Friday, November 4, 2016

FILMBAY 2000 Greatest Films of All-Time (1888-2014) by Year # 0091 - TRAFFIC IN SOULS (George Loane Tucker, 1913, 74m, BW)



 

TRAFFIC IN SOULS (George Loane Tucker, 1913, 74m, BW)
aka.
Traffic in Souls (also released as While New York Sleeps)

 


Introduction

Traffic in Souls (1913)

Cast: Irene Wallace, Mrs. Hudson Lyston, William Cavanaugh, Howard Crampton, William Burbridge, Arthur Hunter, Laura Huntley, William Powers, Jack Poulton, Edward Boring, Charles Green, William Calhoun, Arthur Stein, George Tucker, Walter Macnamara, Sarah Mcvicker, Flora Nason, Vera Hansey, Laura Mcvicker, Adele Graham, Blanche Craig, Wm. Turner, Matt Moore, Ethel Grandin, William Turner, Jane Gail, William Welsh
Director: George Tucker, George Loane Tucker
Rating: NR
Running Time: 66 min.
Synopsis: White slavers force unsuspecting women to join a prostitution ring.

Traffic in Souls (also released as While New York Sleeps) is a 1913 American silent crime drama film focusing on forced prostitution (white slavery) in the United States. Directed by George Loane Tucker and starring Jane Gail, Ethel Grandin, William H. Turner, and Matt Moore, Traffic in Souls is an early example of the narrative style in American films. The film consists of six reels which was longer than most American film of the era.



Plot

The storyline concerns two young Swedish women immigrants who are approached by men soliciting for white slavery under the guise of a legitimate work offer. In the scenes filmed at Battery Park, after the women are transported there from Ellis Island, real immigrants can be seen in the background. The entire film takes place over the course of three days and consists of a prologue; the main narrative in which one of the sisters is kidnapped by a pimp and the other sister and her boyfriend rush to rescue her in time and the pimp is killed; and an epilogue in which the viewer finds out the consequences from a trashed news article. The film concludes with a joke ending, an ending to a thriller that at the time was not the cliché it has become now.

Cast

    Jane Gail as Mary Barton
    Ethel Grandin as Lorna Barton
    William H. Taylor as Issac Barton, The Invalid Inventor - Mary's Father (credited as Wm. Turner)
    Matt Moore as NYPD officer Larry Burke
    Walter Long as other policeman (Uncredited)
    William Welsh as William Trubus
    Millie Liston as Mrs. Trubus (credited as Mrs. Hudson Lyston)
    Irene Wallace as Alice Trubus
    William Cavanaugh as Bill Bradshaw
    Howard Crampton as the go-between
    Arthur Hunter as the procurer
    William Burbidge as Mr. Smith
    Laura Huntley as the emigrant girl
    William Powers as the emigrant girl’s brother
    Jack Poulson as R.C. Cadet
    Edward Boring as Swedish Cadet

Production

Traffic in Souls was based on a story by the film's director George Loane Tucker. The scenario was written by Walter MacNamara who also served as producer with Jack Cohn. Executive producers include King Baggot, Herbert Brenon, William Robert Daly, and Carl Laemmle. The film was shot and produced by Universal Film Manufacturing Company in Fort Lee, New Jersey, where many early film studios in America's first motion picture industry were based at the beginning of the 20th century. Additional footage was shot on location at Ellis Island and Manhattan. Its subjects were working women who had immigrated to the United States, and it was released at a time when the country was undergoing a "moral panic" over the issue of prostitution. The film's release eventually resulted in the adding of "white slavery" to the list of topics banned under the Hays Code.





Review

A criminal organization abducts poor and immigrant women, forcing them into prostitution. The chief crook is a seemingly respectable businessman (William Welsh) who handles the money while his underlings do the dirty work. When a young woman (Ethel Grandin) is drugged and kidnapped, her sister (Jane Gail) teams up with her policeman boyfriend (Matt Moore) to rescue her. The subject of "white slavery" (as it was called) was a sensational one for its time -- such things just weren't talked about, much less depicted -- and Tucker actually shot the film in secret, with private financing, and without even the knowledge of Universal's head office, or its chief, Carl Laemmle. If the picture had bombed, it might have ruined his career, but of course it was a huge hit, making over a half million dollars, which was a lot of money in those days (especially since the movie only cost $7500 to make).

The titillating subject brought the crowds in, no doubt, but the film is not really salacious. Things are hinted at without being shown. The air of threatened womanly virtue may seem quaint today, yet on its own terms this is a rather well-done crime picture, with good suspense and a bang-up action sequence at the end. In a period when most films were still overly theatrical, Tucker displays a relatively naturalistic, low-key style. For the most part, the actors behave like real people instead of mugging for the camera, and the expert cross-cutting shows that D.W. Griffith wasn't the only director in Hollywood who could edit with vigor. It's also interesting that the chief criminal is a complacent family man and philanthropist, campaigning publicly against vice (moral values, anyone?). This ironic note would rarely be sounded in film after the Hays Code decreed that everything bourgeois must be virtuous. There's a musty air that clings to almost every dramatic film made prior to the flowering of technique that occurred in the 1920s, and Traffic in Souls is no exception. For one thing, the plot mechanics sometimes creak badly (the father of the two sisters just happens to be an inventor, and one of his inventions comes in handy later, don't you know). Nevertheless, the film represents something of a milestone -- many of the elements of all the crime, action, and exploitation films of the future are here already, in germinal form.

