Friday, November 4, 2016

FILMBAY 2000 Greatest Films of All-Time (1888-2014) by Year # 0088 - BATTLE AT ELDERBUSH GULCH, THE (D.W. Griffith, 1913, USA, 29m, BW)



 

BATTLE AT ELDERBUSH GULCH, THE (D.W. Griffith, 1913, USA, 29m, BW)
aka.
The Battle of Elderbush Gulch

 

 


Introduction

The Battle at Elderbush Gulch

Directed by D. W. Griffith
Written by D. W. Griffith
Henry Albert Phillips
Starring Mae Marsh
Lillian Gish
Cinematography G. W. Bitzer
Distributed by General Film Company
Release dates November 1913
Running time 29 minutes
Country United States
Language Silent

The Battle at Elderbush Gulch (also known as The Battle of Elderbush Gulch) is a 1913 American silent Western film directed by D. W. Griffith and featuring Mae Marsh, Lillian Gish, and Lionel Barrymore.


Plot

Sally (Mae Marsh) and her little sister are sent to visit their three uncles in the west. Among other baggage they bring their two puppies. Melissa (Lillian Gish) is in the same stagecoach with husband and newborn baby. The uncles find the little girls amusing but tell them that the dogs must stay outside. Meanwhile, a nearby tribe of evil looking Indians is having a tribal dance. The puppies, left outside in a basket, run off. Sally, worried about the dogs goes outside and discovers they are gone. She follows their trail and runs into two hungry Indians who have captured them for food. There is a scuffle but her uncles arrive and intervene. Gunfire ensues and one of the Indians is left dead. The other Indian returns to the tribe to inform them and aroused by "savage hatred" they go into a war dance.

Meanwhile, a tearful Sally has persuaded a friendly hand to build a secret door in the cabin so she can bring the puppies inside at night. The Indians attack the village and the frightened settlers run off toward the lonely cabin. In the melee the baby is captured by the Indians. The Indians attack the cabin just after a scout rides off to alert the fort.

The Indians ride in circles around the cabin, While the settlers try to fight them off. Melissa, in the cabin, is distraught worrying about the fate of her baby. Sally, more worried about her puppies, sneaks out her secret door and finds not only them, but the baby in the arms of a dead Indian. In a hectic battle scene, she brings the babies back through the secret door. Just as the settlers are running out of ammunition, the cabin is burning, and the Indians, crawling on their stomachs, are almost in the cabin, the cavalry arrives. The Indians are quickly dispatched, all is well but for Melissa's grief over her missing baby. Sally pops out of a chest holding baby and puppies. All is well. The uncle agrees to let Sally keep the puppies inside.




Cast

    Mae Marsh - Sally
    Leslie Loveridge - A waif
    Alfred Paget - Waifs' uncle
    Robert Harron - The father
    Lillian Gish - The mother
    Charles Hill Mailes - Ranch owner
    William A. Carroll - The Mexican
    Frank Opperman - Indian Chief
    Henry B. Walthall - Indian Chief's son
    Joseph McDermott - Waifs' guardian
    Jennie Lee - Waifs' guardian
    Lionel Barrymore
    Elmer Booth
    Kate Bruce - Settler
    Harry Carey
    Charles Gorman - Among the Indians
    Dell Henderson
    Elmo Lincoln - Cavalryman
    W. Chrystie Miller - Settler
    W. C. Robinson - Among the Indians
    Blanche Sweet



Review

This is a movie wherein a massacre is sparked by a pair of drunken Indians stealing a little girl's puppies so they can eat them, part of their tribe's Dog-Eating Festival. One of them, "the chieftain's son" gets killed and the Indians attack the local village, killing dozens and driving poor Lillian Gish into hysterics over her lost baby. Mae Marsh rescues the baby (though I swear we see an Indian killing a baby earlier in the film, and there's only supposed to be one in town), but the Indians close in, the survivors cowering in a lone cabin. As they begin to break down the door, we see Gish cowering at the bottom of a set of stairs. From above her heard, off-screen, we see a pistol slowly descend and cock, ready to kill her rather than see her be taken by the Indians. It's Griffith at his worst in a nutshell: racism in the defense of exalted femininity.

