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The Battle Cry of Peace (1915)

The Battle Cry of Peace (1915). Vitagraph Co. of America. Produced by J. Stuart Blackton. Directed by Wilfred North. Scenario by J. Stuart Blackton. Camera by Leonard Smith and Arthur T. Quinn. Cast: Charles Richmann, L. Rogers Lytton, James Morrison, Mary Maurice, Louise Beaudet, Harold Hubert, Jack Crawford, Charles Kent, Julia Swayne Gordon, Belle Bruce, Norma Talmadge, George Stevens, Constance Talmadge? 9 reels.

Though most of this film is lost, one reel of possibly a condensed print survives at Cinemateket-Svenska Filminstitutet. Kevin Brownlow confirms that the George Eastman House has a few fragments of the battle scenes, which were at some time in the past cut out of a print and used for stock footage. The battle clips appear in the War episode of Brownlow's documentary series "Hollywood" which, unfortunately, is not available on DVD.

Review from Variety
Review from the New York Times
Articles from Moving Picture World
Comment by Hugo Münsterberg
1915 letter to NY Evening Post
Viewing comments
Further Readings

Review from Variety, August 13, 1915


John Harrison Charles Richman
Mr. Emanon L. Roger Lytton
Charley Harrison James Morrison
Mrs. Harrison Mrs. Mary Maurice
Mrs. Vandergriff Louise Beaudet
Mr. Vandergriff Harold Hurbert [i.e. Hubert]
Poet Scout Capt. Jack Crawford
The Master Charles Kent
Magdalen Mrs. Julia Swayne Gordon
Vandergriff's Son Evart Overton
Alice Harrison Belle Bruce
Virginia Vandergriff Norma Talmadge
Dorothy Vandergriff Lucille Hammill
Butler Geo. Stevens
Columbia Thais Lawton
The War Monster Lionel Breban
George Washington Joseph Kilgour
General Grant Paul Scardon
Abraham Lincoln William Ferguson

