1953. 

Among the films in his career, Mime Misu’s best known work is the 1912 “In Nacht und Eis’, the earliest surviving film depiction of the RMS Titanic disaster. Camera work was done by Willy Hameister, Emil Schünemann and Victor Zimmermann. Most of its footage was shot in a glasshouse studio inside the courtyard of Continental-Kunstfilm’s offices at 123 Chausseestrasse. Other footage was shot in Hamburg and, possibly, aboard the Hamburg-docked German ocean liner Kaiserin Auguste Victoria. 

At a running time of thirty-five minutes, “In Nacht und Eis” was shot in black and white with various scenes tinted to increase their impact. The film starred actors Waldemar Hecker as the telegrapher, Otto Rippert as the Captain, and Ernst Rückert as the First Officer. The Berlin Fire Department provided the flood waters necessary for the scenes of the Titanic’s sinking. “In Nacht und Eis” was considered a lost film until February of 1998. At that time, the German film archivist Horst Lange, after reading an article discussing this loss, informed the newspaper that he possessed a print of the film.

Note: The above video of “In Nacht und Eis” is from the Titanic Officers site which contains a multitude of articles on the ship’s officers and other aspects of the Titanic and its sinking. The Titanic Officers website can be found at:

For those film buffs who are purists, there is a restored silent version, sans soundtrack, on the Internet Archive. This slightly shorter film with a runtime of thirty-four minutes is located at:

Top Insert Image: Mime Misu, “Das Mirakel”, 1912, Publicity Photo on Cardstock

Bottom Insert Image: Mime Misu, “In Nacht und Eis”, 1912, (Otto Rippert and Ernst Rüchert) Film Clip Photo

Wesley Barry: Film History Series

Born in Los Angeles, California in August of 1907, Wesley E. Barry was an American actor, director and producer. A child star in silent films from 1915 to 1924, he made a successful transition in his adult years to other activities in the film industry.

In 1914 at the age of seven, Wesley Barry was noticed by a director for his distinctive facial features and given a contract with Kalem Studios, a production and distribution film company founded by screenwriter Frank J. Marion, Biograph production manager Samuel Long, and wealthy film distributor George Kleine. With his freckles covered with greasepaint, Barry made his screen debut in the 1915 “The Phoney Cannibal”, a silent short starring the child-star duo Ham Hamilton and Bud Duncan. His first appearance in a feature film was the role of a freckled school boy in Marshall Neilan’s 1917 “Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm”, which starred Mary Pickford as Rebecca. 

Noted now for his freckles, Barry soon became a much demanded child actor. In 1919, he was in Neilan’s comedy drama “Daddy Long Legs”, which starred Mary Pickford, and Cecil B. DeMille’s adventure film “Male and Female”. Barry appeared in four silent films in 1920; but it was the success of Neilan and John McDernott’s 1920 comedy drama “Dinty”, specifically written for Barry, that made him a star in his own right. Throughout the 1920s, he appeared in twenty-two screen productions, among which were the 1922 “Penrod” with Our Gang actor Ernest “Ernie’ Morrison; the 1924 comedy “George Washington Jr.” with actress Gertrude Olmstead; and the 1924 sports comedy “Battling Bunyan” with Frank Campeau, known for his roles in cowboy westerns.

Wesley Barry, grown out of his infancy, made minor film appearances in sound films throughout the 1930s. He appeared in director John Ford’s 1937 drama “The Plough and the Stars”, which starred Barbara Stanwyck and Preston Foster, and Hal Roach’s musical comedy “Pick a Star”, released through MGM in 1937 and, later, by Astor Pictures in 1954. Barry did play the lead role the 1938 western “The Mexicali Kid” in which he played under the direction of Wallace For and  opposite Jack Randall. He stopped acting regularly after his appearance in the 1939 “Stunt Pilot”; his last role on the big screen was an uncredited appearance in the 1943 baseball comedy “Ladies’ Day”. 

Beginning in the 1940s, Barry directed and produced films, a career which would extend thirty years. For about a decade, he directed B movies including some in the “Joe Palooka” and “Bowery Boys” series. Barry also worked in the field of television where he directed several episodes of “Lassie”, the police dramas “Mod Squad” and “The Rookies”, and the western series starring Guy Madison, “The Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok”. In 1952, Barry both directed the drama film “The Steel Fist”, starring Roddy McDowell, and co-produced Frank McDonald’s action film “Sea Tiger”. Among the westerns he directed were “The Secret of Outlaw Flats”, starring Guy Madison and Andy Devine, and “Trail Blazers” with Alan Hale Jr, both films released in 1953.

Wesley Barry founded his own production company Genie Production in the beginning of the 1960s. His first film though his studio, now considered a sci-fi cult classic, was the 1962 “The Creation of the Humanoids”. The film, starring Don Megowan, was based on the story of robots, disparagingly referred to as ‘clickers’, who provided android bodies to the dying, radiation-affected  human race. Barry’s studio produced two more films in his lifetime: the animated 1963 fantasy “The Jolly Genie” and a 1965 television documentary “The Market”.

Barry also had a prolific career as an assistant director on many major motion pictures, most notably director Roger Corman’s 1967 American gangster film “The Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre”, one of the few Corman films backed by a major Hollywood studio, in this case 20th Century Fox. Barry’s last credit as assistant director in the film industry was a 1975 episode of “The Rookies”. Wesley Barry died on the 11th of April of 1994 at the age of eighty-six in Fresno, California.

Note: Wesley Barry’s “The Creation of the Humanoids”, based on an original story and screenplay by Jay Simms, was produced on a limited budget, apparent from the film’s rudimentary sets and costumes. At a time when black and white film stock was still being used for many major productions, Barry and co-producer Edward J. Kay opted for the added expense of color film. The cinematography was done by twice-Academy Award winner Hal Mohr who used all his experience to make the best of the sets. The makeup artist was Jack Pierce who created the iconic “Frankenstein” and “Bride of Frankenstein” makeups for Universal Pictures. 