Sally Cameron (Mae Marsh – Judith of Bethulia, The Birth of a Nation) and her little sister (Leslie Loveridge) are despatched to the Wild West for reasons unknown at the beginning of The Battle at Elderbush Gulch, one of the last two-reelers D. W. Griffith’s made for Biograph before embarking on the insanely ambitious The Birth of a Nation. They share a carriage ride out West with a young new mother Melissa Harlowe (Lillian Gish – The Musketeers of Pig Alley, Broken Blossoms) and her husband (Robert Harron – Intolerance, Hearts of the World) who discover theirs is the only baby in their new frontier home. Upon arriving at their new home with their uncles, the girls are disappointed to learn that their puppies are not allowed indoors. When Sally sneaks out one night to check on the pups, who have been left in a basket outside, she discovers that they have wandered off.

Now, unknown to Sally, her Uncles have some noisy and unruly neighbours – a tribe of Red Indians who just happen to be finishing off a particularly riotous festival involving the eating of man’s best friend, so the more astute of you can probably deduce where the plot is headed, especially when the Chief’s son and his mate arrive late to the party to find that all the dogs have been eaten so set off to find some of their own. Fortunately for Sally, she manages to rescue her pups just as the two hungry braves are about to spirit them away, and is rescued from being kidnapped herself by her uncles who kill the Chief’s son in the process. Naturally, when the Chief learns of his son’s death, he’s far from happy.

Although many of Griffith’s film are over-sentimental melodramas, they’re interesting to watch to chart his development as a filmmaker. Everything about The Battle at Elderbush Gulch is more accomplished than the films he was making just a couple of years earlier. He might not quite have been the finished article by the end of 1913, but he wasn’t far from it – and he was desperate to spread his wings further than Biograph were prepared to allow. And although the plot involves lost puppies and orphan waifs, it’s pleasantly free of the cloying sentimentality that makes so much of his work unpalatable for modern audiences. The climactic battle scenes are particularly well-staged and breathtakingly exciting even today, which is quite remarkable when one considers the technical limitations Griffith was still working under. The Battle of Elderbush Gulch is perhaps more explicit than some might expect of such an old film, with scenes of molestation and scalping, and a scene in which a baby is briefly seen being tossed about by an Indian as he murders its mother.

This Western wraps up any exploration of D.W. Griffith’s early shorts. Unlike “The Massacre” and other examples, this movie has no narrative of sympathy for Native Americans, using them as truly stereotypical villains – the poster seen above is vividly accurate, and could only be embellished if the “Indian” in the image had a half-eaten puppy in his mouth. The story is that two orphans (one of them is Mae Marsh, who appeared in “The New York Hat” and “Birth of a Nation”) arrive in a settlement town with their puppies, but are told by their strict uncle to leave them outside. One goes to see that they are OK, and finds two natives stealing them for a feast. The uncle comes to the rescue, and shoots one, who happens to be the chief’s son. This brings the whole tribe down on the village, and puts the one baby in town (its mother is Lillian Gish, from “The Mothering Heart” and “Intolerance”) into jeopardy, until the cavalry rides in. The baby is saved by one of the “waifs” and everyone seems happy at the end, despite the fact that the stinginess of one man has caused the deaths of dozens on both sides. It doesn’t seem to me that Griffith really needed the longer format to tell such a cliché story, although the battle scenes are undeniably impressive.

Griffith’s rousing and exciting western adventure 2-reeler is a wonderful early example of the genre,
featuring some terrifically filmed battle sequences, a wonderfully exciting cliffhanger and a sensitive, heartwarming happy ending, the likes of which stands as one of Griffith's most fantastic endings.... an ending that makes me grin from ear to ear. The fact that the film contains a point of view decidedly centered around the experiences of a woman and some small girls makes it something of an early feminist western, positioning the female experience in the active role, rather than the passive, spectator role that they are so often relegated to, and in the process relegating the men here into almost comical inconsequentiality. It's also one of Griffith's best works prior to his longer films....filled with brilliantly executed cross-cutting and editing, magnificently staged action set-pieces and a very densely plotted 2-reels, not to mention a fantastic performance from Lillian Gish in one of her earliest roles.

