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Betzwood Films

Twixt Love and Ambition (1912)

In this one-reel melodrama, a diva on the cusp of stardom must choose between love and her career. Part of the narrative of the film is told through letters between the two lovers, which we are meant to read on screen. Because of the loss of some footage, one or two of the inserts do not remain on the screen very long and it can be difficult to read them quickly enough to understand what they contribute to the story line.

Released 5 December 1912. Features Ormi Hawley, Edwin August, and Buster Johnson. The original print of this film is held by the Motion Picture Division of the Library of Congress

The Preacher and the Gossips (1912)

A young minister (Arthur V. Johnson) is introduced to his congregation in a small town, and soon finds himself the object of a gossip campaign due to the special interest that he pays to a certain young lady, the town’s milliner. Things go from bad to worse as he helps her deliver hats to customers, and he is nearly run out of town by the deacons of the church until a surprise twist reveals his connection to the lady.

Lubin Manufacturing Company, March 16, 1912. 10:24 runtime. Featuring: Arthur Johnson, Lottie Briscoe, Helen Marten and Florence Hackett.

Library copy: This videotape was derived from a 16mm film print, which was derived from the 35mm nitrate original. The telecine credits erroneously give the date as 1914 on this copy.

The Price of Victory (1913)

The Price of Victory is a two-reel Civil War drama and one of nearly two dozen such films made at Lubin’s Betzwood studio in the years 1913-1915. While the story and acting are not memorable, the film is noteworthy for its realistic battle sequences. Lending authenticity to these scenes is the fact that all of the uniforms and equipment were genuine left-overs from the Civil War which had ended less than fifty years before. Much of the film was shot in old Port Kennedy and the surrounding countryside, all of which is now part of Valley Forge National Park. Critics at the time wondered why the studio included the long shot of the bridge, as it revealed that the creek was shallow enough to wade across and the bridge not worth fighting over.

Lubin Manufacturing Company, 1913. Directed by John Ince (brother of Thomas Harper Ince). Featuring John Ince and Rosetta Brice.

The Exile (1913)

Synopsis: “Tom” (Jack Standing), loves “Katherine” (Isabel Lamon) but her father tells Tom to make a name for himself first. Tom “goes west,” (actually West Norriton) and strikes it rich. One day a “wicked half-breed” tries to blow him up and nearly succeeds. Back East, Tom is reported to have been killed. Tom is nursed back to health by “Mary” (Jennie Nelson). Meanwhile, Katherine marries “Jack” (John Ince). Tom sees a vision of his girl back east and rushes back to New York,  only to arrive just after the wedding. He returns to the West, where we know he will find happiness with Mary.

Dramatic lighting effects and a “vision” add to the visual interest of the film. Look for downtown Philadelphia standing in for New York City. The likely director, John Ince, was the brother of the more famous silent director,  Thomas Harper Ince, who worked at his famous studio, Inceville in California.

An English-born actor, Jack Standing, who made several films for Lubin at Betzwood, also went on to co-star with William S. Hart in Hell’s Hinges. His career was cut short by his sudden death in 1917.

Lubin Manufacturing Company, 1913. Starriing Jack Standing, Jennie Nelson, John Ince, Isabelle Lamon.  Director unknown, perhaps John Ince.

The Country Girl (1913)

A sweet and innocent country girl (Louise Huff) gets lured into a Tango parlor by her boyfriend (Edgar Jones) and barely escapes with her virtue. Though transferred to safety stock at the George Eastman House in Rochester, NY, the film is missing its original inter-titles, all of which will have to be restored. In addition, the surviving footage is in random order and needs to be reassembled. All of this laboratory work will be very expensive.

Lubin Manufacturing Company, 1914. Starring Louise Huff and Edgar Jones.

Michael Strogoff (1914)

This five reel film based on the Jules Verne novel was produced at the Betzwood studio for the Popular Plays and Players film company, a new venture by some of Lubin’s New York theatrical friends. The idea was to star popular stage personalities in filmed versions of famous, and hopefully popular, plays. Michael Strogoff starred Jacob Adler, the famous  Yiddish theater star often referred to as the Lion of the Yiddish Theater.  The film introduces him with brief cameos of the actor portraying some of the roles for which he was famous.

Unfortunately, by the time this film was rescued and transferred to safety film stock some years ago, it had suffered severe nitrate decomposition. Most of the film is unwatchable. One of the most memorable scenes has survived, however–a shot of Adler and two women being poled on a raft through a river of fire. For this film, Lubin’s pyrotechnicians outdid themselves and actually set fire to the Schuylkill River. The shots of the raft on the river were intercut with footage apparently taken at a huge fire in Florida which was presented in the film, somewhat tenuously, as the burning of Moscow.