“The Creation of the Humanoids” can be found on disc and many cable venues. It is also located at the Internet Archive:

Top Insert Image: John J. Mescall, “Wesley Barry”, 1935, Film Shot from “Night Life of the Gods”, Director Lowell Sherman 

Second Insert Image: Film Poster, “The County Fair”, 1920 Silent Film, Directors Edmund Mortimer and Maurice Tourneur, Cinematogaphers René Guissart and Charles Van Enger

Third Insert Image: Photographer Unknown, “Wesley Barry and Molly Malone”, 1924, Publicity Card for “Battling Bunyan”, Card Stock, Director Paul Hurst, Cinematographer Frank Cotner

Fourth Insert Image: Film Poster, “Creation of the Humanoids”, 1962, Director Wesley Barry, Cinematographer Hal Mohr

Bottom Insert Image: Photographer Unknown, “Wesley Barry”, Date Unknown, Gelatin Silver Print

Cecil Milton Hepworth: Film History Series

Cecil Hepworth and Percy Snow, “Alice in Wonderland”, 1903, Silent Blcak and White Film, Cinematographer Cecil Hepworth, Hepworth Studios, Film Gifs

Born in the London borough of Lambeth in March of 1874, Cecil Milton Hepworth was a British film director and producer, screen writer, and inventor. Among the founders of the British film industry, he continually made films at his Hepworth Studios from 1897 to 1923,

Born to the magic-lantern showman and author Thomas Cradock Hepworth, Cecil Hepworth began working in the early stages of filmmaking under film pioneer Birt Acres, the inventor of the Birtac, Britain’s first 35 mm moving picture camera. He also worked during this time under film producer and distributor Charles Urban, a pioneer of documentary and educational films, many of them produced through the Kinemacolor motion picture color system. With the knowledge he acquired from this experience, Hepworth wrote in 1897 the first British book on filmmaking.

Hepworth and his cousin Monty Wicks founded the Hepworth Film Manufacturing Company, later renamed Hepworth Picture Plays. In 1899, they established Hepworth Studios, a small film studio in Walton-on-Thames in northwest Surrey. In 1901, the British director Percy Stow entered into a partnership with Hepworth until 1904 when Snow founded his Clarendon Film Company, a movie camera equipment company which made short films. Snow specialized in film effects and became co-director on the 1903 “Alice in Wonderland”, his second film with Hepworth Studios.

Cecil Hepworth was the inventor of the Hepworth Vivaphone, a 1910 early sound on disc system developed and marketed by the Hepworth Film Manufacturing Company. It was not a true synchronized sound system for film. The performers appearing in the films would typically synch their singing and speech to prerecorded phonograph records. The device and the short films produced on this system were distributed in Britain and later, beginning in 1913, to Canada and the United States.

Despite Hepworth’s increasingly outdated film style, Hepworth Studio continued making popular films into the 1920s. The studio had several successful films, including the 1905 “Rescue by Rover”, whose collie is considered the first canine film star, and the internationally successful 1919 “Alf’s Button”, the story of a British soldier whose magic button produces a wish-fulfilling genie. Despite these successes, Hepworth failed to raise the necessary capital to fund studio development. After the box office failure of the 1923 “Coming Thro the Rye”, Hepworth declared bankruptcy, which put the studio in receivership and ended his career as a director and producer. All of the original films in Hepworth’s possession were melted down by the receiver to sell the silver. Though some originals and copies have survived, many of the studio’s films are considered lost to history. 

Cecil Hepworth, proud of his place in history, toured in later life with a lecture program on the birth of cinema. Among the films he had produced were several Charles Dickens adaptions, including “Oliver Twist” and “David Copperfield”, and a version of “Hamlet” starring Sir Johnston Forbes-Robinson, an actor considered the finest Hamlet of the Victorian era. So popular were Hepworth’s films that actress Alma Taylor, who starred in fourteen films by his studio, became one of the major British stars of the 1910s and early 1920s. Cecil Hepworth died in February of 1953 in Greenford, Middlesex, England at the age of seventy-eight.

Hepworth Studio’s 1903 British silent fantasy film “Alice in Wonderland” was directed by Cecil Hepworth and Percy Snow. Only one copy of the original twelve-minute film is known to exist. The British Film Institute partially restored the film and its original film tinting and, in 2010, released the restoration with a running time of nine minutes. Filmed mostly in Oxford’s Port Meadow, it is the first movie adaption of Lewis Carroll’s 1865 children’s book “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”. Instead of a flowing narrative found in the book,  the story is seen through several vignettes taken from the novel. 

The 1903 “Alice in Wonderland” starred May Clark, already a Hepworth Studio veteran at age eighteen, as Alice; Cecil Hepworth as The Frog Footman; Cecil’s wife Margaret Hepworth as the White Rabbit and the Red Queen of Hearts; Norman Whitten as the Mad Hatter and The Fish; and the two Faithfull brothers, Geoffrey and Stanley, as Playing Cards. The Hepworth’s family cat made its appearance as the Cheshire Cat. The film is notable for the early special effects work by Percy Snow, among which are Alice’s shrinking in the Hall of Many Doors and the regrown Alice stuck inside the White Rabbit’s tiny home. 