This short film features a plucky and expressive Mae Marsh as Sally, who with her younger sister is sent west to live with their 3 uncles. As part of their luggage, they bring 2 young puppies with them. On the same stagecoach is Lillian Gish as an unnamed mother who is traveling with her husband and their young baby to the same town where the girls are to live. The girls worry about their puppies, whom their Uncles say must live outside the cabin. Some Native Americans happen to steal the puppies for food. But Sally, in a fit of crazed mania, chases after them, snatching the puppies from their clutches, and even knocking one over in the process! The Uncles intervene, shooting one Native American dead. The other returns to the tribe and convinces the tribe to attack the settlers. During the ensuing battle, Gish's baby ends up in the wrong hands during battle and winds up on the battleground outside the Uncle's cabin. Gish finds herself in the cabin with the men and the young girls, while she frantically worries and searches for her baby. Sally, in a fit of "heroine-ism", steals away through a trap door in the back of the cabin, crawls across the battlefield, scoops up the baby and returns to safety! At the end of the film, all is right with the world, the mother’s worries are gone, and Sally is a heroine.

This film is so much fun. I love the distinctive focus on the concerns of the children and the mother. The men are relegated to the place of spectator while the girls and the mother propel the plot onward. It’s a refreshing sort of plot, filled with Griffith's usual melodrama and sentiment, but it’s enacted with a sort of confident understanding of this POV, and doesn't look back. Gish is fantastic in her brief role, those familiar wild eyes flaring as she searches for her baby. It's actually quite remarkable that she already at the age of 20, and in only her second year of acting had such a command of her emotions in front of the camera. My single favorite moment is that wonderful look on Gish's face as she sees Sally and the kids pop their heads out of the chest. Her expression is so naturalistic, joyful and emotive. It should be no surprise that Griffith’s portrayal of the battle sequences is particularly well done, filmed far enough back to allow the scope of battle to unfold with usual flair, and including some terrific combat elements in more close-up moments. It's almost astonishing how exciting these combat elements are here in 1913. As one of Griffith’s early masterpieces, the film stands as not only one of the best westerns of the silent era, but also a slice of life that’s key and essential to the genre, encompassing and examining the existence of women and children and showing their experience with compassion. This was the last silent western that Griffith would make and it's just about perfect.

The final film in this compilation is one of Griffith's greatest and most complex works, The Battle at Elderbush Gulch (1914). By this time he was developing longer stories (this one runs at about thirty minutes), and this western tale anticipates the Griffith feature-length epics that would soon revolutionize movies. Two young girls (Mae Marsh plays the older one) arrive at a frontier town to live with their uncle (Alfred Paget). They have two puppies with them, but the uncle won't let them keep the puppies in the house, so they are kept outside. This leads, by a series of events that can only be described as grotesque, to a misunderstanding with the local Indians that leads to war. The Indians attack the town, and there's a huge battle in which a mother (Lillian Gish) becomes separated from her baby, and the final sequence involves the settlers trapped in the uncle's house, surrounded by Indians, holding out for the cavalry who are coming to the rescue.

Of course one has to look beyond the ugly stereotypes of the Indians in order to appreciate the film's importance. This is not to excuse the racist conventions of the western film, but one must realize that this sort of thing was typical of the time, and not at all peculiar to Griffith. Elderbush is remarkable for its multiple characters and storylines, advanced production values, and the most sophisticated use of cutting to create suspense that had been seen up until then. Stories tended to take their time in those days, and were generally satisfied with presenting one simple plot and one resolution. Here everything is speeeded up, there are at least three climaxes that top one another, and the cutting is a masterful demonstration of how to maintain several narrative threads going at once without confusing the audiences or losing steam. The only reason the picture might not seem as impressive today is because later films (many of them by Griffith) improved on the techniques that were showcased here. What makes motion pictures special is that they move - this seemingly obvious truth took a long time to be realized. The Battle at Elderbush Gulch, employing all the skills that Griffith had built up in his Biograph shorts over the years, is a triumph of movement, a spectacular acceleration of film art.






Mae Marsh

Mae Marsh (1895-1968)

Mae Marsh was the most unlikely and unpreposessing of silent stars; it almost seems that she was discovered by accident. She was considered plain, with hair of a nondescript color, and freckles, but she stood out to pioneer film director D.W. Griffith, and became one of his top leading actresses, along with Lillian Gish and Mary Pickford. She had a naturalistic, luminous quality about her that Griffith was able to bring to the screen with a deft touch.

