THE THEODORE HUFF MEMORIAL FILM SOCIETY                              November 20, 1956  
 

"THE RADIO RAY"  episode six of our serial, "Officer 444", starring Ben Wilson.


"BIG MOMENTS FROM LITTLE PICTURES" (Hal Roach, 1924, 25 minutes)

One of a series of film in which he kidded, rather mercilessly, Hollywood movies - and
favorite stars - of the twenties, "Big Moments from Little Pictures" has Will Rogers
delivering a delicious lampoon of Fairbanks and "Robin Hood". (Having recently re-seen
"Robin Hood", the satire seem all the more pointed). Whether maliciously or not, Will
also kids Doug use of doubles! Further spoofs in the reel include "Over the Hill" (Will
as Johnnie Walker), "Blood and Sand", and the Keystone Kops - with Will putting over an almost cruelly accurate caricature of Ford Sterling. This is a fast, funny and always
enjoyable comedy.

"HIS LAST RACE"   (Phil Goldstone Productions, 1923   65 mins)
                          Directed by B. Reaves Eason; photographed by Jackson Roses art direction                           by Gustav Ertl.
The Casts Gladys Brockwell (Mary Stewart); Rex (Snowy) Baker (Richard Carleton); William
Scott (Harold Stewart); Robert McKim (Tim Bresnahan); Noah Beery (Packy Sloane); Pauline Starke (Jane Denny); Harry Depp (Ted Denny); Alec B. Francis (Dr. Rand); Tully Marshall
(John Stokes); Dick Sutherland (gang leader); Mankiller (Bommerang, the wonder horse)

"His Last Race" is a thoroughly pleasing example of the good quality "little" pictures
(far, far better than the "little"' sound pictures of PRC and Monogram) that brought home
the bacon, along with Tom Mix and Rin Tin Tins for small town theatres in the twenties. Barrymore, Stroheim and "Mare Nontrum" might not stand a chance in Chicopee Falls or
River Bend - but "His Last Race", together with a Harry Langdon and the latest installment
of a George B. Seitz serial would fill the theatre and send the customers home happy.
Literally everything is packed into it - romance humor, sentiments drama, fast action --
and the all-important final race on which everything depends. None of it is terribly
subtle - nor does it try to be. Certainly the jovial villainy of Noah Beery suggests that
it isn't taking itself any too seriously. The final reel and a half is literally a
marathon of action, with the wonder horse really living up to that description -- kept on
the gallop seemingly for hours, tearing back across rough country to the race tracks, and
still winning that race on which so many destinies depend!

"His Last Race" was directed by B. Reaves Eason, later also referred to as Breezy Eason.
(For the records Breezy Eason was Reaves' son, and a child star who, tragically, was
killed in an auto accident. In later years, Reaves also adopted the name Breezy at times). Eason was an expert director of small westernd, serials ("The Galloping Ghost" being an
especially lively example) and anything with action. He was also a top-notch second unit
directors staging action sequences for much bigger pictures - i.e., "The Charge of the
Light Brigade"
, the chariot race in "Ben Hur", the gathering of the ranchers in "Duel in
the Sun"
, the Battle of San Jacinto in "Man of Conquest". His forte was essentially
action, and his talent for straight dramatic material was at best, fair. The non-action
scenes of "His Last Race" lag a trifle, but once Eason gets back to his fights and
chases, the pace soon livens up.

Although it is a cheap production, it has real style and a certain polish. The photography
is exceptionally good, and the sets substantial enough (although once an open door reveals
a glimpse of props and other equipment piled up outside!) The cast, however, is misleadingly strong. Such old reliables as Tully Marshal end Alex B. Francis actually have comparatively
little to do. Producers of cheapies would hire these "prestige" names for one day only,
shoot their scenes quickly for a minimum salary, and then carefully distribute them
throughout the film so that there was always some well-known name on hand. In the official cast, star Snowy Baker (an Australian athlete) is actually in 7th place!

Mr. Goldstone, the producer of this opus, apparently fancied himself as a minor league
Griffith. Note the Griffithian titles - especially an opening eulogy to the glory of
womanhood - and the natty little PG monograms on each title, the two letters interweaving themselves just as D and G did on the Griffith titles.

All in all, "His Last Race" is a very entertaining minor item, and the sort of films alas,
that never seems to be considered worthy of revival by film study institutions somewhat
larger than this one, And the print - a fine toned original - is in perfect shape.

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"JUDITH OF BETHULIA"    (American Biograph-D.W. Griffith, 1913; one hour).

The distinction of being the "first American feature" is one that has been claimed by
several films. It's perhaps a difficult thing to be dogmatic about; for examples Herbert
Brenon's "Ivanhoe", though a feature, and American financed and produced, was actually
shot in England. But, certainly, DeMille's much touted "first feature", "The Squawman",
came after "Judith of Bethulia", which is generally overlooked by film historians. So little
does the film seem to be known that when the old Biograph Studios in upper NY went to work on television films recently, a lavish press release to the trade paper informed us that
"Judith The Petunia" (!!) had been filmed there, thus giving out a double error.