Note: The restored 1903 “Alice in Wonderland” was released as a bonus feature on a 1996 British Broadcasting Company disc. It is now available from several sources including online venues. A full-length restoration with a piano soundtrack, which is available as a download, can be found at the Internet Archive located at:

Top Insert Image: Photographer Unknown, “Cecil Milton Hepworth”, circa 1910-1920

Three Insert Images: Lewis Carroll, “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”, 1895, Book Cover with Two Illustrations by John Tenniel, Publisher McMillan & Company, New York

Edward Everett Horton Jr: Film History Series

James Hargis Connelly, “Edward Everett Horton Jr, circa 1930s, Publicity Photo, Gelatin Silver Print

Born in Brooklyn, New York in March of 1886, Edward Everett Horton Jr. was an American character actor. A veteran of the stage, he was one of the actors who made the transition to Hollywood at the advent of the sound era. The pretentiously mannered dictation and pompous disposition of Horton’s film character enabled him to succeed in the theatrical, dialogue-driven comedies and musicals of the 1930s. Slightly coded queer characters in these early films, played by such talented actors as Clifton Webb, Franklin Pangborn and Horton, acted as a juxtaposition to the romantic-male stereotypes of that era.

Edward Everett Horton attended Boys’ High School in Brooklyn and Baltimore’s City College, a liberal arts college-preparatory school in Maryland. He was a student at Oberlin College in Ohio until his expulsion for pretending to jump off one of the college’s buildings; he threw a dummy from the roof. Horton attended the art courses at Brooklyn’s Polytechnic Institute for one year and changed to courses at Columbia University. After his performance at the university’s “The Varsity Show of 1909”, Horton and Columbia University parted ways amicably. 

Horton’s stage career began in 1906 during his college years. He sang, danced and played small roles in college productions, vaudeville and Broadway productions. Horton, as manager and lead actor, played shows with actor Franklin Pangborn at New York City’s Majestic Theater on Broadway. In 1908, he joined noted actor Louis Mann’s theater troupe and learned all the basics: props, sound effects, acting and stage management. In 1909, Horton played the hysterical husband in actress Theda Bara’s Broadway production of “A Fool There Was” to great reviews. This play later became the 1915 silent film of the same name with Belgian actor Edward José as the husband.

Edward Horton moved to Los Angeles, California in 1919 and joined the Thomas Wilkes theatrical company at Los Angeles’s Majestic Theater. He also received a contract for three films at Vitagraph Studios, one of the most prolific film producers at that time. Horton’s first starring film role was in the 1922 comedy “Too Much Business”. Lent to Paramount, he achieved his biggest success in silent film with the role of the very proper English butler in the 1923 “Ruggles of Red Gap”. Horton followed this success with the leading role of a young classical composer in the 1925 “Beggar on Horseback”. Between 1927 and 1929, he starred in eight two-reel silent comedies that were produced by Harold Lloyd for Paramount Pictures.  

In 1925, Horton purchased the Encino neighborhood property in the San Fernando Valley that would be his residence until his death. The twenty-one acre property named Belleigh Acres contained his own house as well as houses for his brother and sister with their respective families. Desiring to produce his own theatrical plays, Horton leased the Vine Street Theater, later known as the Huntington Hartford, in February of 1928. Among the plays he performed at the theater was “The Nervous Wreck” which co-starred silent film actress Lois Wilson; Horton had played in the original 1923 production with the Thomas Wilkes company. Although he ceased his stage production in early 1930, Horton would appear in many local productions in his later years.

Edward Horton, through his silent-comedy work with Educational Pictures in the late 1920s, made an smooth transition to sound films. Stage-trained, he found film work easily and appeared in two films for Warner Brothers: director Roy Del Ruth’s 1928 horror film “Terror” and Archie Mayo’s live-action 1929 “Sonny Boy”. Horton appeared in many 1930s’ comedy features and became well known for his supporting-role characters. Among these film roles were the reporter in the 1931 “Front Page’; the husband in Ernest Lubitsch’s 1933 “Design for Living”; Fred Astaire’s friend Egbert in the 1934 “Gay Divorcee”; Horace Hardwick in the 1935 musical comedy “Top Hat” starring Astaire and Ginger Rogers; and the paleontologist Alexander Lovett in Frank Capra’s 1937 adventure-fantasy film “Lost Horizon”.

In the 1940s, Horton appeared in several notable films including the 1941 “Here Comes Mr. Jordan’, the 1944 “Arsenic and Old Lace” with Cary Grant and Raymond Massey, and the 1961 “Pocket Full of Miracles”, among others. He continued to appear in stage productions and, beginning in 1945, became the host for radio’s “Kraft Music Hall”. With a starting appearance on television’s “The Chevrolet Tele-Theater in December of 1948, Horton began a notable television career as a guest star on such shows as “I Love Lucy”, “Dennis the Menace” and “The Real McCoys”. However for many television viewers, he remains best known for his voice role as the wise narrator of Fractured Fairy Tales in the animated series “The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show” which aired from 1959 to 1964.

Edward Horton’s long-term companion was the actor Gavin Gordon, who had been an actor with Horton’s theater company. They had both appeared in the 1931 Broadway production of Noël Coward’s “Private Lives” and in the 1961 film “Pocket Full of Miracles”. Fifteen years younger than Horton, Gordon starred as Greta Garbo’s leading man in the 1930 “Romance” and later played the role of Lord Byron in James Whale’s 1935 “The Bride of Frankenstein”. His distinctive voice enabled him to also appear in numerous radio dramas. Gavin Gordon died on his eighty-second birthday, the seventh of April in 1983. 

Holding over one-hundred eighty acting credits, Edward Everett Horton was an actor with solid and professional performances throughout his career as a character actor. He passed away, at the age of eighty-four, in Los Angeles on the twenty-ninth of September in 1970. Horton’s remains are interred at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California. For his contributions to the motion picture industry, he has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6427 Hollywood Boulevard.  