Born Mary Wayne Marsh in Madrid, New Mexico Territory, on 9 November 1895, to a railroad auditor and his wife; her father died when she was only four years old. Her mother remarried, and the family moved to San Francisco, where her step father was killed in the earthquake of 1906. Sometime later, the family ended up in Los Angeles, and in 1912 Mae found herself in Biograph studios after deciding to follow her older sister Marguerite's example and try acting. Mae first got work with Mack Sennett and Griffith. Her big break came in "Man's Genesis" (1912), in which she played a bare legged prehistoric girl. The part had first been offered to Mary Pickford, who refused due to the fact that her legs would be visible. She later worked in all Griffith's unforgettable epics, "The Birth of a Nation" (1915) as Flora Cameron, who jumped off a cliff rather than face being raped, and in "Intolerance: Love's Struggle Throughout the Ages" (1916), as "The Dear One", who races to save her innocent husband from the gallows for a crime he did not commit. These were probably her best and most memorable film roles, and she was frequently cast opposite another Griffith find, Robert Harron; they made a charming and often passionate romantic couple on screen.

Mae worked with Griffith from 1912-1916, signing with Samuel Goldwyn in 1917. She was at the height of her popularity. However, Mae did not find the success with Goldwyn that she had with Griffith. After marrying Louis Lee Arms, a publicity agent for Goldwyn in 1918, she virtually retired to raise the couple's three children. She worked with Griffith again however, in 1923's "The White Rose", co-starring Ivor Novello, and she also went to England to make a few movies, including "The Rat", written by Ivor. By 1928, she intended retiring from the screen altogether, but with the advent of the Great Depression Mae had to go back to work to earn money for the family. She gave a remarkable performance in the sound film "Over the Hill" (1932), where her character was forced to go to a poorhouse by an ungrateful son.

She continued to appear in smaller parts until the 1960's; due to a difficulty in remembering lines she was never again given big roles, but as a friend of legendary director John Ford, she always had smaller character parts she could sink her teeth into, in Ford's classic films such as "The Grapes of Wrath" (1940), "How Green Was My Valley" (1941), "My Darling Clementine" (1946), and "The Quiet Man" (1952). After a career spanning fifty years, Mae Marsh died at her home of a heart attack, in Hermosa Beach, California, February 13, 1968.