In the preliminary announcement issued by the Vitagraph regarding "The Battle Cry of Peace," the opening sentence is "Once in a generation or so a book finds its way into history," so also once in the history of a picture plant a feature is turned out that really means something to the world at large, that has a mission to perform and that really tries in a small way to fulfill that mission. So it is with "The Battle Cry of Peace." This is one occasion in which the Vitagraph has come to the front and has presented the film industry with a shining mark at which producers will have to shoot for some time. It has given the exhibitor a film which will coin a lot of money, because "The Battle Cry of Peace" comes into the field at a moment when every American is faced with the realization this country is in a general state of what is termed "unpreparedness." It is a film that will come in for nation-wide discussion. In a publicity way it should be worth columns of space. Its value to Sunday editors throughout the country should be immense for it contains materials for a series of special stories that could run for weeks. Take each and every town and hamlet in the entire country and bring the question of the national defense home to them by taking their own buildings and tearing them asunder, in imagination, with the shells of the big guns of the enemy. Of course the picture as presented by the Vitagraph does not point in any way to one foreign nation, but there can be no doubt in the minds of any one who witnesses the screen presentation that Germany is pointed at. This is quite apparent in the general type of men who have been selected to represented the invading forces. Some time ago someone stated the greatest friends in the world to the United States were the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. At that time it was true, but today, with the modern floating fortresses and the giant ocean carriers, one hundred of which could easily bring an army of 300,000 invaders to our shores in less than a week, under the protection of a navy that would be far superior to our own, these natural defenses are almost valued at naught. "The Battle Cry of Peace" as part of the propaganda of the party in this country that is for peace through preparedness should perform a mission the value of which should be of immeasurable proportions. J. Stuart Blackton wrote the scenario for the picture and is also to publish the story in book form later. He took his facts and statistics from Hudson Maxim's book "Defenseless America" and gives Mr. Maxim due credit in both the literature regarding the film and in the picture itself. He has worked Mr. Maxim into the story and the aged inventor himself appears in the introductory portion. Mr. Blackton might have gone a little further and extended some credit to the author of "The Conquest of America in 1921," at present running in McClure's Magazine, for in the picture Mr. Blackton depicts the fall of New York City much after the fashion in which it is described in the magazine story, At present the film is in nine reels, but when put on the market it may be cut to about 7,500 feet. The opening shows a lecture in Carnegie Hall given by Hudson Maxim on "Defenseless America." This is rather drawn out and could be cut to advantage. Then there is the development of the story proper, which carries a tremendous dramatic punch, and which seemingly runs for about four reels. This is followed by about two reels of allegorical matter, also drawn out and too lengthy. The punch of the picture comes after the bombardment of New York, when the two Harrison boys return to their home to find the house has been wrecked by one of the shells and both their mother and their sister have been slain. The story briefly related deals with two American families. One, the Harrisons consisting of mother, daughter and two sons; the other, the Vandergriffs, comprising Mr. Vandergriff, his wife, son and two daughters. The latter is a peace advocate who favors disarmament. In his home he welcomes Emanon, who also professes to be an advocate of peace, but who in reality is a foreign spy. To give a slight idea of the ramifications of the foreign spy system, the governess employed by the Vandergriffs is also given the role of an informer. John Harrison is in love with the eldest daughter of Vandergriff. He attends a lecture by Mr. Maxim and is much impressed with the manner in which the defenseless condition of the country is denounced. He tries to convince Mr. Vandergriff later of the mistake he is making in assisting in the peace movement through disarmament, and lends himself to the work of providing a half billion dollar fund, to be a bond issue subscribed to by all of the millionaires of the country to be used in the upbuilding of our national defenses. A little later when Mr. Vandergriff is presiding at a gigantic peace meeting, a foreign fleet appears outside of New York City and while out of the range of our coast defense guns, proceeds to batter the town to pieces. This seems to have occurred without the formality of a declaration of war, but it serves its purpose for the picture story. The city capitulates and the invader is upon our shores. They swarm our streets and their hosts are innumerable. One can recall R.H. Davis' description of the great grey cloud that marched for hours through the streets of Brussels only to fade like a mist in the distance. At the home of the Vandergriffs all is in turmoil. The Harrison boys, after having been to their own home to find both mother and sister dead, rush to the home of their friends. The peace-advocate-spy has about revealed himself and as Harrison is about to pounce on him he draws a revolver and fires twice through a window. Below the invaders are marching past, the shots fell two of the soldiers and the house is at once broken into. The spy calmly informs the officer in charge the elder Vandergriff procured the revolver and that Harrison fired the shots. Both are placed under arrest and taken with a number of other men to a building where several score are lined against a wall and a machine gun turned on them. The remainder of the Vandergriff family in escaping pass the scene of the slaughter and in taking a last look at their dead discover John Harrison is still alive. They place him in the car. Before the escape from the home the Vandergriff women were in the building with the spy and his assistant, the governess. The spy tries to make love to the daughter of the banker and she takes a revolver from his coat pocket and kills him, forcing the governess into a closet and locking her there. In making their escape from the city in the car the Vandergriffs are overhauled by a squadron of cavalry the commander of which commandeers the machine. The men in the car make an effort to protect the women and are bayoneted by the troopers. The women are taken to a country house by the commander and the three are locked into a room. The mother realizes her two daughters are to become the prey of the soldiers after they have filled themselves with liquor and she takes the revolver with which the girl killed the spy and calmly shoots both of her children, becoming insane with grief immediately after. This is the close of the picture story and the allegory follows. It would seem the picture would have had greater effect if the last two reels could have been devoted to following the invading army on their course into New England, rather than the showing as it does of a lot of pretty pictures. The acting cast with which Charles Richman, who is the star of the production, has been surrounded is one of tremendous strength and the work of Mary Maurice, Miss Louise Beaudet and Norma Talmadge is particularly worthy of individual mention. From a pictorial standpoint the picture is a revelation. There are a score of panorama scenes, some of which have been taken from hydroplanes flying over New York, which are little short of wonderful. The picturing of the bombardment of the city has been worked out in a manner which will win universal admiration, and the fleets and forts in action adds much to the stirring value.


