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The Short Films of Norma Talmadge, 1911: Reviews

Note, this is not necessarily all of the films for this year, just the ones for which I've been able to locate review or have viewing comments. For list of all the films, see the Filmography



A Tale of Two Cities
(with viewing comments)
Sky Pilot
The General's Daughter
The Thumb Print
Forgotten
Her Hero

A Tale of Two Cities

Released March 4, 1911. Director: William Humphrey. Supervisor, J. Stuart Blackton. Scenario: Eugene Mullin from the novel by Charles Dickens. Cast: Florence Turner, Maurice Costello, NT, John Bunny, Ralph Johnson, Leo Delaney, William Shea, Earle Williams, Edith Storey, Norma Talmadge (as the seamstress). 3 parts (pt. 1: 1014 ft; pt. 2: 1013 ft; pt. 3: 994 ft.). Copies of this film are located at the Library of Congress. (3 reels, 35 mm., with Spanish intertitles), Museum of Modern Art in New York (3 reels, 35 mm.), UCLA Film and Television Archive (3 reels, 35 mm.), National Film and Television Museum in London (2 reels, 35 mm.), and in the Blackhawk Film collection. The 2 reel version of this film is available on video and part is available on YouTube

Review from Moving Picture World, March 4, 1911

"A Tale of two Cities" (Vitagraph).-The first of a series of three reels adequately reproducing Dickens' famous story. It is unnecessary to go over the story. Probably most who will see the picture know its main features at least. The first reel takes the audience up to the seizure of the peasant girl and the killing of her brother, her death, the visit to Dr. Manette to be a party to the crime, which results in his arrest and imprisonment in the Bastile [sic] and the consequent sufferings in a dungeon. The story is complete in itself, but the other two reels which go with it complete the story as Dickens wrote it. Probably most readers have formed some conception of the appearance of the different characters. In this picture they undoubtedly have an adequate reproduction of the story, with the principal personages faithfully depicted. The staging is little short of sumptuous. There is shown a care in the attention to details which stamps the picture as an unusually faithful reproduction and affords opportunity for those who have read and loved Dickens in the books to see his story move before them, much, perhaps, as it moved before him during its composition. Without being an expert upon Dickens, it seems safe to say that this production of one of his most famous stories will go down in motion picture history as one of the most notable of photoplay productions of the beginning of the year.

Review from Moving Picture World, March 11, 1911

"A Tale of two Cities" (Vitagraph).-The second part of the three reel release of this great story. This film introduces Lucy, Sidney Carton, the hero of the tale, De Farge and Darnay. The scene changes from the turbulence of Paris to the quiet, homelike attractions of London. The complications which beset these characters are faithfully reproduced. Of course, it must be understood that it is impossible to reproduce everything that is described in the book, but the selections have been made with care, and are indicative of a thorough understanding of the necessities of the story. The main features are sufficiently emphasized to serve as a guide in carrying the audience along, and their knowledge of the story itself will supply any deficiencies. Toward the last there are rumblings from Paris, with its unrest and turbulence, but the main feature of the picture is the quiet of the homes of London and the development of a portion of the love story which is included. It seems safe to say that those who see this film, in conjunction with the one which was released before, and the one to follow, will acquire a new impression of Dickens and will appreciate more fully than ever before the importance of the motion picture as showing the beauties of a good story. Managers will do well if they use these films together, though each one tells a story by itself, which has its interest.

Review from Moving Picture World, March 11, 1911 (right under the previous one)

"A Tale of two Cities" (Vitagraph).-The third and closing film in this series of remarkable reproductions. This picture takes the audience to Paris and shows them the mob at work destroying property and murdering Royalists and all suspected of being in sympathy with them. The story is followed closely in the main, the principal scenes being shown in strong contrast to the quiet, homelike scenes of the former film. It is here that Carton displays the act of heroism which will forever make him one of the greatest characters in fiction, the sacrifice of his life to save Darnay, who has been arrested and imprisoned because he is a relative of a Royalist, and will ultimately suffer upon the guillotine. The scene when the condemned prisoners are going to the guillotine in the tumbrel cart, and Carton comforts the poor little seamstress condemned to die with him, is dramatic and holds the attention so closely that the audience sits with tense nerves throughout the scene. But, after all, even thought the turbulence of the murderous mob constitutes the theme of the picture, the closing scenes, where Carton dies for his friend lifts it above the ordinary level and makes it one of the greatest pictures of the month. The three should be shown in conjunction. In that way the story unfolds itself in consecutive order, and the connection is clearly perceived. The Vitagraph people have performed a notable achievement in presenting this story in such excellent form. It is a year when Dickens is being studied and considered more than for a long time, and such a contribution as this is a help, not alone to students of Dickens, but to the thousands who have, for one reason or another, perhaps, lost sight of his marvelous faculty for story telling.