Notes: For those interested in more information on Edward Everett Horton, I recommend two sites which have biographical information as well as film clips of Horton’s work: 

Dare Daniel- Podcast and Movie Reviews found at:

The WOW Report article by writer and actor Stephen Rutledge located at:

Top Insert Image: Photographer Unknown, “Edward Everett Horton Jr”, circa 1930s, Publicity Photo, Gelatin Silver Print

Second Insert Image: Cinematographer David Abel, “Fred Astaire and Edward Everett Horton Jr”, 1935, Film Shot from “Top Hat”, Director Mark Sandrich, RKO, Rko/Kobal/Shutterstock (5883758s)

Third Insert Image: Cinematographers David Abel and Joseph F Biroc, “Edward Everett Horton Jr and Eric Blore”, 1937, Film Shot from “Shall We Dance”, Director Mark Sandrich

Fourth Insert Image: Cinematographer Sol Polito, “Cary Grant, Josephine Hull, Edward Everett Horton Jr,  Jean Adair and Peter Lorre”, 1944, Film Shot from “Arsenic and Old Lace”, Director Frank Capra 

Bottom Insert Image: Photographer Unknown, “Edward Everett Horton Jr and Carmen Miranda”, 1937, Publicity Shot for “Springtime in the Rockies”, Director Irving Cummings, Cinematographer Ernest Palmer

Anton Walbrook: Film History Series

Born in Vienna in November of 1896, Adolf Anton Wilhelm Wohlbrück was an Austrian actor who settled in the United Kingdom under the name Anton Walbrook. He was descended from ten generations of actors, although his father, Adolf Ferdinand Wohlbrück, broke from the tradition and became a well known and successful stage clown. At the age of seven, his family relocated to Berlin. Wohlbrück left school in 1911, at the age of fifteen, to train as an actor under the prominent theater and film director Max Reinhardt. 

Wohlbrück’s talent was quickly recognized and he was given a five-year contract to work with the Deutsches Theater. Still under contract, he enlisted and fought on both the western and eastern fronts before he was captured in France in 1917 to spend the rest of the war as a prisoner. After his return home, Wohlbrück met actress and director Hermine Korner who became a lifelong mentor and co-actor in several highly-praised stage productions. Although he enjoyed the classics, he also appeared in new stage productions and became drawn to the rapidly expanding German film industry.

In the early 1930s, Adolf Wohlbrück was cast in some exceptional movies among which were the 1933 cross-dressing musical comedy “Viktor and Viktoria” and the international 1934 Austrian operetta film “Masquerade” which later won the Best Screenplay at the Vienna Film Festival. Wohlbrück’s character in the 1934 film was Ferdinand von Heidenick, a charming, rather well-mannered, and slightly dangerous man. His following was built on films with such a character role; however, he also succeeded in other diverse roles in such films as the 1935 thriller “I Was Jack Mortimer”, director Arthur Robison’s 1935 German horror film “The Student of Prague”, and the 1936 action-packed historical drama “The Czar’s Courier”, based on Jules Verne’s novel “Michael Strogoff”.

Widely known and respected as an actor in both theater and film, Wohlbrück built up his career and appeared alongside some of Germany’s best leading ladies. In 1936, he traveled to Hollywood to reshoot dialogue for the 1937 multinational film “The Soldier and the Lady”, director George Nichols Jr’s American version of “Michael Stogoff”. It was during this period in Hollywood that Wohlbrück changed his name to Anton Walbrook. Rather than return to Germany where, under the government’s law, he risked persecution due to being a homosexual and a person of mixed race in the first degree due to his mother being Jewish, Walbrook decided to settle in England.  He continued acting in England and appeared in many European-continental character roles. 

In the first six years of his film work in Britain, Anton Walbrook appeared in many film studies of men struggling to find their identities in a foreign land. These displaced person roles included Prince Albert in the 1937 “Victoria the Great” and its sequel, the 1938 “Sixty Glorious Years”; the role of Polish pilot and composer Stefan Radetzky in the 1940 “Dangerous Moonlight”; and the foreign domestic despot Paul Mallen in Thorold Dickinson’s 1940 version of the psychological thriller “Gaslight”. Walbrook also appeared on stage in the role of Otto in the first London production of “Design for Living” in January of 1939 playing opposite Diana Wynyard and Rex Harrison. 

Walbrook appeared in several more film roles in England during the late 1940s, including the dashing “good” German officer Theo Kretschmar-Schuldorff in the 1943 “The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp” and the tyrannical impersario in Michael Powell’s 1948 ballet film “The Red Shoes”, which received many nominations, a Golden Globe and two Academy Awards. One of Walbrook most unusual films of this time was the 1949 Gothic thriller “The Queen of Spades” in which he co-starred with Edith Evans. This fantasy-horror film, based on a short story by Alexander Pushkin, used sets from original baroque designs by English stage designer Oliver Messel. Some critics considered it one of the true classics of supernatural cinema.  

After the end of the war, Anton Walbrook returned to his homeland Germany and accepted stage work in Munich. His most notable film performances for this early-1950s period are the two movies he did for German-French director Max Ophüls: the 1950 French film “La Ronde”, nominated for two Academy Awards and originally classified by New York film censors as immoral, and the 1955 historical romance film “Lola Montès”, the last completed film of Max Ophüls. Walbrook’s final film role was the duplicitous French army officer Major Esterhazy in the 1958 Dreyfus Affair dramatization “I Accuse!”, directed by José Ferrer. 

After his last film, Walbrook performed in stage productions, both in Britain and Germany, often with appearances in comedies and musicals. He continued acting until his death of a heart attack in Feldafing, Bavaria, Germany in August of 1967. In accordance with his last testament, Walbrook was cremated and his ashes were interred in the churchyard of St. John’s Church, Hampstead, London.  

