One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley noted a milestone:
The Christie Company will celebrate the release of its hundredth comedy in as many weeks on August 19. The consistent release of one comedy a week for 100 weeks is the record which this company had made for itself.
North Americans have been bad at taking vacations for a long time. (Don’t be like that! Enjoy your August!) The name of the short was Does Your Sweetheart Flirt? and it starred Bobby Vernon and Dorothy Dane. According to Motion Picture World, “the efforts of the heroine to cure her young man of flirting creates a great deal of fun.” (October 26, 1918)
The Christie Film Company was founded by brothers Charles and Al Christie in 1916. Charles handled administration, and Al directed the films. They had been making comedy shorts independently since mid-1916. Al got his start in the film business in 1909 at the Nestor Company, then he moved to Universal Films in 1912 where he was in charge of comedies. The Christie Company continued to make a one-reel comedy every week until 1921, but when they started making two-reelers, they slowed down a little bit, releasing 20 films in 1922. They went out of business in 1933. If you’d like to see Al Christie’s thoughts on writing, he wrote a guide for the Palmer Photoplay school.
Kingsley’s favorite film this week was The Still Alarm. She thought it was a reissue of an old picture, but she didn’t mind:
Of course the glory of the American fireman is now totally eclipsed in the glory of the American soldier, nevertheless that two-fisted guy, Thomas Santschi, is able to give us several high-voltage thrills when he goes into that factory fire and saves those girls…Nevertheless, the picture demonstrates the changes that have taken place in picture making of late years. It has become a more polished art, but honestly, did you ever get a more real thrill from melodrama than you get when, all the other firemen having deserted one by one, Santschi rushes into the flames and grabs off the last girl?
The Library of Congress says it was made in 1918, so it wasn’t a reissue, but it was a re-make of a 1911 film by the same studio, Selig-Polyscope. They were based on a very successful melodramatic play by Joseph Arthur that had debuted in 1887—by 1918, the story probably seemed old-fashioned. It’s lost, so we can’t see exactly what made Kingsley think it was an older film.
Tom Santschi had been a film actor since 1908, and continued to play handsome tough guys, often in Westerns, until his death in 1931.
Kingsley reported a notable debut with the new Wallace Reid film this week:
Jimmy Cruze is directing. On account of his life of screen villainy, just abandoned, it is said Jimmy is expert in professional directorial language.
I think she just called directors villainous – or at least their language. The film was called Too Many Millions and it was the first of over 70 directed by Cruze. He had started out in film as an actor at Thanhouser in 1908 and got his big break in 1914 on their serial, The Million Dollar Mystery. In 1916 he moved to Famous Players/Lasky, and they gave him this chance to direct. Too Many Millions got good reviews (Exhibitor’s Herald called it a “delightfully amusing comedy”) and Cruze went on to direct several of Roscoe Arbuckle’s features, The Covered Wagon (1923), Hollywood (1924) and The Great Gabbo (1929).
In 1986, Cruze’s cinematographer, Karl Brown, wrote a remembrance of him in a letter to Kevin Brownlow that was so well-written, Brownlow sent it along to Films in Review as an article. Brown had first met Cruze when they were both working for Kinemacolor in 1912. Here’s a bit if it:
The art of dissimulation seems to have been an inborn gift with Cruze, but it was a strictly limited gift confined to getting the things he wanted to satisfy his rough-hewn, not to say boorish nature. Deciding to play his one trump card to the limit he made his way to New York where he became an actor.
And what an actor! Dressed to the nines he was the perfect picture of what people from the hinterlands imagine actors must be. He wore four changes of costume every day, including strict attention to the protocol of the cane. He never used canes. He wore them. A light featherweight bamboo for morning wear; a different, more sincere Malacca for midday use while a gold headed ebony stick was a must for evening wear. He wore his velour fedora or his Panama straw hat at a 45% angle over his marcelled hair and his clothes were shoutingly strident. If Avon Bill is right in saying the clothes oft proclaim the man Cruze’s get-up fairly screamed “Here…is an ACT-ORE!!
Specificity IS the soul of narrative. With that description, I hardly need to include photographs. (So how can I arrange to write like that?) Brown mentioned that by the early 20’s, Cruze had given up sharp dressing. He wore “the sloppiest clothes he could find: always the same plus-fours and open neck shirt with never a tie at any time for any reason.” I guess directors are supposed to look different from actors.
Unfortunately, Cruze had “the Viking’s love of battle by day and high wassail by night” and he died aged 58 in 1942.
Cruze actually was somewhat villainous. Brown concluded “I spent years—four of them—filming all his output with the result that I know far too much about the rise and fall of Jim Cruze to be able to write anything about him that won’t sound like a merciless vivisection.” If Brown had, it would have certainly been vivid.