Viewing comments

This version was cut down from three reels to two for a later re-release (the original survives in several archives). The story goes by quickly, if none too clearly, though as usual Vitagraph shows its mastery of choreographing activity in a restricted space in front of a stationary camera. The charismatic Maurice Costello as Sidney Carton is the definite standout of the large cast, with able support by Leo Delaney as Darnay. Florence Turner, in a blond wig, has little to do but look pretty and faint dramatically into the arms of anyone standing nearby at the end of virtually every scene she's in, which becomes quite comical in this condensed version (they must have kept all of these scenes). Though her role as the young girl sent to the guillotine with Carton was said to be Talmadge's first important break, in this version it lasts but a few seconds. Don't blink!

Print viewed: Videotape: The Films of Norma Talmadge (1911-1916). B & W. The tape runs approximately two hours and has an appropriate musical score. The Films of Norma Talmadge is now available on DVD from Grapevine Video, though the films are the same analog transfers as were on the videotape, which Jack Hardy notes on his site.



Sky Pilot

Released July 15, 1911. Vitagraph. Cast: Norma Talmadge.

Review from Moving Picture World, August 12, 1911

"Sky Pilot" (Vitagraph).-Love, generosity and forgiveness are largely dealt with in this well-conducted but rather complicated picture of Alaska in winter. It has the usual qualities of Vitagraph Alaskan pictures, including good acting, interesting dog-sleds, Indians and snowy mountains. The photography is somewhat below the standard of this company in one or two of the scenes, especially in one showing four tepees, it is very poor. But the story is very interesting and also instructive. Its atmosphere is very religious; there is an effective picture of a conversion and one of an Alaskan funeral in it. One very small fault is noticeable. The sky pilot falls overcome and is snowed under, is found by Indians, rescued and taken to the tepees, but he nevertheless comes out of the tepee a day or so later with a fresh white collar and cuffs.


The General's Daughter

Released August 26, 1911. Vitagraph. Cast: Norma Talmadge. 1000 ft. A copy of this film is available at the National Film and Television Museum in London (35 mm., end missing)

Review from Moving Picture World, September 16, 1911

"The General's Daughter" (Vitagraph).-August 28.-Here is a picture of war in the desert. It is supposed to represent scenes from the fight of the English with the Mad Mahdi. The English general is captured and Mohammed Ahmed commands him to send for his daughter, Flower, whom he wishes to make one of his wives. Ahmed sends for her, however, in her father's name. She and her sisters come, but Flower is armed. When admitted to her father's cell she forces a veiled woman to change clothes with her. She easily passes the guard and, mounting a horse, gallops wildly across the desert for aid. She meets a regiment of Scotch Highlanders. They go with her and arrive just as Ahmed is battering down the door of the general's cell to get at him and his daughter. The film is exciting and is representative of the people about whom the story is woven.


The Thumb Print

Released September 1, 1911 Vitagraph. Director: Van Dyke Brooke. Scenario: Wm. A. Tremayne. Cast: Frank Mayo, Earle Williams, Maurice Costello, Florence Turner, Harry T. Morey, Norma Talmadge. 1000 ft.

Review from Moving Picture World, September 23, 1911

"The Thumb Print" (Vitagraph).-September 1.-This picture has all the elements of success except a story that can appeal to human sympathies. There are human scenes in it, but one of the important incidents outrages human nature. The film is artistically conducted and constructed, well acted and very beautifully photographed.

The plot is very well handled. The true lover, Plympton, is called to the East from the Western town. Case, the postmaster of the town, to deceive the heroine, Helen, destroys Plympton's letters and then married her. A counter plot is then introduced and we see the villain postmaster defrauding an Italian. This character's desire for vengeance furnishes the picture's Nemesis. The Cases then come to the East on their honeymoon and Helen meets Plympton at a reception. The way this meeting is conducted is unnecessarily awkward. This is the only incident in the story of which this can be said. Helen explains the situation to Plympton and invites him to come the next day to her house, where the two are discovered by Case. Plympton accuses Case of treachery. To avoid a scandal (this is the way the leader puts it, though why a scandal was necessary is not shown), Plympton proposes to toss a coin to see who shall own Helen, the loser to kill himself at midnight, and it is he who loses the toss.

Perhaps the scenario writer either wanted to show Plympton as generously doing a brave thing, putting his life in peril for Helen's sake. There was a chance that he would win, and that would solve the difficulty. If he lost, however, Helen would lose a friend who could help her in many honorable ways and it would leave her in a very sorry predicament, married to a liar and a villain. The incident shows Helen to the spectators as a mere chattel, for she consents to put her affection on the toss of a coin, to take the hero or the villain as a coin shall decree, and she, doing this, makes a pitiable figure. However, this furnishes a forceful climax for after Plympton has departed to prepare for suicide, the wronged Italian, whom we have seen following Case for vengeance, stabs him. It is just before midnight and Helen finds the body. Her first thought is to save Plympton and her efforts to accomplish this leave her open to suspicion as a murderess. She is saved by the evidence of a thumb print expert. The closing scenes are very effective.