Note: In 2020, author and archivist at the University of Exeter’s Special Collections Department  James Downs published his monograph “Anton Walbrook: A Life of Masks and Mirrors”, the first Walbrook biography. Downs had previously written and presented conference papers on Walbrook and had curated the 2013 exhibition “Anton Walbrook: Star and Enigma” at the Bill Douglas Cinema Theater in Exeter, United Kingdom. More information on the biography can be found at: 

Top Insert Image: JDA Riga, “Anton Walbrook as Michael Strogoff, The Czar’s Courier”, 1936, Bromide Postcard Print, 13.7 x 8.6 cm, National Portrait Gallery, London

Second Insert Image: Anton Walbrook in “The Man from Morocco”, 1945, Director Mutz Greenbaum, Cinematographer Basil Emmett and Geoffrey Faithfull

Third Insert Image: Angus McBean, “Rex Harrison, Diana Wynyard, Anton Walbrook”, 1939, Gelatin Silver Print, 20.2 x 25.3 cm, Harvard Theater Collection, Harvard University

Fourth Insert Image: “Anton Walbrook as Jean Boucheron,The Rat”, “The Rat”, 1937, Director Jack Raymond, Cinematographer Freddie Young

Bottom Insert Image: Photographer Unknown, “Anton Walbrook”, Date Unknown, Studio Photo Shot, 15.2 x 10.2 cm, Private Collection

James Sibley Watson Jr: Film History Series

James Sibley Watson Jr., “Lot in Sodom”, 1933, Black and White Film, Twenty-Seven Minutes, Co-Producer: Melville Weber, Musical Score: Alex Wilder, Starring Friedrich Haak, Hildegarde Watson, Dorothea Haus, Lewis Whitbeck

Born in Rochester, New York in August of 1894, James Sibley Watson Jr. was an American medical doctor, publisher, photographer and experimenter in motion pictures. As an heir to the Western Union telegraph fortune created by his grandfathers, Don Alonzo Watson and Hiram Sibley, he grew up in a wealthy family that cultivated appreciation for the arts and encouraged an active, generous engagement in the Rochester community.

In June of 1916, Watson graduated from Harvard where he made two lifelong friends: poet, art collector and future business partner Scofield Thayer and poet-playwright E. E. Cummings. After graduation, Watson married the singer and actress Hildegarde Lasell who shared Watson’s passion and generous support for all fields of the arts. Despite his shy personality, Watson had several successful careers during his life. He became not only a practicing medical doctor but also contributed in both the publishing and film industries. 

James Sibley Watson was directly involved in the Modernist literary movement through his association with the modernist magazine “The Dial”. Originally an editorial reader, he and Scofield Thayer purchased the magazine in 1918 and produced their first issue in January of 1920. The magazine would feature works by friends of Thayer and Watson such as Cummings and the versatile sculptor Gaston Lachaise. After Thayer suffered a nervous breakdown in 1926, poet and critic Marianne Moore took his place as  editor. These three figures developed “The Dial” into one of the most influential magazines of American Modernism.

In the waning years of “The Dial” before it ceased publication in 1929, Watson became increasingly interested in experimental short films. He was joined in his endeavors by fellow Harvard graduate Melville Folsom Webber, who would become his permanent partner in film. The first film produced was a 1928 seventeen-minute ethnographic film entitled “Nass River Indians” which was distributed solely in Canada. Later in 1928, they produced a short avant-garde film “The Fall of the House of Usher”. Based on Edgar Allan Poe’s short story, this film achieved widespread success and was hailed as a major contribution to motion film. The third film of their collaboration was a lesser known work, the 1930 parody of sound-film melodrama “Tomatos Another Day”.

James Watson and Melville Webber’s next serious avant-garde film was the 1933 “Lot in Sodom” based on the Biblical tale of Sodom and Gomorrah. Directed by Watson and Webber, the twenty-seven minute film used multiple experimental techniques, avant-garde imagery and presented strong allusions to sexuality, particularly homosexuality. Composer Alec Wilder, a close friend of Watson, recruited the actors for the production, acted as assistant director and composed the original experimental soundtrack. The cast included Friedrich Haak as Lot, James’s wife Hildegarde as Lot’s wife, Dorothea Haus as Lot’s daughter and Lewis Whitbeck as the angel. 

Watson and Webber also produce a 1931 industrial film in collaboration with optical company Bausch & Lomb entitled “The Eyes of Science”. Multiple exposures, lap dissolves, color and micro-cinematography, as well as a number of unusual photographic effects, gave this film a technical interest much above the average. In 1938, Watson, this time in collaboration with filmmaker Ken Edwards, was engaged by the Kodak Research Laboratories to produce an industrial film on its manufacturing process for film and cameras. In “Highlights and Shadows”, Watson used the multiple exposure imagery he had used in his previous films to make the tool and die drill presses, assembly lines of camera parts, and the film coating process every bit as expressive and interesting as an MGM historic drama. The film featured a score performed by the symphony orchestra of the Eastman School of Music directed by Dr. Howard Hanson. 

After his work with “The Dial” and motion pictures, James Sibley Watson continued his medical career, with a specialization in gastrointestinal studies. The first color photographs of the stomach’s interior have been credited to him. Watson kept up his correspondence with E. E. Cummings, Alex Wilder and others from his days at “The Dial”. In the 1980s, he founded a private press, the Sigma Foundation, with writer and publisher Dale Davis. After Watson’s death in March of 1982, his second wife Nancy Watson Dean appointed Davis as executor and sold the Watson papers that Davis had compiled to the New York Public Library. 

Note:The full-length 1933 “Lot and Sodom” by James Sibley Watson Jr. can be found at the Internet Archive located at:

An excellent 1975 article written by James Sibley Watson Jr. on his production of the films “The Fall of the House of Usher” and “Lot in Sodom” was published in the University of Rochester Library Bulletin. The article can be found at:

The 1938 black and white film “Highlights and Shadows” and an article on its production can be found at the online Eastman Museum site located at: 

Top Insert Image: Photographer Unknown, “James Sibley Watson Jr.”, circa 1930-1940, Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester

Remaining Insert Images: James Sibley Watson Jr, “The Fall of the House of Usher”, 1928, Film Scene Gifs

The Flying Train: Film History Series

Denis Shiryaev,“The Flying Train”, 1902, Cinematographer Unknown, 2015 Stabilized and Colorized Version

The German cities of Elberfeld and Barmen formed a commission in 1887 for the construction of an elevated railway or Hochbaln. In 1894, the commission chose the system by inventor and engineer Eugen Langen. In addition to his work in the development of the petrol engine, Langen was co-owner and engineer of the railway company Cologne Waggonfabrik van der Zypen & Charlier. Two years later, the order was licensed by the City of Dusseldorf, the capital city of North Rhine-Westphalia. 