Despite the title and theme of prostitution, this is not an early example of exploitative titillation, but rather a pure melodrama. Produced by Universal Films while they were still located in Fort Lee, New Jersey, the movie takes good advantage of contemporary New York City locations (including the Battery and Ellis Island) to show the dangers young women faced in a society where “White Slavery” ran rampant. There are essentially two storylines, probably because the concept of a feature film was still new, one in which a pair of Swedish immigrant girls are lured into a false employment agency, to be rescued by a heroic cop acting alone, and one in which the sister of said cop’s girlfriend is lured by an extension of the same gang into a different brothel. That storyline is resolved when the first sister infiltrates the cover operation for the racket and gets incriminating evidence on Edison cylinder, followed by a massive police raid (I counted 16 men in uniform) and the arrest of the “respectable” wealthy man behind the whole thing. The movie ends with him being unable to enter the streets without encountering angry mobs and his uptight wife dying in bed of her shame. As tame and moralistic as all this seems now, it was tremendously controversial at the time, resulting in a ban on prostitution as an acceptable theme in film.

Traffic in Souls (1913) was the first feature film produced by Universal, at that time called the Universal Film Manufacturing Company. The studio was founded in 1912 by Carl Laemmle and constituted a merger of various companies, including Laemmle's own IMP (Independent Moving Pictures) and Pat Powers' Powers Motion Picture Company. Its choice of subject matter--so-called white slavery--demonstrated Laemmle's knack for recognizing and capitalizing on the zeitgeist. As an early feature film Traffic in Souls is also noteworthy for its relatively complex narrative construction, which intercuts between multiple storylines. In one of the subplots, a pair of Swedish girls fresh off of Ellis Island are tricked into visiting a sham "Swedish employment agency" which turns out to be a front for the white slavery ring.

The choice of subject matter for Traffic in Souls was hardly accidental. In 1910 no less than John D. Rockefeller, Jr. himself led a grand jury investigation into "white slave" trafficking and established an organization called the Bureau of Social Hygiene. (Incidentally, the reviewer for Variety noted the close physical resemblance of one of the criminals in Traffic in Souls to Mr. Rockefeller.) While prostitution was very much a real problem during that time, in fact "white slave" trafficking was not quite as pervasive as depicted in the popular culture. It did, however, make an exciting subject for melodramas. The topic appeared in various books and plays depicting young women captured or lured into prostitution against their will, including the best-selling 1910 novel The House of Bondage. Most of the sensation-hungry viewers of Traffic in Souls were already familiar with the convention of white slave melodramas going into the film and knew exactly what was implied when the "madam" at the white slavery operation hands Lorna an embroidered kimono and instructs her to put it on.

Another interesting aspect of Traffic in Souls is its use of communication technology to drive the narrative. To be sure, this was hardly new; earlier Biograph shorts by D. W. Griffith such as The Lonely Villa (1909) and The Lonedale Operator (1911) used the telephone and telegraph as plot devices. In the case of Traffic in Souls, the character Mary uses a rudimentary form of wiretapping, recording Mr. Trubus's conversations onto wax cylinders to trap him for the police and rescue her sister from a fate worse than death. It also features a fanciful invention called a "dictagraph," which allows for the live transmission of handwritten figures onto a recipient's pad.

"Traffic in Souls" started the trend in Hollywood to make sexy pictures or at least films that promised sex, since they discovered sex sells. This controversial film which was banned in many cities throughout America, nevertheless grossed half a million dollars. The film is about the Barton sisters and their crippled father (Turner) who is an inventor and how the younger sister Loma (Ethel Grandin), who works in a fancy candy store with her older sister Mary (Jane Gail), was lured into white slavery by a go-between (Crampton) for the insiduous white slave organization. He invited her out with promises of a good time, taking her to a dance club where he spiked her drink and brought her to a brothel.

Mary is engaged to a young honest policeman on the beat, Burke (Matt Moore), who has just rounded up part of the white slavers who worked Ellis Island to scour possible victims from the incoming immigrants. Burke noticed something fishy about men bringing two Swedish sisters to a tenement building and refused to be bribed as he investigated and found that the building was a brothel run by white slavers. He single-handledly arrests them and the newspapers call him a hero. The shots of Ellis Island are interesting from an historical prospective more than in the uninteresting way they were used by the movie. The extras were real immigrants landing in America and the sidewalk scenes caught the trolleys and the kind of street cabs that were used back then. It is worth seeing the film for an authentic look at how the city looked, but should be especially interesting for cinephiles to see such a popular early film.