Review from the New York Times, August 7, 1915

"The Battle Cry for Peace" Meant to Show the Necessity for Preparedness.
Promoters Hope to Carry the Message of Need of Greater Security to Every Home in America

An animated, arresting, and sometimes lurid argument for the immediate and radical improvement of our national defenses was presented on the screen yesterday morning, when "The Battle Cry for Peace," an elaborate new photo-pageant, was shown for the first time before an invited audience at the Vitagraph Theatre. Its rapidly shifting scenes picture the bombardment and invasion of New York City and the subjection of its people to the horrors that have been the Belgians portion in the twelvemonth just come to a close. Thus is the rising propaganda for greater preparedness carried into the movies.

This new film has been devised and completed by Commodore J. Stuart Blackton of the Vitagraph Company under the inspiration of Hudson Maxim. Plus a slender plot, a modicum of "heart interest" and a great deal of flag-waving. "The Battle Cry for Peace" is the picture version of Mr. Maxim's "Defenseless America." It was Mr. Blackton's argument that, with the screens of the country at his disposal, he could reach the people with the Maxim data at a much more rapid pace than the book itself could possibly achieve. In his brief talk yesterday he said he hoped and expected to show the picture to 75,000,000 persons in the next six months.

In his scenario, Mr. Blackton deals roughly with the pacifists and generally advances his argument by bludgeon strokes. There is nothing in the least bit subtle about "The Battle Cry for Peace," None of it will go over the head even of the seventy-five millionth. And it is designed to make many a person in each audience resolve to join the National Guard, the American Legion, the National Security League, and the Navy League, forthwith, and to write to his Congressman by the next mail.

Has a Certain Accent of Authority.

And the accent of authority is given to the picture by the presence on the screen of Admiral Dewey, General Wood, and Secretary Garrison. Furthermore, the Commodore claims for his film the indorsement and co-operation of many a notable, from Theodore Roosevelt to Secretary Lansing.

It will be six weeks before this film is released to commerce. In the interval, it will be shown at militia encampments, at special meetings, and before the authorities at Washington, and in the different State capitals. It is to be shown at the Army and Navy Club in Washington next Monday night, and on the following Wednesday evening, according to the Vitagraph statement, it will be displayed on the White House lawn.

You, who attend a showing of this picture, see a good many ugly things. You see the advancing fleet of the enemy, with the projectiles from our coast guns falling short of their mark. You see the sky dotted with the oncoming air craft. You see bombs drop on the swaying crowd in Times Square, you see Long Island houses go up in flames, and the Capitol at Washington crumbling. You see the slender militia crumple up before a warfare by machinery, and see the wounded wreathing and tearing at the sod. And a great deal more.

Avowedly the invading force is of no particular nationality and the leading spy is called "Emanon," which you may spell backward if you wish. But it is difficult to escape the impression that you are expected to recognize the nationality. They are certainly not Portuguese, for instance.

Shell Scatters Doves of Peace

You see this enemy-to-be represented in New York by a secret committee waiting for the invasion and meanwhile working to cut down defense appropriations in Washington and to accelerate the peace meetings. Such a meeting is actually in progress at a hotel here and a wealthy patron of the peace propaganda is ecstatically releasing a flock of doves over the assemblage when the alarm comes and a moment later, a shell crashes through the wall. The enemy's fleet, for picture purposes, has actually come within bombardment range of the city without warning having reached the country in advance.

In the preparation of the film, a number of well known players have joined. Charles Richman, Joseph Kilgour, Lionel Brabam, Thais Lawton, and Norma Talmadge are among these. Some 25,000 National Guard Troops and 500 G.A.R. veterans help along. There are several notable novelties, one of the screen view of the disappearing guns in action, another a panorama of Manhattan and its waters taken from a hydro-aeroplane.