The suspended transport system, or monorail, was chosen to efficiently traverse the region’s hilly terrain and to circumvent the flood-prone river and high groundwater levels that impeded construction of traditional land-based transportation. Construction on the actual suspension railway began in 1898 and was overseen by the government’s master builder Wilhelm Feldmann. Built at a time when steel engineering was still a fairly new concept, this elevated transport system was the first to feature vehicles made entirely of steel. 

Approximately nineteen-thousand tons of steel were used to produce the supporting framework and the railway stations; the total cost of the construction was sixteen-million gold marks. The railway was closed owing to severe damage during World War II but was reopened again in 1946. The Schwebabahn is famous for a 1950 incident when a young elephant, given a ride as a stunt, fell out a window and dropped twelve meters into the river below. The elephant survived with just a scrape and lived until the age of forty-three.

Now the world’s oldest operating monorail system, the Wuppertal Schwebebahn system was officially opened on the first day of March in 1901, only three years after construction began. Kaiser Wilhelm II and his entourage rode in its “Imperial Carriage” during the very first test run of the system. The thirteen kilometer, electrical powered transport linked the small cities and towns of Elberfeld, Barmen, Ronsdorf, Cronenberg and Vohwinkel. The cities were united originally in 1929 under the name of Barmen-Elberfield; however, in 1930 the name was changed to Wuppertal (Wupper Valley) as all the cities were situated around the Wupper River.

The original 1902 “The Flying Train” is a two-minute black and white documentary of a journey on the newly established Schwebebahn suspended rail system. It was shot on Biograph’s 68mm film stock, a format whose large image area afforded exceptional visual clarity and quality. The original black and white film is housed in the Film Collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

The video featured above is a version of the original 1902 “The Flying Train” that has been restored and updated by Denis Shiryaev, a Russian digital artist, currently based in Poland, known for his restoration of old videos from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He uses different computer processes to upscale the videos to 4K, increase the frame rate to sixty frames per second, and add color.

Shiryaev is the CEO and product director of the software service company Neutral Love as well as the project Manager of KMTT.

Note: Three versions of “The Flying Train”, that being the original 1902 film, Denis Shiryaev’s stabilized and colorized 2015 version, and a side by side comparison of the two versions, can be found at the online art magazine COLOSSAL located at:

Dziga Vertov: Film History Series

Dziga Vertov, “Man with a Movie Camera”, 1929, Film Scene Gifs, Cinematographer Mikhail Kaufman, Silent Film, Running Time 68 Minutes, All-Ukrainian Photo Cinema Administration/Dovzhenko Film Studios

“Man with a Movie Camera” is a 1929 experimental film which was written and directed by the Soviet pioneer documentary film and newsreel director Dziga Vertov. His filming practices and theories influenced the cinéma vérité style of documentary film-making which combined improvisation with the use of the camera to unveil truth or hidden subjects. This style would sometimes involve stylized set-ups and interaction, at times provocative, between the filmmaker and the subject. 

The cinematographer was Mikhail Kaufman, the younger brother of Vertov and the actor who played the man of the film. The film was edited by Vertov’s wife, Yelizaveta Svilova, who became known for her documentaries on World War II and for her work as co-director of the 1945 “The Fall of Berlin”, the 1946 Stalin Prize winner. The film is famous for its cinematic techniques which included multiple exposures, fast and slow motion, split screens, extreme close-ups, tracking shots, and jump cuts, in which footage from a scene is removed to render a jump in time.

“Man with a Movie Camera” presents urban life in Moscow, Kyiv, and Odesa during the late 1920s. Ordinary Soviet citizens are shown, from dawn to dusk at work and at play, in scenes where they interact with the structure of everyday life. Divided into six separate parts, one for each film reel printed, the film is done in an avant-garde style with varying subject matter. Mixed in with scenes of laborers at work and sporting scenes are scenes of Mikhail Kaufman traveling to locations and setting up his camera, as well as Svilova cutting and editing strips of film. Several staged situations are also on the film, including a spliced scene of falling chess pieces played backwards.

Dziga Vertov was a member of a movement of filmmakers know as the kinoks whose mission was to abolish all non-documentary styles of film making. Most of his films were controversial and despised by many filmmakers. Vertov’s “Man with a Movie Camera” was a response to critics who rejected his previous film “A Sixth Part of the World”. Produced in 1926, it depicted through a travelogue format the multitude of Soviet people in remote areas and the wealth of the nation. Although well received by Pravda, the newspaper of the Communist Party, prominent critics gave it bad reviews. 

“Man with a Movie Camera” was not always a highly regarded work; it was criticized for both its stark experimentation and for its staging. Vertov’s Soviet contemporaries criticized its focus on form rather than content. The pace of the film’s editing, four times faster than a typical film of the era, with about seventeen hundred individual shots, bothered many viewers and critics. Today it is regarded by many as one of the great films ever made; it ranked nine in the 2022 Sight & Sound poll of the world’s best films. Throughout the years, many notable composers have written soundtracks for the film. 

Note: Dziga Vertov’s “Man with a Movie Camera” in its entirety can be seen on YouTube and on the DailyMotion website located at:  

Robert Arthur: Film History Series

Photographer Unknown, “Robert Arthur”, 1948, Publicity Photo “Yellow Sky”, Gelatin Silver Print

Born in Aberdeen, Washington in June of 1925, Robert Paul Arthur was an American motion picture actor, primarily of youthful secondary roles, who appeared in thirty-five feature films and numerous episodes of television series.