The Hays Code

The Motion Picture Production Code was the set of industry moral guidelines that was applied to most United States motion pictures released by major studios from 1930 to 1968. It is also popularly, albeit inaccurately, known as the Hays Code, after Will H. Hays, who was the president of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA) from 1922 to 1945. Under Hays' leadership, the MPPDA, later known as the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), adopted the Production Code in 1930 and began strictly enforcing it in 1934. The Production Code spelled out what was acceptable and what was unacceptable content for motion pictures produced for a public audience in the United States.

From 1934 to 1954, the code was closely identified with Joseph Breen, the administrator appointed by Hays to enforce the code in Hollywood. The film industry followed the guidelines set by the code well into the late 1950s, but during this time the code began to weaken due to the combined impact of television, influence from foreign films, bold directors (such as Otto Preminger) pushing the envelope, and intervention from the courts, including the Supreme Court. In 1968, after several years of minimal enforcement, the outdated Production Code was replaced by the MPAA film rating system.

In 1927, the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America — now the MPAA — produced and published the following list, titled "The Dont's and Be Carefuls," in an effort to clean up Hollywood's increasingly controversial output and help the studios avoid further clashes with the country's regional censorship boards. The list consisted of 11 things to be completely avoided in future movies (the "Don'ts"), and 25 things that required careful consideration before inclusion (the "Be Carefuls"). The list was unenforceable however, and so to some extent ignored. In 1930, it was ditched in favour of the Motion Picture Production Code, which in turn gave way to the MPAA film rating system we now know.

"The Don'ts and Be Carefuls"

Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America, 1927

Resolved, That those things which are included in the following list shall not appear in pictures produced by the members of this Association, irrespective of the manner in which they are treated.

1. Pointed profanity — by either title or lip — this includes the words "God," "Lord," "Jesus," Christ" (unless they be used reverently in connection with proper religious ceremonies), "hell," "damn," "Gawd," and every other profane and vulgar expression however it may be spelled;
2. Any licentious or suggestive nudity-in factor in silhouette; and any lecherous or licentious notice thereof by other characters in the picture;
3. The illegal traffic in drugs;
4. Any interference of sex perversion;
5. White slavery;
6. Miscegenation (sex relationships between the white and black races);
7. Sex hygiene and venereal diseases;
8. Scenes of actual childbirth — in fact or in silhouette;
9. Children's sex organs;
10. Ridicule of the clergy;
11. Willful offense to any nation, race or creed;

And be it further resolved, That special care be exercised in the manner in which the following subjects are treated, to the end that vulgarity and suggestiveness be eliminated and that good taste may be emphasized:

1. The use of the flag;
2. International relations (avoiding picturizing in an unfavorable light another country's religion, history, institutions, prominent people, and citizenry);
3. Arson;
4. The use of firearms;
5. Theft, robbery, safe-cracking, and dynamiting of trains, mines, building, etc. (having in mind the effect which a too-detailed description of these may have upon the moron);
6. Brutality and possible gruesomeness;
7. Techniques of committing murder by whatever method;
8. Methods of smuggling;
9. Third-degree methods;
10. Actual hangings or electrocutions as legal punishment for crime;
11. Sympathy for criminals;
12. Attitude toward public characters and institutions;
13. Sedition;
14. Apparent cruelty to children and animals;
15. Branding of people or animals;
16. The sale of women, or of a woman selling her virtue;
17. Rape or attempted rape;
18. First-night scenes;
19. Man and woman in bed together;
20. Deliberate seduction of girls;
21. The institution of marriage;
22. Surgical operations;
23. The use of drugs;
24. Titles or scenes having to do with law enforcement or law-enforcing officers;
25. Excessive or lustful kissing, particularly when one character or the other is a "heavy."


Almost from the time motion pictures appeared there were strong social and political pressures to censure their treatment of intimacy. In the 1920s, Hollywood made several efforts to head off official censorship through voluntary self-censorship efforts. The list of “Don’ts and Be Carefuls,” issued on this day, was one part of that effort. The list prohibited “pointed profanity,” including the use of “God,” “Jesus,” “hell,” “damn,” and others; trafficking in drugs; miscegenation; “suggestive nudity;” scenes of actual child birth; and “willful offense to any nation, race, or creed.” The “be carefuls,” included use of the flag; use of firearms; “attitude toward public characters and institutions;” rape or attempted rape; “first night scenes” [presumably the] first night of marriage; surgical operations; “excessive or lustful kissing;” surgical operations; and others.

The “Don’ts and Be Carefuls” were voluntary and had little impact. Many of the early talkies (which were just beginning to develop in 1927) in the 1930–1933 years were pretty racy. Under pressure from a Catholic-led boycott of “objectionable” films, Hollywood, on June 13, 1934, adopted the infamous 1934 Production Code, which put a heavy hand of censorship on Hollywood until the late 1960s. It was then replaced by the current movie ratings system on November 1, 1968.

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