"The Battle Cry for Peace: is done on a large scale but it represents no advance in the motion picture art, nor indeed, does it pretend to do so. That is not what it is for.

Ag 7, 1915, 8:3

Articles from Moving Picture World

Article from Moving Picture World August 21, 1915

"The Battle Cry of Peace"

J. Stuart Blackton and Albert E. Smith Give Invitation
Showing of Powerful Picture Urging Preparedness for War-Inspired by Maxims' "Defenseless America."

"THE BATTLE CRY OF PEACE," a powerful photoplay, written and produced by J. Stuart Blackton of the Vitagraph Company, was shown for the first time before an invited audience in the Vitagraph Theater on the morning of Aug. 6.. Judging from the enthusiasm with which the picture was received it bids fair to be the sensation of the season, as "Quo Vadis?", "Cabiria," and "The Birth of a Nation," in tun, were sensations. But it must strike deeper than any one of these, because it is more significant than an artistic masterpiece, more vital than a gigantic spectacle, more a thing of the moment than a skilled revival of a dead issue. "The Battle Cry of Peace" is as personal an alarm of fire shouted through the night. The time is now, the place America, the alarm sounds for every American irrespective of race, creed, or political allegiance. That is why the picture is as big as it is personal, and in the importance of its subject matter is for the time being, at least, supreme.

Not long before the European war an Englishman wrote a play that disturbed British confidence in unassailable superiority. He delivered his message through the stage, American dramatists have remained silent. Discussions of our unpreparedness for war have filled magazines and newspapers; for a full year it has been the talk of the man on the street, yet the issue remained without dramatic expression until commodore Blackton read Hudson Maxim's "Defenseless America," and determined to make the facts a part of the emotional experience of the public.

In a brief address delivered after the showing of the picture, Commodore Blackton gave due credit to Mr. Maxim for inspiring the idea. He said that his first thought when he had read the last of the illuminating chapters was of the need for bringing the facts within the scope of millions of people, instead of the one hundred thousand or so that might be reached by the book. During the next six weeks the film will be presented at the White House, before the Governors of States and before representative societies throughout the country, after which it will be released on the V-L-S-E program.

This is no place for a discussion of the desirability of our becoming a semi-militaristic nation. Authoritative students of the subject who favor a much larger army and navy seem to outnumber those who don't, and at all events it is to the lasting credit of Commodore Blackton and significant of the power of motion pictures that the first popular expression of this national issue should come, not through a novel or the stage, as it did in England, but through a photoplay produced by one of our oldest companies. We have had previous works dealing effectively with social problems-not a few of them from the Vitagraph Studio-but none on so ambitious a scale, none that took a subject dealing with the lives of so many millions of people and treated it in terms of pulsing drama.

When released for public exhibition "The Battle Cry of Peace" will be in nine reels, which naturally assume three division, the first simply sub-titled, illustrating excerpts from Mr. Maxim's book. Mr. Maxim himself appears in the picture, and as point by point he builds up his contention that this country is virtually unprotected we see on the screen just what the defenses of New York amount to, how our guns are outclassed, how feeble are our army and navy when compared with those of European powers. The first division is essential in that the pictures, supported by figures of unquestionable authenticity, give a basis of fact on which to rear the drama. At the close of Mr. Maxim's lecture an audience is convinced that New York would fall an easy prey to the invader.

The picture is so graphic, the explanation so lucid that the spectator is a bit excited over the prospects of an invasion. Most New Yorkers have at one time or another contemplated the skyscrapers and tried to imagine the consequences of a bombardment; but imaginations have balked. The appalling horror of it all stupefies imagination. Here we are shown how a bombardment may occur and then, in division second, we pass from impending dangers to the most frightful of actualities. We are in the midst of New York shelled and captured by the enemy. The producers are always careful to avoid indicating any existing nation as the foe.