"Judith" was very much of a turning point in Griffiths career. It was his first feature,
his first "spectacle" in the cinematic sense of the word (although earlier Civil War one-reel subjects had been on an equally lavish scale), and his last film for the rather staid and unimaginative Biograph Company, which had been a comparative nonentity until Griffith's arrival put them on the map, and which went into a steady downward spiral (the Bert Williams films excepted) following his departure. In 1913, following the completion of "Judith",
Griffith went to Mutual, and supervised the output of the Reliance-Majestic companies.
(We have already shown several films from this periods "Old Heidelberg", "Ghosts",
"Doll House Mystery", "At Dawn" etc.) Features like "The Escape" paved the way to his full maturity only a year or so later in "The Birth of a Nation"" and "Intolerance".

"Judith of Bethulia" is a curious film, both disappointing and fascinating. Disappointing
because it is frankly not as well organised as his early short films. In films like "The
Battle"
, Griffith displayed a remarkable talent for staging mass action, and directing the
eye to the important detail. Always one knew exactly what was going on. In "Judith", one doesn't. The battle scenes are lavish and well-staged, but they are confusing in the
extreme. At times it is difficult to tell just who is fighting who, and personalities
become lost and almost forgotten in the rush of events. Too, while the cutting is more
than competent, it is hardly as inspired as it had been in, for example, "Fighting Blood"
or "A Girl and Her Trust". And yet, at the same time, the film is so superior to the
stagey Italian spectacles of the same time that such criticisms seem almost unfair. From
a director other than Griffith, the film probably wouldn't be criticised at all.

Quite apart from its spectacle, the film offers an interesting glimpse of things to come
from Griffith. His concern with historical accuracy, as demonstrated in frequent
explanatory titles, for example - and at the same time, the determination that accuracy
should not overshadow showmanship. An opening title, explaining that the film is based
on the Apocrypha and poetical tragedy of Judith of Bethulia by Thomas B. Aldrich, also
explains that while incidents and characters have been thus taken, "....our efforts have
been confined expressly to the dramatic". There is a hint too, of "Intolerance", in the introduction of two parallel love stories - one tragic, one happy - even though not too
much is made of this, and Mae Marsh and Robert Herron tend to be forgotten for long stretches at a time. The climax too, is rather sudden in coming, and though developed
in the traditional Griffith manner, with a last-minute rescue from death for Mae Marsh,
is again not as well organised an one would like.

Griffith shot the film entirely in Chatsworth, a location some 30 miles outside Hollywood,
where he had also filmed "Manes Genesis" and "Brute Force", his prehistoric allegories.
It was rough, rocky scrub-land - and still is - not unduly photogenic, and rather drab in
its appearance. Apparently both Griffith and Ince realised this, for they snot none of
their westerns or civil war stories there. (Of course, they had no need to - Hollywood
was then undeveloped, and there was much lusher scenery in their own back yard. Ince's,
especially. The location, now divided principally into two locations (Iverson's Ranch,
and Corrigan's Ranch) is still used extensively by Hollywood, especially by the
cheaper production units that cannot afford lengthy location jaunts. Even the big studios
use it for convenient pick-up shots - however Ford used it for a couple of scenes in
"Stagecoach" and for a good deal of "Fort Apache", and even "Around the World in 80 Days" utilises a couple of Chatsworth locations. In recent years it has seen service as England, Burma, Indochina, Africa, Mars, the Moon, earth in prehistoric days, earth in the 25th
century, and practically every state in the Union. Actually it has been used far too
much and comes off in a rather unappetising fashion unless photographed in color.
Devotees of tv westerns (if we have any) will doubtless recognise much of the scenery,
which hasn't changed a jot since Griffith shot this film there over 40 years ago.

The cast, which we're reprinting below, and which appears on the main titles of the film,
was of course a much later addition, no such cast appearing on the initial release
prints. Lillian Gish, billed fifth, actually has little more than a bit role, and
Dorothy Gish is a mere extra. You'll spot most of the Biograph "family"' beneath the
beards - Charles West et al, and of course, Kate Bruce, Biograph's perennial mother-maid-
older sister-grandmother-widow, is well in evidence. "Judith of Bethulia" is a film
that hasn't been shown in many years, and we are glad to be able to revive it today.

The Cast: Judith of Bethulia ( BLANCHE SWEET); Holofernes (HENRY B. WALTHALL)
              Naomi (MAE MARSH); Nathan (ROBERT HARRON) Young mother (LILLIAN GISH)
              Crippled beggar (DOROTHY GISH); Judith's maid (KATE BRUCE)
              Chief Eunuch (ANDRE BERANGER)

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               Program Notes & Enquiries: Wm.K.Everson, Manhattan Towers Hotel
                                                      2166 Broadway, New York City 24, NY
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 © William K. Everson Estate