Robert Arthur graduated in 1943 from the Aberdeen High School, where he had won a radio announcing contest. He attended the University of Washington and was in the U.S. Navy training program. While at the university, Arthur also maintained a professional career as a radio announcer. Relocating to Los Angeles, he was soon given his first role as Rosalind Russell’s teenage son Frankie in Michael Curtiz’s 1945 comedy-drama for Warner Brothers, “Roughly Speaking”.  

Arthur was soon given a contract with Warner Brothers and appeared in three more films in 1945, including the role of Jimmy in Frederick de Cordova’s “Too Young to Know” and an uncredited role in the film noir “Mildred Pierce”.  Between 1946 and 1948, he appeared in seven films, the most notables being the 1946 biographical-musical on the life of Cole Porter, “Night and Day”, and Walter Lang’s 1947 Technicolor musical with Betty Grable “Mother Wore Tights”, later nominated for American Film Institute’s 2006 list for Greatest Movie Musicals.

In 1948, Robert Arthur appeared in the role of Ken McLaughlin in Twentieth Century Fox’s western “Green Grass of Wyoming”; he had a credited role with his name appearing on the publicity posters. In the same year, Arthur appeared as Bull Run in William A. Wellman’s western “Yellow Sky” which starred Gregory Peck, Richard Widmark and Anne Baxter. This film from Twentieth Century Fox was praised by critics for its cinematography, screenplay and its realistic Western style. In 1949 , Arthur appeared as Sergeant Mc Illhenny in a major film of the era “Twelve O’Clock High”. Directed by Henry King, the film was nominated for four Academy Awards, of which it won two, and later became a television series that ran for three years.

Robert Arthur appeared as a supporting actor in seventeen films between 1950 and 1960. Among these films were Billy Wilder’s 1951 film noir “Ace in the Hole”,  Richard Brooks’s 1953 war film “Take the High Ground”, and Nathan Juran’s 1957 submarine war film “Hellcats of the Navy” which starred  Ronald Reagan, Nancy (Reagan) Davis, and Arthur Franz. Arthur’s last film before leaving acting was the 1961 “Wild Youth” in which he played the role of Frankie, an escapee from a detention Honor Farm.

In the early days of television in the 1950s, Arthur appeared in supporting roles on several series. Among these were the syndicated western “Frontier Doctor” with actor Rex Allen and ABC’s eight-year drama-western “The Lone Ranger”, which starred Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels.

In his later years, Robert Arthur went into business and became active in several causes. He became an activist for gay rights on behalf of senior citizens, assisted in the founding of Project Rainbow, and was a co-founder of the Log Cabin Republicans which advocated for equal rights for LBGTQ+ Americans. Robert Arthur died in Aberdeen, Washington, on the first of October in 2008 at the age of eighty-three. 

Note: The “Clayton Moore The Lone Ranger” website has a short article in which Robert Arthur reminisces on his experience with Clayton Moore on the western series. The short piece on Arthur can be found at the Clayton Moore site:

Top Insert Photo: Photographer Unknown, “Robert Arthur”, circa 1950-55, Publicity Shoot, Gelatin Silver Print

Second Insert Image: Charles Land, “Robert Arthur”, 1951, Film Scene “Ace in the Hole”, Director Billy Wilder

Third Insert Image: Charles Land, “Kirk Douglas and Robert Arthur”, 1951, Film Scene “Ace in the Hole”, Director Billy Wilder

Bottom Insert Image: Joseph MacDonald, “Robert Arthur and Gregory Peck”, 1948, Film Scene “Yellow Sky”, Director William A. Wellman

Buster Keaton: “The Haunted House”: Film History Series

Buster Keaton, “The Haunted House”, 1921, Directors Buster Keaton and Edward F Cline, Cinematographer Elgin Lessley≠≠≠

Happy Halloween

Written and directed by Buster Keaton and Edward F. Cline, the 1921 “The Haunted House”, an American two-reel silent comedy film, starred actor and comedian Joseph Frank “Buster” Keaton. Keaton is best known for his silent film work with its physical comedy and his stoic, deadpan expression. 

“The Haunted House” was shot in a time of simplistic comedic storytelling.The film used a generic, two-decades old story of haunted houses occupied by criminals, one which remained a favorite of theater audiences. Cinematography was done by special effects artist Elgin Lessley, a groundbreaking hand-cranked cameraman who had previously worked with Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle. The film was produced by Joseph M. Schenck who became the second president of United Artists Studio, and later, co-founded Twentieth Century Pictures with Darryl F. Zanuck.

In the film, Buster Keaton plays a teller at a successful bank who, in the process of thwarting a robbery, is mistaken for one of the thieves. He takes refuge in an old house unaware that it is a rehearsal space for a theatrical troupe clad in scary costumes. Keaton and the robbers, also hiding there, have many encounters with the costumed actors and the house’s booby traps. 

After it is revealed that the thieves’ leader is the bank’s manager, Keaton suffers a blow to the head which renders him unconscious. A dream sequence follows in which he is revived by angels and taken to Heaven. Denied entrance by Saint Peter, Keaton is sent to Hell instead. At the end of the twenty-one minute film, he regains consciousness to realize only a few seconds had passed. 

Reblogged with thanks to

Jean Cocteau: Film History Series

Enrique Riveros, “The Blood of a Poet”, 1932, Director Jean Cocteau, Cinematographer Georges Périnal

Jean Cocteau’s “The Blood of a Poet” is an avant-garde film which starred Enrique Riveros, a Chilean actor who had a successful career in European films. It is the first part of the Orphic Trilogy, which is continued in the 1949 “Orphee”, and followed by the 1960 “Testament of Orpheus”.

