ADVENTURER, THE (Alice Guy, 1917, USA, 31m, BW)
15 February 1917 (USA)
Director: Alice Guy
Writers: Harry Chandlee, Lawrence McCloskey
Stars: Marian Swayne, Pell Trenton, Ethel Stanard
Cast (in credits order)
Marian Swayne Marian Swayne ...
Pell Trenton Pell Trenton ...
John Adams / Jim
Ethel Stanard Ethel Stanard ...
Kirke Brown Kirke Brown ...
Charles Halton Charles Halton ...
Martin Hayden Martin Hayden ...
Yolande Duquette Yolande Duquette ...
The plot by Upton Sinclair is a stirring but artfully constructed melodrama and the picturization of it is wholesome, full of mystery, and most decidedly entertaining. It is modern and up to date without attempting to teach us or assuming that we need to be taught. It sets out to make an hour and a half or thereabouts pass pleasantly for those who are willing to pay the admission and it will accomplish its purpose often before it is put with the "pictures of other days." Marian Swayne plays the lead and as the story opens is trying to make a living honestly in a cruel city. That's a good beginning and it is registered convincingly and pleasingly. Pell Trenton has the opposite lead. We are led to believe he is a crook. We suspect that he is the son of the millionaire, but he turns out to be a crook before our eyes so persistently that we doubt our suspicions, until the reasons are uncovered in the denouement and we understand.
Around these two juveniles, there are the usual "characters" most of them wicked enough, but all played with the peculiarities of humanity so pleasing in plots that bother only with the square blocks of good and evil. There is none of them so ably put over as Charles Halton's "Austin," the distributor of charities for the big villain (Kirk Brown) who is stealing a fortune. The world thinks that the millionaire has disinherited his son and daughter to found a charity institution with Kirk at its head; but the right will is in the safe and is produced in time. Most of the action transpires in the slums, where Pell finds Marian about to commit suicide and befriends her. She thinks him a thief and is reforming him. He the son and heir is on an adventure in which he succeeds in uncovering Kirk's conspiracy. Ethel Stanard plays as Pell's sister. Tolande Doquette plays a slum character.
Alice Guy Blaché
Alice Blache, Alice Guy, Alice Guy-Blaché
From 1896 to 1906 Alice Guy was probably the only woman film director in the world. She had begun as a secretary for Léon Gaumont and made her first film in 1896. After that first film she directed and produced or supervised almost six hundred silent films ranging in length from one minute to thirty minutes, the majority of which were of the single-reel length. In addition, she also directed and produced or supervised one hundred and fifty synchronized sound films for the Gaumont Chronophone. Her Gaumont silent films are notable for their energy and risk-taking; her preference for real locations gives the extant examples of these Gaumont films a contemporary feel. As Alan Williams has described her influence, Alice Guy “created and nurtured the mood of excitement and sheer aesthetic pleasure that one senses in so many pre-war Gaumont films, including the ones made after her departure from the Paris studio." Most notable of her Gaumont period films is Vie du Christ (1906), a thirty-minute extravaganza that featured twenty-five sets as well as numerous exterior locations and over three hundred extras.
In early 1907, Guy resigned her position as head of Gaumont’s film production arm in Paris although she did not end her business relationship with Gaumont. This resignation was due to her marriage to Herbert Blaché, another Gaumont company employee. Léon Gaumont sent Herbert to Cleveland to start a Gaumont Chronophone franchise. After nine months the franchise failed, and Gaumont made Herbert manager of his New York studio in Flushing, Queens, which was originally built to produce English language chronophone films. Gaumont had an agreement with the Edison Company and the other members of the Motion Picture Patents Company (MPPC) that his company’s sound as well as silent motion pictures would be distributed as licensed films. In 1909 Edison, who planned his own synchronized sound device, the kinetophone, began to resist the idea of including the Gaumont company as a licensed MPPC distributor. As a result of Edison’s influence, Gaumont’s many applications for formal membership in the MPPC were rejected. The Flushing plant languished.