In focusing the attention on a group of characters, Commodore Blackton did well in making them typical of American life-families stirred by talk of war but divided on the question of national policy. A leader of the peace movement is depicted as the acme of negative smugness, unconsciously allied with a foreign emissary encouraging pacific legislation that the attack of his country may be simplified. There is humor in the peace meeting in Harmony Hall, which ends in a riot, and grim irony in the alternating of scenes showing the approach of the enemy's fleet while the pacifists urge the danger of becoming a militaristic nation. A shell through the wall of the room disperses the gathering in a panic, and the capture of New York City has begun.

The bombardment of the city is a marvelous piece of photoplay workmanship in which the tragic personal note is never lost. The catastrophe is general in its effect on the entire population and intimate in following the fate of the characters met a short while before in the happiness of their homes. One by one they are sacrificed while shells burst over Times Square and the streets are filled with a wild throng fleeing for shelter. On the Park Row bulletin boards we read announcements of the advance of the enemy and they appear horribly real. Roads leading out of New York are choked with every conceivable type of vehicle, men fall dead, or, falsely accused of shooting from windows, are lined against a wall and mowed down with a machine gun-the peace advocate among them. Tragedy is piled on tragedy, culminating in the most poignant scene of all-the mother's shooting of her daughters to save them from the drunken soldiers. With the close of the story an audience has witnessed what it may well have failed to imagine, the conquest of New York, and it is horrible beyond compare.

[Omitted, photo of people standing in a room, some with helmets, with the cut line "Scene from "The Battle Cry of Peace" (Vitagraph).]

The technical excellence of difficult scenes introducing night effects and studio construction representing such familiar locations as Times Square, is high. Frequently the illusion is perfect, and equally fine are some of the passages in the third division, an allegory contrasting Columbia trampled on by a triumphant foe and living in honorable peace because adequately guarded. Double exposures are used with artistic results. The allegory ends on an optimistic note, for the gospel of preparedness has swept over the land and brought all men to the defense of Columbia. Being prepared for war means that there will be no war, or so the argument runs.

As shown at the Vittagraph theater it may be presumed that the picture was not in its final form. In re-editing with a view to eliminating 1,000 feet, it is probable that some of the death agonies will be curtailed, that a few scenes out of focus will be removed and that the arrangement of events in the allegory will be altered to prevent a series of anti-climaxes. With the conclusion of the story proper, the dramatic suspense necessarily ends, and there is danger of weakening rather than strengthening the argument by a repetition of incidents, which may vary in detail and still point a lesson that already has been emphasized. Judicious editing, no doubt, will eliminate this danger.

Charles Richman, heading a large company of Vitagraph actors, is ably seconded in emotional scenes by Norma Talmadge, L. Roger Lytton, James Morrison, Mary Maurice and many others. The power of the story is in a large measure due to the performances of these players and to Wilfred North, who assisted Commodore Blackton in making a picture that is bound to cause much discussion.

Article from Moving Picture World, Sept. 25, 1915

Big Opening for Vitagraph Feature
"The Battle Cry of Peace" is Shown to Crowded House-Many Prominent Mem Present

The first regular exhibition of "The Battle Cry of Peace" was held at the Vitagraph Theater on the night of September 9. Present to see the big Vitagraph picture and to show by their attendance their indorsement of the propaganda of preparedness against war were many men prominent in the public and civic life of the country. The exterior of the house had been elaborately decorated with large electric signs in colors. He magnitude of the display caused even Broadway pedestrians and riders to take notice. Although it was 8:30 before the show began the box office was besieged by crowds an hour before that time. The result was that when Captain "Jack" Crawford came on the stage for a preliminary talk there was a line behind the orchestra rail. The stage effects had been arranged by S.L. Rothapfel. These included the roaring of mobs behind the screen at timely moments. The scream of a woman at one point intensified the horror of a situation already close to the straining point.

