FOR HIS SON
(D.W. Griffith, 1912, USA, 15m, BW)
FOR HIS SON 1912
Directed by David Wark Griffith
Written by Emmett C. Hall
Starring Blanche Sweet, Charles West
Cinematography G. W. Bitzer
Distributed by Biograph Company
Release dates January 22, 1912
Country United States
A physician, through his love for his only son, whom he desires to see wealthy, is tempted to sacrifice his honor by concocting a soft drink containing cocaine, knowing how rapid and powerful is the hold obtained by cocaine, even in the most minute quantities, feeling assured that there will be an enormous demand for the drink. As he expected, the drink meets with tremendous success, and his balm to his conscience is the thought that he will be rich. But his son, ignorant of the ingredients of the drink, cultivates a liking for it, unknown to the father. The father discovers his son's weakness too late, for he soon becomes a hopeless victim of the drug. What a powerful lesson the final scene teaches, as we see the stricken father mourning his son's death. He did not care whom he victimized until he found the result of his dishonor at his own door.
Charles Hill Mailes - The Father, a Physician
Charles West - The Son
Blanche Sweet - The Son's Fiancée
William Bechtel - In Office
Dorothy Bernard - The Secretary
Christy Cabanne - One of the Son's Friends
Edward Dillon - At Soda Fountain
Edna Foster - At Soda Fountain
Robert Harron - At Soda Fountain
Dell Henderson - In Office
Grace Henderson - The Landlady
Harry Hyde - One of the Son's Friends
J. Jiquel Lanoe - At Soda Fountain
Alfred Paget - In Office
Gus Pixley - At Soda Fountain
W. C. Robinson - At Soda Fountain
Ynez Seabury - At Soda Fountain (as Inez Seabury)
Kate Toncray - At Soda Fountain
An early exploitation film, and a heavy-handed morality tale about greed and the dangers of cocaine. For His Son is a dramatic short that sees a father desperate to help the financial fortune of his young son devise a new soft drink that is sure to be a hit: Dopokoke – “for that tired feeling”, a thinly disguised product that was undoubtedly inspired by the popularity of Coca-Cola, which for a time also included the “poison” that is depicted in this melodrama. Not surprisingly, all ends in tragedy for the drug addicted son who loses his finance, and perhaps his life.
This is another of D.W. Griffith’s progressivist message pictures, made well into his career at Biograph studios, at a time when he was itching to use longer formats and express film as an artistic medium, but was constrained by his budgets and production schedule. The specifics of the story may appear a bit silly to modern audiences, but to best understand it we should keep our attention focused on the broader moral message of the piece, which is a critique of both over-indulgence of children by parents and of greed for profits that causes blindness to the harm that is caused in money-making.
A middle-aged doctor (Charles Hill Mailes) has a wastrel son (Charles West) who keeps spending his allowance faster than the old doc can earn it. The doctor comes up with a get-rich-quick scheme: he’ll just mix in some of his therapeutic cocaine with a soda pop and make a mint! It works like a charm, and pretty soon drugstores all over town are carrying “Dopakoke,” the new soft drink sensation. The doctor has plenty of money to give his son now, and also to expand operations, hiring a PR man and a secretary (Dorothy Bernard), as well as quite a number of Dopakoke-loaders for all the trucks.
The secretary tries Dopakoke, and decides it’s all right, even after she learns the secret ingredient. West and his cronies go out to a drugstore and decide to try it too; soon he is stealing from dad’s cocaine stash to spice up his sodas. West pays a call on his fiancée (Blanche Sweet), who detects that something is wrong when he starts showing off his track marks (apparently he has upgraded to injection now). When Blanche throws him out, he elopes with secretary so that they can shack up in a seedy room and indulge their true passion. Before long, they’re fighting over the needle until West makes like Sid Vicious and only now does his father learn his mistake.
As goofy as the story may appear to us today, it is true that for some time (while it was still legal to do so), the Coca-Cola recipe did have some quantity of cocaine in it, and there was concern that its addictive properties might be transferred to the soda. Evidence suggests that by 1912, so little of the drug was present that it was probably negligible (and not as bad for you as all that sugar), but Griffith can’t fairly be faulted for not knowing that.
What he attempted to do was to show the horrors of drug addiction in a movie long before this became an accepted genre of film, and, as I’ve suggested above, to speak to more universal moral concerns. As with his other shorts, the movie is an effectively intimate look at human beings affected by a broader social problem. The photography is fairly standard, once again being limited to small studio spaces and an occasional exterior of a doorway, and the large cast is at times cramped into small areas, but the editing is lively enough to keep the story moving forward. There may be a few unintended laughs in this one, but it’s still worth a look.
Griffith's FOR HIS SON is one of about 450 films he made for the pioneer Biograph Company. His works included every genre, and techniques he developed shaped screen narrative for two generations. Griffith was also a moralist, and made many films on the folly of unbridled ambition. Until the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 put a stop to the practice, Coca-Cola actually contained cocaine. Charles Hill Mailes plays the doctor; Charles West, his son.
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