Mae Marsh's Silent Films

Racing Through (1928)
Tides of Passion (1925) .... Charity
The Rat (1925) .... Odile Etrange
Arabella (1924)
Daddies (1924) .... Ruth Atkins
Paddy the Next Best Thing (1923) .... Paddy
The White Rose (1923) .... Bessie 'Teazie' Williams
Till We Meet Again (1922) .... Marion Bates
Flames of Passion (1922) .... Dorothy Hawke
Nobody's Kid (1921) .... Mary Cary
The Little 'Fraid Lady (1920) .... Cecilia Carne
The Mother and the Law (1919) .... The Little Dear One
Spotlight Sadie (1919) .... Sadie Sullivan
... aka The Saintly Show Girl
The Bondage of Barbara (1919) .... Barbara Grey
The Racing Strain (1918) .... Lucille Cameron
Hidden Fires (1918) .... Peggy Murray / Louise Parke
Money Mad (1918) .... Elsie Dean
The Glorious Adventure (1918) .... Carey Wethersbee
All Woman (1918) .... Susan Sweeney
The Face in the Dark (1918) .... Jane Ridgeway
The Beloved Traitor (1918) .... Mary Garland
Fields of Honor (1918) .... Marie Messereau
Stake Uncle Sam to Play Your Hand (1918)
The Cinderella Man (1917) .... Marjorie Caner
Sunshine Alley (1917) .... Nell
Polly of the Circus (1917) .... Polly
The Wharf Rat (1916) .... Polly
The Little Liar (1916) .... Maggie
Intolerance: Love's Struggle Throughout the Ages (1916) .... The Dear One (Modern Story)
... aka Intolerance (USA: short title)
... aka Intolerance: A Sun-Play of the Ages (USA: copyright title)
The Marriage of Molly-O (1916) .... Molly-O
A Wild Girl of the Sierras (1916) .... The Wild Girl
... aka A Child of Nature
A Child of the Streets (1916)
A Child of the Paris Streets (1916) .... Julie/the child-wife
... aka A Child of Paris
Hoodoo Ann (1916) .... Hoodoo Ann
Big Jim's Heart (1915)
Her Shattered Idol (1915) .... Mae Carter
The Victim (1915) .... Mary Hastings, Frank's Wife
The Outlaw's Revenge (1915) .... The American lover
The Outcast (1915) .... The Girl
The Birth of a Nation (1915) .... Flora Cameron
... aka In the Clutches of the Ku Klux Klan (USA: cut version)
... aka The Birth of the Nation; Or The Clansman (second copyright title)
... aka The Clansman (USA: Los Angeles première title)
The Genius (1914)
The Great God Fear (1914)
Meg of the Mines (1914)
Moonshine Molly (1914)
The Avenging Conscience; Thou Shalt Not Kill (1914) .... The Maid
... aka Thou Shalt Not Kill
The Birthday Present (1914)
... aka Her Birthday Present (USA)
The Escape (1914) .... Jennie Joyce
The Swindlers (1914)
The Girl in the Shack (1914)
Home, Sweet Home (1914) .... Apple Pie Mary
The Broken Bottle (1914)
The Great Leap: Until Death Do Us Part (1914) .... Mary Gibbs
Brute Force (1914) .... Lillywhite
... aka In Prehistoric Days
... aka Primitive Man (USA: short title)
... aka The Primitive Man (USA)
... aka Wars of the Primal Tribes
Apple Pie Mary (1914)
Judith of Bethulia (1914) .... Naomi
... aka Her Condoned Sin (USA)
The Battle at Elderbush Gulch (1913) .... Sallly (a waif)
... aka The Battle of Elderbush Gulch
By Man's Law (1913) .... Sister Owner
The Girl Across the Way (1913) .... The Girl
Influence of the Unknown (1913) .... The Young Woman
For the Son of the House (1913) .... The Young Woman
Two Men of the Desert (1913)
The Reformers; or, The Lost Art of Minding One's Business (1913) .... The Daughter
... aka The Lost Art of Minding One's Business
... aka The Reformers (USA: short title)
The Sorrowful Shore (1913) .... On Shore
Her Mother's Oath (1913) .... In Church
The Mothering Heart (1913) (unconfirmed) .... Undetermined Role
A Timely Interception (1913)
His Mother's Son (1913) .... The Daughter
The Wanderer (1913/II) .... The Other Parents' Daughter, as an Adult
If We Only Knew (1913) (unconfirmed)
The Lady and the Mouse (1913) (unconfirmed) .... Undetermined Role
The Little Tease (1913) .... The Little Tease, as an Adult
The Perfidy of Mary (1913) .... Mary
Fate (1913/I) .... Mother, Loving Family
Near to Earth (1913) .... One of Gato's Sweetheart's Friends
A Girl's Stratagem (1913)
Broken Ways (1913)
Love in an Apartment Hotel (1913) .... Angelina Millingford, a Maid
The Tender Hearted Boy (1913) .... The Tender-Hearted Boy's sister
An Adventure in the Autumn Woods (1913) .... The Girl
The Telephone Girl and the Lady (1913) .... The Telephone Girl
Three Friends (1913) .... The Wife's Friend
The Indian Uprising at Santa Fe (1912) .... Juan
The New York Hat (1912) .... Second Gossip
Brutality (1912) .... The Young Woman
The Civilian (1912)
For the Honor of the Seventh (1912)
Two Daughters of Eve (1912)
The Parasite (1912)
The Kentucky Girl (1912) .... Bob's Sister
The Inner Circle (1912)
The Sands of Dee (1912) .... Mary
Man's Genesis (1912) .... Lillywhite
An Indian Summer (1912) .... The Widow's Daughter
The School Teacher and the Waif (1912) .... Schoolgirl
The Spirit Awakened (1912) .... The Renegade Farmhand's Sweetheart
Lena and the Geese (1912) .... The 'Adopted' Daughter
A Temporary Truce (1912) .... A Murdered Settler
Home Folks (1912) .... At Barn Dance
A Beast at Bay (1912) .... The Young Woman's Friend
When Kings Were the Law (1912) .... At Court
His Lesson (1912) .... A Visitor
A Lodging for the Night (1912) .... First Mexican Couple, the Woman
The Old Actor (1912)
The Lesser Evil (1912) .... The Young Woman's Companion
Just Like a Woman (1912) .... In Club
Those Hicksville Boys (1912) (unconfirmed) .... At Party
A Voice from the Deep (1912) .... On Beach
A Siren of Impulse (1912)
Fighting Blood (1911)
Serious Sixteen (1910)
Ramona (1910)


...

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