Accompanying the production was a full orchestra. During the battle scenes the organ contributed its deepest and loudest tones. There may have been differences of opinion as to whether the widely varying effects added to or detracted from the illusion of the subject, but there could be none as to the enthusiasm of the house, many times manifested by hearty applause, as to the great merit of the picture and of the importance of the principles for which it stood. In the beginning Captain Crawford stirred his listeners when he referred to his abhorrence of the song that set forth "I didn't raise my boy to be a soldier." This was especially true when he told of his own four wounds and how his "Scotch-Irish daddy" had been wounded, had been nursed by his mother, and then sent back to fight.

The big house sat tight until the close of the remarks by Hudson Maxim, who was introduced by J. Stuart Blackton at the conclusion of a talk on the making of the picture. Among those in the audience were Mayor John Purroy Mitchel, Major-General Leonard Wood, Cornelius Vanderbilt, Major-General John F. O'Ryan of the New York state guard, Admiral Charles D. Sigsbee, William T. Rock, Admiral Adolph Marix, Justice Bartow S. Weeks, Lee Schubert, Roy McCardle, William Fox, Samuel Grant of Boston, the Rev. Thomas Dixon, Colonel S.E. Allen, Alan R. Hawley, Rex Beach, Louis Reeves Harrison, Carle J. Blennar, Phil Lang, Edwin Markham, Walter W. Irwin, E.W. Lynch, Jacob W. Binder, Colonel William M. Black, John F. Chalmers, General Horatio C. King, Brigadier John C. Eddy of the New York state guard, William F. McCombs, Charles Richman, who played the lead in the picture; Miss Gladys Hanson, Robert Edeson, Miss Florence Reed, Colonel John H. Foote and John E. McCooey.

In opening his remarks Mr. Blackton said he had been so impressed on reading Hudson Maxim's "Defenseless America" that he had been impelled to write the script for the picture which had just been shown-he realized the book might be read by 50,000 persons, but he wanted to see the subject of preparedness against war brought home to fifty million. He said the making of the picture had been a joy and an inspiration to everyone who had been concerned in it, from the leading man to the humblest extra. He said every one of the men and women had seemed to have been instilled with enthusiasm. He praised Wilfred north, who directed the subject, and Mr. Richman, who so capably had taken the leading part.

Mr. Blackton held in his hand a letter he had received during the day from Theodore Roosevelt, in Canada, expressing the former President's regret that he could not be present. Then Mr. Blackton related one of the developments of his connection with the picture, and the telling was listened to with even added interest.

"I have lived in this country almost all my life," he said. "I was born in the old mother country. I have married an American girl. I have two American daughters and two American sons-one of the latter is 6 foot 2, and I may say here he is now attending a military school. When I realized the great importance of this propaganda and what it meant to the United States and realized also that I had never been naturalized I hurried down and took my oath of allegiance to this country. And I hope that through no act of mine will it ever be said that citizenship has in it anything of the hyphenated variety. (Applause.) I do hope and pray that this picture will crystallize the elements that will make for a nation-wide movement which will prevent the horrors of warfare ever being visited upon this country-which will make it impossible for war to ever come to this country."

Mr. Blackton extended his thanks to the many men in high official station and prominent in private life who had contributed so much of their knowledge and experiences to the making of "The Battle Cry of Peace"-"who have given their advice so that this subject could go out to the American public as a proper picture," he continue. "Among the chiefest of these is my very dear friend "Hudson Maxim. He is the man who put the Battle in "The Battle Cry of Peace." He is the man who started me on this job." Mr. Blackton left the stage, went to the box were Mr. Maxim was seated, and escorted the famous inventor to the front of the house.

Mr. Maxim was given a hearty greeting. "it is a noble thing for a man to die on the firing line in defense of his country and his home," said the speaker. "It is a far nobler thing for him and for his country to prepare against war so that he will nave no need to die on the battle field. The quickfiring gun is the greatest life-saving element in the world. There are many men being influenced in the United States at the present time by good-intentioned persons who want to lessen our preparation against a just war. If these men could only see what would result to this country if their propaganda could be effective they would be undeceived."

