GIRL AND HER TRUST, THE
(D.W. Griffith, 1912, USA, 15m, BW)
The Girl and Her Trust (1912)
Directed by D. W. Griffith
Produced by Biograph Company
Written by George Hennessy (writer)
Music by Clifton Hyde (co-composer) Lev Zhurbin
Cinematography G. W. Bitzer
Release dates March 28, 1912
Running time 17 minutes
Country United States
The Girl and Her Trust is a 1912 American film directed by D. W. Griffith. It is a remake of an earlier film, The Lonedale Operator but by this time Griffith had learned a great deal about the making of movies. The picture has close-ups, and ironic cutting. Te see the words, "Nothing ever happens here" and then cut to the tramps under the platform. But toward the end he cuts between a train and a hand car and to build suspense he actually mounts the camera on a vehicle racing along the road and on the hand cart itself. The music on the films I took from and archive area called 20's jazz.
When villains attempt to rob a telegraph office, a girl working there decides to telegraph the next office down the line. This leads to the robbers' capture.
It’s easy to overlook the good work from D. W. Griffith in The Girl and Her Trust, a nifty little thriller which is a remake of his previous year’s The Lonedale Operator, simply because the innovative techniques he was inventing and/or refining are commonplace today. However, anyone who has seen more than a few movies from this era will recognise the superiority of his pictures over those of his contemporaries.
The Girl and Her Trust opens up the story of The Lonedale Operator so that, instead of fending off a couple of vagabonds trying to steal a shipment of money solely from her locked office, the besieged female operator, played here a little too fulsomely by Dorothy Bernard (His Trust, His Trust Fulfilled) is kidnapped by her assailants who try to make their getaway on a railroad handcar. She’s a plucky heroine – and a resourceful one given the way she fashions a makeshift gun out of a bullet, a keyhole and a hammer – but, unlike the girl in The Lonedale Operator, she does require rescuing by the strapping young clerk whose playful advances she had earlier frostily rebuffed. He’s played by Wilfred Lucas (What Shall We Do With Our Old?, Enoch Arden) who appears to be wearing painted-on eyebrows. The girl’s hero enlists the help of a train driver to give chase on a steam train, setting up a well-staged finale which still holds up well today.
This is as good a film as any to track the development of editing and camera placement in early narrative short films. "The Girl and Her Trust" has the same story outline as, at least, three other Griffith shorts: "Lonely Villa", "The Lonedale Operator" and "An Unseen Enemy". All four are last-minute rescue suspense films, with few differences between them. They all result in the setup of a girl, or a few girls, locked in a room separate from thieves stealing money; the girl uses a phone, or telegraph, to call men for help. I don't know why any of the ditzes never thought of escaping out a window. At least in "The Girl and Her Trust", there's the malarkey about her fulfilling her "trust".
By no means did Griffith invent this sub-genre; he mastered it with rapid editing. It's futile to attempt to exact the beginning of the sub-genre, but the aforementioned films, especially "Lonely Villa", are remakes of a 1908 Pathé film, "The Physician of the Castle". Suspense is absent in that film; there are only 26 shots in its 6 minutes. Biograph released "Lonely Villa" the following year, and there are approximately twice as many shots in its 9 minutes. In 1912, Biograph released "The Girl and Her Trust", which has almost as many shots as the 119 that appear in the subsequent film, "An Unseen Enemy". Furthermore, Keystone parodies (such as "The Bangville Police" and "Barney Oldfield's Race for a Life") of Griffith's last-minute rescue pictures displayed even rapider, if choppy, editing.
The reason for the additional number of shots has as much to do with staging and additional crosscutting as it does with drawn-out lengths. First, Griffith had criminals and innocents in separate rooms of the setting of the crime; crosscutting between rooms prevented plots from being dull, as he stretched suspense for longer lengths. Then, there's extended crosscutting between the crime and rescuers. Indoor shooting is also Griffith's greatest weakness; he never would get past the theatricality of a missing wall.
"The Girl and Her Trust" has the benefit of taking more of the action outside, as the girl must follow the criminals to fulfill her trust. Outside, Griffith and Billy Bitzer trucked the camera beside a moving train, creating a trademark tracking shot they'd return to in "Intolerance". There's also an overhead angled tracking shot of the criminals and Dorothy Bernard on a handcar. With such innovation and time and space constraints, however, Griffith made the fallacy of not respecting the axis of action (the train goes right, and then goes left, but it's supposed to be the same direction). That can disrupt suspense. Lastly, Griffith rarely, if ever, used medium shots and close-ups in his early films. By 1912, every Griffith film had them.
Here, Dorothy Bernard (who we just saw in “For His Son,” and was also in “His Trust”) stars as a plucky young telegraph operator who seems to have several “gentleman callers” who stop by at the telegraph office. The first, a yokel, she dismisses politely, but she shows more interest in the Express Agent (played by Wilfred Lucas), though she chides him for thinking he needs to get out the office revolver when a cash box containing $2000 comes in. When the train comes in, it also carries two tramps (one played by Edwin August), who plan to steal the box! Dorothy locks herself into her office and refuses to give up the key, sending a wire to the next station calling for help. She scares the tramps by faking a gunshot and they decide to take the box and break into it later. They haul it to a railroad handcar and prepare to leave, but the girl runs out to stop them. They beat her and take her along for the ride. Now the tension builds and the locomotive, carrying Wilfred, races after them, both vehicles on the same track. The train rolls to a stop as the tramps leap off, but they are recovered and so is the money. Dorothy and Wilfred ride together on the locomotive’s cow-catcher, sharing a sandwich and, apparently, continuing to bicker.
Griffith puts cross-cutting to full use here, and in general develops the story visually with minimal intertitles. Actually, where titles do come in, they tend to be disappointments: I had imagined an elaborate SOS from the girl’s furiously bouncing telegraph fingers, but the title card says all it says is “HELP…TRAMPS…QUICK.” At any rate, while the “girl” in this picture is ultimately a damsel in distress, she is not above taking action for herself. First, she engineers her own salvation through her knowledge of technology and Morse code. Second, she comes up with a clever way to fire off a bullet with no gun, hammering a pair of scissors into the primer (I have no idea if this would work, or be safe, in real life, but it looked good on film). Finally, even though she has no way to stop the thieves, she bravely runs out of her safe office to try to stop them from stealing the money. The one criticism one might make is that there is obviously no way the handcart is going to outrun a locomotive, so the ending is a foregone conclusion, but the tension is heightened by the fact that the girl is on board the cart, and the men on the train have no way to know this, and so might smash into it with the locomotive.
This Biograph short is another “rescue” movie in the vein of “An Unseen Enemy,” and may actually be the more exciting to modern audiences, although it was made earlier and lacks the star talent of the Gish sisters. Director D.W. Griffith packs considerable suspense into a short time span on a limited budget.
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