The film was financed by French nobleman Charles de Noailles who gave Cocteau one million francs to make the film. Shortly after the completion of the film, rumors began circulating that it was an anti-Christian message. Due to the riotous public reaction to Noailles’s previous film “L’Age d’Or”, Cocteau’s release date for his film was delayed for more than a year. “The Blood of a Poet” was finally released on January 20, 1932.

In this scene from the second section of the film, the artist played by Riveros is transported through the mirror to a hotel, where he peers through several keyholes, witnessing such people as an opium smoker and a hermaphrodite. The artist finally cries out that he has seen enough and returns back through the mirror.

“Many years ago, as I was glancing through a catalogue of jokes for parties and weddings, I saw an item, ‘An object difficult to pick up’. I haven’t the slightest idea what that ‘object’ is or what it looks like, but I like knowing that it exists and I like thinking about it.

A work of art should also be ‘an object difficult to pick up’. It must protect itself from vulgar pawing, which tarnishes and disfigures it. It should be made of such a shape that people don’t know which way to hold it, which embarrasses and irritates the critics, incites them to be rude, but keeps it fresh. The less it’s understood, the slower it opens its petals, the later it will fade. A work of art must make contact, be it even through a misunderstanding, but at the same time it must hide its riches, to reveal them little by little over a long period of time. A work that doesn’t keep its secrets and surrenders itself too soon exposes itself to the risk of withering away, leaving only a dead stalk.” 

Jean Cocteau, Cocteau on the Film, 1972, Dover Publications

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Kaneto Shindo, “Onibaba”: Film History Series


Kaneto Shindo, “Onibaba (Demon Hag)”, 1964, Cinematogapher Kiyomi Kuroda

Born in Saeki in the Hiroshima Prefecture in April of 1912, Kaneto Shindo was a Japanese film director, screenwriter, film producer and writer. One of the pioneers of independent film production in Japan, he co-founded, with director Kōzaburō Yoshimura and actor Taiji Tonoyama, the film company Kindai Eiga Kyōkai which produced most of Shindo’s films, most notably “The Naked Island” and “Ohibaba”.

Born to wealthy landowners, Kanato Shindo was the youngest of four children. His father was a loan guarantor; however, he went bankrupt and all family members, now living in a storehouse, had to seek employment to support the household. Shindo’s mother worked as an agricultural worker until her death in his early childhood. Living with his brother in 1933, Shindo was inspired by Sadao Yamanak’s early film “Bangaku No Isshō” to seek a career in film. He saved enough money working for a year at a bicycle shop to enable his move to Kyoto, the major cultural capital of Japan.  

In Kyoto, Kanato Shindo found employment at the film developing department of Shinkō Kinema, a successful film studio and distributor in the 1930s. With access to old scripts, he studied them and their relationships to the films that were processed. When Shinkō Kinema moved to Tokyo in November of 1936, Shindo was able to get a position in its art department managed by Hiroshi Mizutani, a talented art director and production designer. For his work as an art director, he scouted and sketched locations for film shooting, cameras being less used at the time.

While working at Shochiku Film Studios after World War Two, Shindo met director Kōzaburo Yoshimura and began one of the most successful film partnerships in Japan’s postwar industry. The partnership’s first critical hit was the 1947 “A Ball at the Anjo House”, a drama film that won the prestigious Kinema Junpo Award. Both men left Shochiku Studios to form, along with actor Taiji Tonoyama, the independent film company Kindai Eiga Kyokai, which produce most of Shindo’s films. 

In 1951, Kanato Shindo made his debut as director with the autobiographical drama “Story of a Beloved Wife”, with actress Nobuko Otowa in the role of his deceased common-law wife Takako Kuji. After directing the 1952 “Avalanche”, Shindo made the 1952 “Children of Hiroshima”, a drama of a young teacher who returns to Hiroshima to find surviving friends. Premiered at the 1953 Cannes Film Festival, this first Japanese film to deal with the atomic bomb was an international success. This pivotal film was followed by Shindo’s 1953 “Epitome”, whose central theme was the strength and endurance of women in times of distress.

Between 1953 and 1959, Shindo made political films that were critiques of poverty and women’s suffering in contemporary Japan. These included the 1953 “Life of a Women”, the 1954 “Dobu”, and the 1955 “Wolf”, based on a true story of desperate men and women who rob a money transport. In 1960, Shindo put all his resources into producing his “The Naked Island”, a non-dialogue black and white drama film of a struggling couple with two young sons living on a small island with no water supply. The film was awarded the Grand Prize at the Second Moscow International Film Festival in 1961.

After making “Ningen” in 1962 and “Mother” in 1963, Kanato Shindo shifted his focus as filmmaker to the individuality of a person, specifically a person’s sexual nature. From these ideas came his 1964 film “Onibaba”. Written and directed by Shindo, this historical drama-horror film was inspired by the Shin Buddhist parable of “yome-odoshi-no men”, in which a mother used a mask to scare her daughter from going to the temple. In the parable, the mother was punished by the mask sticking to her face. After begging to remove it, she was able to take it off, but the flesh of her face came with it.

“Onibaba” stars Nobuko Otowa and Jitsuko Yoshimura as fourteenth-century Japanese peasant women living in a reed-filled marshland who survive by killing and robbing defeated samurai. Wanting to film in a field of suski grass, Shindo found his location at inna-Numa in Chiba. Filming for the black and white film started on the thirtieth of June in1964 and continued for three months. Some of the sequences were shot in slow-motion. Its background and title music consists of Taiko drumming combined with jazz.

“Onibaba” won numerous awards and the Grand Prix at the Panama Film Festival. The Award for Best Supporting Actrress went to Jitsuko Yoshimura and the Best Cinematography Award to Kiyomi Kuroda at the 1964 Blue Ribbon Awards by the Association of Tokyo Film Journalists.