Article from Moving Picture World, September 9, 1916

Vitagraph Sues Ford For $1,000,000

Producing Concern Alleges Manufacturer's Strictures against "Battle Cry of Peace" Have Damaged It Materially

THE Vitagraph Company of America, through J. Stuart Blackton, vice-president, has brought suit in the Supreme Court of New York against Henry Ford, asking judgment in the sum of $1,000,000. The complaint is dated June 26, and alleges that on or about May 5, 1916, Mr. Ford caused to be published in not les than 250 newspapers published in the United States an article entitled "Humanity and Sanity," in which the Detroit manufacturer charged in substance that the general agitation then prevailing in the country for preparedness and defense of this country against foreign invasion was due to the efforts of munitions manufacturers to promote their selfish interests and that "The Battle Cry of Peace," a film manufactured and produced by the plaintiffs at great expense, was inspired by Hudson Maxim, a manufacturer of munitions of war, in the interest of munitions manufacturers for the personal and selfish gain and interest of said Maxim and others interested with him in the manufacture and sale of munitions."

Among the items complained of in the Ford article are such sentences as:

"Have you seen that awful moving picture, 'The Bettle Cry of Peace'?

"Did you shake with fear and tremble for your country's safety?

"Did you know that others were shaking at the same time, but with laughter at your fear, and with joy over the fat contracts your fear might bring them?

"On the screen you were told that the play was founded on the story of Hudson Maxim, 'Defenseless America.' You saw Mr. Maxim in the picture. He was holding something aloft. It was an instrument of warfare.

"Now Mr. Maxim was merely advertising his wares and playing on your fears to make a market for his goods.

"Mr. Maxim has something to sell-war munitions."

At another point in the article occurred the sentences:

"The book was a fine advance notice. The picture was a fine follow-up."

The complaint further sets forth that "the charge made in said article by the defendant was made and intended to convey to the public the impression that the said moving picture, 'The Battle cry of Peace' was produced by this plaintiff at the instance of and in the interest of the said Hudson Maxim or in the interest of the manufacturers of steel, powder, arms, ordnance and munitions of war and for the purpose of furthering the personal and selfish interests of said manufacturers; and that the charge made in said articles was meant to and tended to convey the impression to the public that the plaintiff was willfully, wickedly and maliciously attempting to inspire in the public mind the belief that this country stood in great danger in the event of invasion" and that "this plaintiff did this from ignoble, dishonest, dishonorable and treasonable motives."

The complaint declares the Vitagraph company produced "The Battle Cry of Peace" not only for commercial purposes and to furnish the public with a clean and interesting film drama, but for the purpose of furthering a national propaganda to enlighten the public upon the condition of the country as it was then known and for the purpose of communicating a great and important message to the American people that the publication of the articles has to a great extent injured the reputation and business of the Vitagraph company; that it has been and still is obliged to spend large amounts of money in publishing denials of said accusations in order to restore its reputation; and that as the result of the publication by the defendant the receipts and gains from "The Battle Cry of Peace" have materially decreased.

In commenting on the suit Mr. Blackton said:

"Mr. Ford has a right to his own opinions. If he thinks the great industry he has built up and the millions he has made should be left unprotected for a lot of barbarians to come an acquire almost without a struggle he is welcome to such opinions. He may even spend time and money in spreading his propaganda, but he has no right to attack others who differ with his views.

"I wrote and produced 'The Battle Cry of Peace' to further the interests of practical preparedness, to arouse in the hearts of American citizens the sense of their strict accountability to their government, and through the tremendously powerful medium of the motion picture to counterbalance the pernicious influence of the apostles of 'peace at any price.'

"The accusation that munition interests are responsible for the picture is absolutely without foundation. In the latter part of April, 1915; Hudson Maxim sent me a copy of his book 'Defenseless America." It contained many valuable and remarkable statistics about the deplorable condition of this country's defenses and I realized that a motion picture illustrating the facts set forth in the book would reach millions of people in a short period of time.

