One hundred years ago this week Grace Kingsley told her readers exactly what happened when a car, driven on railroad tracks by Herbert Rawlinson, got hit by a locomotive (just in case anybody was wondering):
The rear wheels of the auto were picked up by the cow catcher of the big Mogul, and the car bumped along down the ties for a hundred yards on its front wheels, Rawlinson deftly holding it on the track and preventing it from turning sideways to the locomotive. The body of the auto was caved in and the windshield shattered by the shock, but otherwise the car was uninjured.
No one knew what would follow the collision…The element of uncertainty made the scene extremely hazardous to attempt.
No kidding! They did have safety precautions: both Rawlinson and co-star Millard Wilson “were prepared to leap from the car if serious consequences threatened.”
Of course this was all in service to a film, originally titled The Love Claim, and re-named Smashing Through (for once, the new title is a big improvement). Film reviewer Peter Milne called it “a miniature serial, in that it contains thrill after thrill of a most sensational variety.”*
This wasn’t the only incident on the shoot; the next day Kingsley mentioned that when they were filming at the bottom of a mineshaft, a flare exploded and nearly asphyxiated the whole crew. It never ceases to amaze me, the risks early filmmakers took. Even worse, it’s a lost film.
Miraculously, Herbert Rawlinson didn’t die from taking an absurd risk for a film. He lived until 1953 when he died of lung cancer after a long acting career, first as a leading man in silents, then character parts in sound films, and even some work in television.
Film people didn’t just take chances with trains then, they also risked their lives with animals. For the Sennett short The Kitchen Lady, Glen Cavender was “required to flirt with a bear” while director William S. Campbell observed:
The bear thought Glen was intended for his dinner and started rapidly toward him. There is still a question as to whether Campbell or Cavender won the 100-yard dash that followed. Louise Fazenda was the heroine of the occasion as well as of the picture. She literally tempted Bruin from his contemplated meal and saved the actor and director.
Brave Miss Fazenda! Eddie Cline was credited as the director of the film, but maybe Campbell was helping out – he was another Sennett director, and he was known for his skills with directing animals and children.
Kingsley didn’t completely ignore the holiday season (though she did have to turn in an article on Christmas Day). Her favorite film this week was Mary Pickford’s The Little Princess, and she wrote:
if you want to realize it’s the glad Christmas time, despite the war and the high cost of living, just pass into the Kinema Theater, and let the silver sheet’s door open to disclose the land of enchantment.
The film was recently reviewed on Century Film Project.
The bill also included a short, Whistling Dick’s Christmas Stocking, based on an O. Henry story that wasn’t “The Gift of the Magi.” It told the story of a homeless man who is rewarded with a Christmas dinner for warning a family about an imminent robbery, but he refuses their offer of a job, preferring to be homeless. I can see why it didn’t become the evergreen that “Magi” did.
I hope you can find a good movie to take you to a land of enchantment this holiday season!
*Peter Milne, “Smashing Through,” Motion Picture News, June 22, 1918, p.3744.