From 1896 to 1926 – part 2

Lumière train (1897)

L’arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat (1895)

Part two of our series taken from the series of articles written in 1926 by Edward G. Turner of the British film company Walturdaw, reminiscing on thirty years in the film trade, has him describe the sorts of films he showed in the 1890s. He recalls many individual titles, and interestingly the majority of them are from British producers.

The first films used were Edison Kinetoscope subjects, 40 ft. long. I can remember “The Cock Fight,” “Scene in a Bar Room,” “Tyring a Wheel,” “The Black Diamond Express,” and “The Comic Wrestlers.”

Then McGuire and Baucus, of Dashwood House, Bishopsgate street, provided us with a number of subjects, the saleswoman there being Miss Rosenthall, sister of J. Rosenthall, whom all old operators will remember. McGuire and Baucus were years after taken over by the Warwick Trading Co., when Chas. Urban presided over its fortunes.

Lumière were the best source of our supply, as he had sent out to various parts of the world a number of cameras. Of his subjects I remember: “The Dancers from the Moulin Rouge,” “A Market Scene in Paris,” “Diving from a Raft,” “A Pillow Fight,” “A Street Scene in Paris,” “The Gardener,” “Bad Boy and Hose Pipe,” “High Diving at Milan Baths,” “A Train Arriving at a Station,” “The Sleeping Coachman,” “Comic Boxing in Tubs,” “Dublin Fire Brigade,” “Heavy Load of Stone.”

R.W. Paul’s list included “The Miller and the Sweep,” “Whitewashing a Fence,” “David Devant Conjuring,” “Children at Tea,” “Bill Stickers,” and “A Sea Cave.”

Films were also supplied by Birt-Acre, of Barnet, the most famous of which were “Policeman, Solider and Cook,” “The Magic Sausage Machine,” and “A Man Going to Bed.”

G.A. Smith, of Brighton, produced “The Corsican Brothers,” in 75 ft., and a number of excellent subjects besides.

Williamson, of Brighton, produced a large number of small subjects, including his films of the Boxer Rising in China.

Later, came the old showman’s wonderful film “The Poachers,” of which I think Col. Bromhead will bear kindly remembrance; the Sheffield Photo Co.’s “Daylight Burglars”; and later, the faked films of the South African War, made by Mitchell and Kenyon.

The South African War provided many films, and the public wanted more.

What an impetus these films gave to the Trade!

What a remarkable memory he had. Historians of the period will note that his chronology may be a little awry, but he is almost completely spot on with which producer supplied which titles – some of which survive to this day, others now are lost with only evidence such as this to tell us of their one-time significance. “Miss Rosenthall” is Alice Rosenthal, sister of Anglo-Boer War cameraman Joseph Rosenthal, and later a film producer herself. Birt-Acre is Birt Acres, “McGuire and Baucus” were Franck Z. Maguire and Joseph Baucus. “Williamson” is James Williamson. Next up, financial crisis, and a crucial change of exhibition policy…

4 responses

  1. Luke: Very interesting. I recognized some of the subjects he mentioned. I would like to see how Smith managed a 75 foot version of “The Corsican Brothers”. I’m sure it made more sense than the Cheech and Chong version.

    Joe Thompson ;0)

  2. It’s interesting how many of the films he mentions are (a) identifiable (b) familiar to historians (c) extant. What we have to see now of the films from the period can give us a good impression of what impressed people at the time, that is. The Edison titles are to be expected, since there were relatively few in circulation (though Tyring a Wheel and Comic Wrestlers are new to me). The Lumière films include several that we know were popular from evidence elsewhere – the Gardener and the Little Boy (Arroseur Arrosé), the High Diving at Milan Baths (popular with audiences when it was run backwards), Train Arriving at a Station, and for some reason their film of horses dragging a heavy load of stones. Robert Paul’s A Sea Cave near Lisbon was a huge hit in 1896 (or as much of a huge hit as an one-minute film can be), audiences being overwhelmed by the realism of waves breaking against the rocky cave. The Sheffield Photo Co’s A Daring Daylight Robbery was the sensation of 1903. Smith’s The Corsican Brothers (1898) doesn’t survive, alas, but here’s the catalogue description of it:

    “(From the well-known Romantic Play as produced as the Lyceum Theatre)
    One of the twin brothers returns home from shooting in the Corsican Mountains, and is visited by the ghost of the other twin. By extremely careful photography the ghost appears quite transparent. After indicating that he has ben killed by a sword thrust, and appealing for vengeance, he disappears. A ‘vision’ then appears showing the fatal duel in the snow. To the Corsican’s amazement, the duel and the death of his brother are vividly depicted in the vision, and finally, overcome by his feelings, he falls to the floor just as their mother enters the room’

    All that in 75ft. They just don’t make ’em like that any more.

  3. Luke: That’s a good question. Here are some guesses based on my limited dvd collection:

    “The Cock Fight” — There is some version on the Kino Edison set: “Cockfight No. 2”

    “Scene in Bar Room” — “Cripple Creek Barroom”? on the Edison set

    “Black Diamond Express” — on the Edison set. So popular it was re-shot several times and imitated by other producers

    You already mentioned the Lumière subjects.

    “Miller and the Sweep” — There’s a version by GA Smith on the Kino “The Movies Begin” set

    “Boxer Rising in China” — On the Kino “The Movies Begin” set

    “Magic Sausage Machine” — This was a popular gag. There is a version on the Edison set

    “Poachers” — is that “Desperate Poaching Affray” (1903) by Haggar & Sons? It’s on “The Movies Begin”

    “Daylight Burglars” — If this is “Daring Daylight Burglary”, it is on “The Movies Begin”

    Thanks for the “Corsican Brothers” description. I know it was popular to shoot famous scenes from plays. This must have been one of those.

    Joe Thompson ;0)

  4. Good detective work. “Scene in Bar Room” is either “Bar Room Scene” (1894) or its remake “New Bar Room Scene”. “Cripple Creek Bar Room” is a later production (1899).

    “The Miller and the Sweep” (1898) was a R.W. Paul production. Not the same film as the G.A. Smith film that survives, but the same idea. They all borrowed one another’s good ideas shamelessly (not that the film business has changed that much nowadays, of course).

    “Boxer Rising in China” is James Williamson’s “Attack on a China Mission – Bluejackets to the Rescue” (1900).

    “Magic Sausage Machine” was indeed a popular gag. I think it was the Lumières who first filmed a machine into which you fed dogs and brought out sausages. I’ve not found a record of Birt Acres making such a film, but I can readily believe that he did.

    “The Poachers” must indeed be “A Desperate Poaching Affray” (1903), made by William Haggar but distributed by Gaumont (headed by A.C. Bromhead).

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