"Mr. Maxim was paid a stated sum for the use of the material in his book and around these facts I wrote the drama of 'The Battle Cry of Peace.' That was the only connection Mr. Maxim had with the affair. This was in April,1915, and the Maxim Munitions Company, of which I had never heard until Mr. Ford's advertisements appeared, was not in existence until about December, 1915.

"Mr. Ford's printed statement that munition manufacturers were back of the picture prejudiced many people against 'The Battle Cry of Peace' and damaged the business of theaters in many cities."

Although the complaint is dated June 26, the papers were not served until recently, on the occasion of a visit to New York by Mr. Ford. The automobile manufacturer has applied to the New York courts for an order to remove the case to the District Court of the United States for the Southern District of New York. As a reason for the change Mr. Ford sets forth that he is a resident of Michigan. The order for the transfer was entered August 31.

[Note--I did not find any account of what happened in this suit. The last newspaper account i found was the New York Times article of July 10, 1917 in which Henry Ford asks that the suit be dismissed.]

1915 letter to NY Evening Post

This letter by peace activist Walter Fuller gives a skeptical view of the film. Thanks to Peter Winnington for this interesting bit of history.

Comments by Hugo Münsterberg in The Photoplay : a psychological study (1916), reprinted in Hugo Münsterberg on Film (New York: Routledge : 2002 p. 137)

"We leave the sphere of valuable art entirely when a unified action is ruined by mixing it with declamation and propaganda which is not organically interwoven with the action itself. It may be still fresh in memory what an aesthetically intolerable helter-skelter performance was offered to the public in The Battlecry of Peace. Nothing can be more injurious to the aesthetic cultivation of the people than such performances, which hold the attention of the spectators by ambitious detail and yet destroy their aesthetic sensibility by a complete disregard of the fundamental principal of art, the demand for unity."

Viewing comments

This film had long been considered entirely lost, save for some battle sequences once used as stock footage, which Kevin Brownlow included in his Hollywood series. However, the Svenska Filminstitute turned out to have a reel of unknown sequences. I viewed this and found that it seemed to be a reel from a condensed version of the film--one possibly reedited to capitalize on Norma Talmadge's appearance, as it contains her most important scenes. It begins as the country is being invaded and the women of the Harrison family are being beseiged in their home by soldiers, who leave them dead. Then the spy and his accomplice reveal themselves to the Vandergriffs and prompt the arrest of the men by firing on the foreign soldiers. The spy makes advances to Norma, who pretends to acquiesce, grabs his gun, and shoots him. She forces his accomplice into a closet while firing squads execute people outside. They escape in a car and find one of their party has survived the firing quad. Soon they are captured by soldiers and the men are bayonetted. The mother and her two daughters are taken to a house and locked in a room while soldiers drink outside. The mother asks Norma for the gun. The soldiers hear shots and come in the room, to find the mother sitting on the floor with her two dead daughters. The film has the Swedish "Slut" (The End) at this point, so this version ended here, skipping the final allegorical reels. The dramatic situations far stronger than the frankly trivial plots of most of Talmadge's films and she rises to the occasion, giving an excellent performance. She certainly showed star quality here. One of the other actresses in the film (one of the Harrison family) very much resembles Constance Talmadge. Though she is not credited in any of the reviews, one of Norma's film reminiscences articles says that Constance was in the film.
Print viewed: One 35mm reel, Cinemateket-Svenska Filminstitutet

Further Readings

More information on this film can be found in the following sources:

Magill, Frank N., ed., Magills Survey of Cinema: Silent Films. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Salem Press, c1982 (entry on The Battle Cry of Peace by Anthony Slide).

Brownlow, Kevin. The War, the West, and the Wilderness. (New York : Knopf ; distributed by Random House, 1979, c1978).

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Last revised, July 30, 2013