In 1910 Guy decided to take advantage of the under-used Flushing plant. She started her own company, Solax, and made silent films using the Gaumont studio. The Solax films were then distributed by Gaumont through George Kleine’s distribution company. By 1911 Solax was making enough money for the Blachés to move into their own large house. Guy built a $100,000 studio plant for Solax in Fort Lee, New Jersey, in 1912, the same year her second child, Reginald, was born, sister to Simone, born in 1908. Once Gaumont, no longer part of the MPPC monopoly, joined the ranks of the independents, Solax had to negotiate for distribution on a state-by-state basis.
For the two years that it was successful, the Solax Company jump-started the careers of several actors and made stars out of performers such as Darwin Karr and Blanche Cornwall, who starred in a series of melodramas that critiqued the social system, such as A Man’s a Man (1912), The Roads That Lead Home (1913), The Girl in the Armchair (1913), and The Making of an American Citizen (1911) as well as action films like The Detective and His Dog (1912) and the multi-reeler The Pit and the Pendulum (1913). Karr and Cornwall also starred in comedies like A Comedy of Errors (1912), Canned Harmony (1912), His Double (1912), and Burstop Holmes’ Murder Case (1913). But the actors that really brought Guy’s comic genius to life were Marion Swayne and Billy Quirk. They starred in A House Divided (1913) and Matrimony’s Speed Limit (1913), two typical examples of Alice Guy’s emphasis on marriage as an equal partnership and the reason these two extant films still appeal to audiences today. Guy also made numerous action films with female characters as heroes, many of them starring Vinnie Burns. Guy first cast Burns when she was an unknown teenager, then trained her to do her own stunts in actions films such as Two Little Rangers (1912), Greater Love Hath No Man (1913), and Guy’s masterpiece at Solax, the three-reeler Dick Whittington and His Cat (1913), for which the director had a real boat detonated.
The Solax films that stand out today are Guy’s comedies of cross-dressing, such as the extant titles Cupid and the Comet (1911), starring Vinnie Burns, and What Happened to Officer Henderson (1913), featuring Swayne and Quirck. There is as well the lost film In the Year 2000 (1912), with Quirck and Cornwall, in which male and female gender roles are completely reversed. The Solax Company provided a rich growth and learning environment for set designers like Ben Carré and Henri Ménessier, who had followed Alice Guy from Paris. Ménessier, who had designed the sets for Guy’s masterpiece at Gaumont, the 1906 La Vie du Christ, designed the sets for Guy’s film The Sewer (1912), starring Darwin Karr.
By 1913 the distribution difficulties began to make themselves felt. Herbert made various very creative efforts to make lucrative distribution deals for both Gaumont and Solax films. Solax moved from producing shorts to features the same year, while still producing shorts, but by 1914 it was clear that the day of the short film was over. Léon Gaumont, after his multiple business setbacks and the outbreak of the war in France, pulled out of the US market as did other French companies, with the exception of Pathé. The Blachés remained, but Solax had to borrow money from the Seligmans, the bankers who then owned the majority share in the company. Partly to escape the Seligmans’ influence, Herbert started his own company, Blaché Features, for which he and Guy took turns directing feature-length films. After retooling themselves into various different corporate identities, such as the US Amusement Corporation, for which Guy directed The Ocean Waif in 1915, Herbert began to join loose coalitions with other filmmakers, such as Popular Plays and Players, for which Guy directed The Empress in 1917. Some of the films they directed for Popular Plays and Players were distributed by ALCO (“AL” as in Al Lichtman, the cofounder, and “CO” as in Company) (McMahan 2002, 179). ALCO was the production entity that led to the formation of Metro Pictures Corporation, which eventually joined the merger that became Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
By the late teens, both Guy and Herbert were directing feature films for hire. Guy directed a series of “painted woman” melodramas starring the great Olga Petrova, all of which appear to be lost. Her surviving feature from this period is the Marcus Loew production The Great Adventure (1918), starring Bessie Love, for which Agnes Christine Johnston wrote the screenplay. The couple divorced in 1920. Herbert remained in Hollywood and continued to direct features, including The Saphead, starring Buster Keaton, until 1927. He remarried and became a furniture merchant. He died in 1953. In 1922 Guy chose to return to France, where for the next thirty years she lectured widely on film and wrote magazine fiction and novelizations of film scripts, but she never remarried, nor did she make another film. She died in New Jersey in 1968 and is buried in the Catholic cemetery in Mahwah, New Jersey.
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