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Other American Producers Revive Production

films scenes boy lubin

The affirmation of viable copyright practices in April 1903 encouraged other American producers to embark on more ambitious projects, particularly the making of longer story films. While few of these productions, unfortunately, have survived, they reflect the industry’s general revival. Lubin found still more ways to challenge Edison’s commercial base. A week after Edison marketed UNCLE TOM’S CABIN at a cost of $165, Lubin announced the imminent release of his own 700-foot version for $77. 19 It was shot at fewer frames per second and eliminated a cakewalk dance but was remarkably similar in other respects. This film was followed by TEN NIGHTS IN A BARROOM , also 700 feet, in mid October. Lubin’s advertisements suggest that this, too, was an example of filmed theater.

In mid December, the producer offered three new “song films”: DEAR OLD STARS AND STRIPES GOOD-BYE (340 feet), ONLY A SOLDIER BOY (215 and EVERY DAY IS SUNSHINE WHEN THE HEART BEATS TRUE (255 feet). 20 Illustrating sentimental and patriotic ballads, these elaborate productions contained at least four shots each and ran three and a half to five minutes. EVERY DAY IS SUNSHINE WHEN THE Two scenes from Lubin’s UNCLE TOM’S CABIN catalog. In “The Auction of St. Clair’s Slaves” Sigmund Lubin (third from left in the front row) plays the auctioneer.

HEART BEATS TRUE was written from the perspective of a man who has lost his beloved wife and recalls their happiness together. The chorus of ONLY A SOLDIER BOY , which was intended to be sung as pertinent sections of the film were projected, went:

You are a soldier boy, that’s all you know,
When duty calls you’re always first to go
You’re not supposed to have a heart,
Let others play the lover’s part,
So brush off your sweetheart’s tears and say “good-bye.”
Don’t let her hear your parting sigh.
When the band begins to play, fall in line
And march away, for you’re only a Soldier Boy.

Lubin also sold sets of lantern slides for a long list of illustrated songs (including ONLY A SOLDIER BOY and EVERY DAY IS SUNSHINE WHEN THE HEART BEATS TRUE ). 21


Lubin also continued to make short comedies, such as STREET CAR CHIVALRY , where men willingly offer their seats to a pretty woman but not to an ugly one. Although news films, such as one of the Iroquois Theater fire in Chicago, and fight reenactments remained commercially viable, longer acted films became increasingly important for the Philadelphia producer. Perhaps these signs of prosperity encouraged Lubin’s chief sales manager, Lewis M. Swaab, to leave the producer’s employ and open his own business—as agent for many of Lubin’s competitors in the Philadelphia market—in April 1904. 22


Since Selig advertised only irregularly and without listing most of his films, his productions are harder to trace. By the time he printed his complete catalog sometime late in 1903, he was selling two original productions based on well-known fairy tales: PIED PIPER OF HAMELIN and SCENES FROM HUMPTY DUMPTY . PIED PIPER OF HAMELIN (350 feet) was indebted to Robert Browning’s poem of that name, and according to the Selig catalog, “Even those who fancy the great poet to be as intelligible read backwards as forward, are constrained to make an exception in favor of the charming ballad which sets forth, in fantastic fashion, the danger of leaving one’s debt unpaid.” The film thus acted as a moral tale for children and adults. SCENES FROM HUMPTY DUMPTY , meanwhile, “were made from the great pantomime Humpty Dumpty and were posed for by one of the greatest European Pantomimists.” This 675-foot film had eight scenes, each of which was sold separately at thirteen cents a foot, and the catalog assured potential exhibitors that “these films are without doubt the finest ever made and will create no end of amusement to the little folks as well as the old folks, who in these films will recognize the familiar scenes of their childhood when they witnessed Humpty Dumpty.” 23 Such fairy tale films were designed for adult nostalgia as much as for children, linking them in significant ways to the bad-boy comedy genre.


Selig continued to produce numerous actualities. In the spring of 1903, one of his cameramen toured with President Roosevelt and took scenes at the dedication ceremonies for the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis on 30 April. The cinematographer then journeyed to Oregon and Washington for the president’s May tour (PRESIDENT ROOSEVELT AT WALLA WALLA ) and also took a series of films along the Columbia River (PANORAMIC VIEW OF MULTNOMAH FALLS ). A 600-foot scene of a Mexican bullfight was shot sometime in 1903, though the locale may have actually been a Chicago stockyard. 24


Vitagraph’s production activities were modest, and its original subjects were principally for use on the company’s exhibition circuit. Acted films played a modest role. Like its competitors, Vitagraph produced an example of filmed theater, EAST LYNNE . Condensing the well-known melodrama into fifteen minutes of screen time, Vitagraph claimed to offer “the entire play acted by well-known members of the theatrical profession.” 25 A news film of a devasting fire in Rochester was prominently advertised in that city and attracted patrons to the Baker Theater, where Vitagraph was giving a Sunday program. As with Biograph, Blackton, Smith, and Rock used these exclusive subjects to win and retain venues. Perhaps more importantly, Vitagraph rushed its European purchases to the United States and projected them ahead of their rivals.


By the end of 1903, Vitagraph, Lubin, and Selig all made longer narrative films with clear theatrical antecedents, coinciding with the fairy-tale or filmed-theater orientation previously explored by Méliès, Porter, and G. A. Smith. However, they failed to move quickly into the production of chase and crime films as did Edison and Biograph. This failure meant that, in the realm of commercially successful filmmaking at least, they could not challenge their larger, better-established rivals. They made up the second tier of American production companies.

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