Forgotten

Released September 16, 1911. Vitagraph. Director & Scenario: Van Dyke Brooke. Cast: Edith Halleran, William Humphrey, Norma Talmadge, Harry T. Morey, Florence Turner. 1000 ft.

September 30, 1911

"FORGOTTEN" (Vitagraph).

A minor chord cad be made effective. Once in a while a delicate refrain from a pure-toned viola affects the audience more powerfully than the full orchestra in a crescendo movement, and this exquisite drama of childhood appeals strongly to the quality of mercy. The little-heeded truth uttered by the immortal Ruskin that "However is not actively kind is cruel," is here suggested in a way that is bound to interest the thousands upon thousands who are making the environment of children a life study, yet the play is so quietly consistent, with beauty In every detail, that happiness and kindly sympathy are insensibly suggested and intensified by what is artistic or replete with varied design in scenic effect.

The defect of inconsistency, so serious in literature, is positively ruinous in the photoplay where the action is swift and the individual peculiarities of each character must be enforced within vexatious limitations of time. On this account I can conceive that "Forgotten" was an exceedingly difficult play to present. The initial motive was beautiful, the director had something to start with, but it is quite another matter to make this visible and appreciated to a mixed audience in the space of twenty minutes. Too many of our picture plays begin with nothing. They are not considered under the heading of superior plays because they are neither attractive nor offensive. They are of little more value that that of showing characters in motion or supposed emotion; but there is another class of promise that leads us to think there is something of interest coming, only to end in nothing. They are sign posts that draw us into a blind alley when we thought we were on our way to some point of interest. Here is a little play so harmoniously balanced that its beauty is not forced on our sensibilities by any outrageous exhibition of cruelty or neglect, yet our hearts are stirred by dull echoes in our souls as they never are by more sensational, less-recognizable episodes in the alleged thrillers.

Very few of us believe that cowboys, engaged to herd the steaks and roasts of the hoof, spend most of their time shooting up the town or rescuing distracted maidens from the savage Indians; nor are we inclined to shiver when the old fashioned villain of the Desperate Desmond type, with a cigarette dangling from his discolored lips, his left hand in the pocket of his dress pants, comes on the scene and honors the hero with a glance of deadly hatred out of the corners of his eyes. We do now the dark episodes in our lives as children, hence the swift appeal of the forgotten little one. She was born in the death throes of a much-loved wife, became the innocent object of his aversion before she was able to realize that the price paid for her existence was the annihilation of her father's fondest hopes, and was given into the care of a sister with children of her own while he sought distraction in other scenes. She bears her lot with silent suffering of spirit-not neglected, but deprived of the natural affection for which such tender creatures long intensely. This is a story of life as we know it, saturated with the essence of home spirit, and the simple tragedy of her career with its intense relief, is one of those unstudied, unborrowed glimpses of human experience that affect us lie the folk songs we used to sing at twilight. The plaintive measures of this little play are cast in the simplest possible forms of stage expression, with some brilliant views of Parisian gaiety in relief, with an ending that is a tiny prayer of gratitude.

Review from Moving Picture World, October 7, 1911

"Forgotten" (Vitagraph), September22.-In this story of the neglect of a child by everyone and her constant pining for her father there is a depth of emotion which touches every heart. Neglected and forgotten by her aunt with whom she lives, pouring out her childish prayers for her father's return, the little one merely exists. But her father does come at last and a better day dawns for her. The film does not teach that there is any intention of neglecting. It is merely that the busy aunt has other interests which obtrude themselves and cause her to unwittingly neglect this motherless child who longed for parental love. And when it comes the audience rejoices with her in her new found and evidently permanent happiness.


Her Hero

Released September 23, 1911. Vitagraph. Director and Scenario: Van Dyke Brooke. Cast: John Bunny, Flora Finch, Maurice Costello, Norma Talmadge, Mary Maurice. 1000 ft.

Review from Moving Picture World, October 14, 1911

"Her Hero" (Vitagraph), September 30.-Mr. Brown [sic] (Bunny) is one of those men who are very brave when there is no danger and other people are present. Brown's loving wife (Miss Finch) has him bring home a revolver to protect her. It makes him feel big and he yarns to his timid wife about what he would do if he were in the wild West. Bunny pictured as a cowboy is worth seeing. His wife goes to bed. To make her believe that burglars were in the house and that he had frightened them away, he collects the family silver and wraps it up. A real burglar comes and makes no noise. Browne pretends that he hears one and goes down, finds burglar and has a fit. Mrs. Browne picks up the revolver and fires it at the retreating burglar. Then she pins a rose on Browne. It's a good comedy.



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Last revised, November 29, 2008

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