Unable to break his theatrical habits, Adler spoke only Yiddish while on camera at Betzwood and frequently faced the camera and proclaimed his lines, exasperating the director, his fellow cast members, and ultimately critics who saw the film. The film was not a great success and Popular Plays and Players produced only one other film at Betzwood, The Ragged Earl, which is now lost.

Jacob Adler was the father of the famous Stella Adler, who founded the well-known Stella Adler School of Acting still in operation in New York.  The footage of Jacob Adler at the start of Michael Strogoff is thought to be the only extant footage of the actor in character.

Lubin Manufacturing Company for Popular Plays and Players, 1914. Directed by Lloyd B. Carleton. Starring Jacob Adler, Peter Lang, Daniel Makarenko, Eleanor Barry, and Ormi Hawley.

The Partner to Providence (1914)

A Partner to Providence was originally episode 8 of a serial film, The Beloved Adventurer, which the Lubin company released in 1914 with an illustrated novel that told the story of the series. In this only extant episode, an English nobleman survives a spectacular  train wreck and later prevents a young man from being falsely accused of a payroll robbery which was actually committed by his boss.

The film utilized a train wreck staged by director Romaine Fielding near Phillipsburg, Pennsylvania, for his film, The Valley of Lost Hope (now lost). It was the first on-camera train wreck staged for the movies and used two locomotives that were about to be scrapped. It represented a great financial risk for Lubin who was struggling with a changing industry and losing economic ground. He approved the $25,000* crash, but made sure it was captured by 12 cameras in order to catch every angle. To justify his expense, Lubin used the wreck in five different films, a move not missed by the critics. Today, the only footage of this celebrated “train smash” is to be seen in A Partner to Providence.

* Note: Adjusted for inflation, the company spent the equivalent of $575,500 filming the wreck.

Lubin Manufacturing Company, 1914. The original print of this film is held by the Motion Picture Division of the Library of Congress.

The Vagaries of Fate (1914)

“This one-reel drama is crammed full of action,” declared a critic for the Moving Picture World in February of 1914. and so it is, with the events moving so quickly that it is almost hard to keep  up with the story. The film was made both at Betzwood and in Philadelphia as the story required scenes shot in “big city” streets.

The successful conviction of a group of blackmailers makes the District Attorney (Edgar Jones) a marked man. He is kidnapped in his own automobile and taken to a hide-out in the country where he is bound and gagged and left with a bomb set to explode by his head. Then someone shoots at him… What will his wife (Louise Huff) and the  police find when they finally get there?

The film contains a close up, a technique still relatively rare in Lubin films of this date. However, the close view of the bomb makes it clear that the timer–a large alarm clock–and the dynamite are not in any way connected and the “bomb” has no chance of detonation. Edgar Jones was the director of this film and his directorial efforts occasionally lacked attention to details like this.

Lubin Manufacturing Company, 1914. Directed by Edgar Jones. Starring Edgar Jones and Louise Huff.

The original print of this film is held by the Motion Picture Division of the Library of Congress.

Sweeter Than Revenge (1915)

This film of 1915 is the best surviving example of the one-reel eastern-westerns made at Betzwood. It is packed with fast moving action and the dramatic scenes of saloons burning, cowboys riding, miners blowing themselves up, and frontier gals tearing each others’ hair out, take place on long-vanished Port Kennedy streets, the Valley Forge Park quarries, and sets that stood on the Betzwood lot. Indian Creek, which emptied into the Schuylkill River just beyond the boundaries of the Betzwood lot was also used as a backdrop for one scene. Most of the cast were long time Lubin stars who appeared in many films.

The portrayal of the Native Americans who come to the rescue of the female lead goes beyond cartoonish and contrasts with the use of genuine Native Americans in other films.

Lubin Manufacturing Company, 1915. Starring: Thurston Hall, Rosetta Brice, Octavia Handworth, Peter Lang, and the Betzwood Cowboys. The original print of this film is held by the Motion Picture Division of the Library of Congress.

Tillie's Tomato Surprise (1915)

Famed vaudeville and movie star, Marie Dressler, plays Tillie, the awkward but socially ambitious “hoyden” whose wealthy aunt plans to present to society. Comedic interventions ensue with the appearance of a Scottish magician and inventor,  “The Bat,” (dark horse love interest of Tillie’s) who can fly through the air and create cute pups out of hotdogs by cranking them through his machine. At auntie’s birthday party,  we are treated to Tillie’s version of an Isadora Duncan-style neo-classical modern dance. Finally Auntie is persuaded to try The Bat’s flying apparatus and disappears, apparently never to return. The last laugh belongs to Auntie, as Tillie unexpectedly inherits only a tomato pin cushion that she had passed off as a homemade gift to Auntie, though it was really store bought. The tomato contains a wonderful surprise, however.

This film was made in response to the film Dressler had made with Charlie Chaplin at the Keystone Studios in California the previous year, Tillie’s Punctured Romance, and was one of the more successful of the Lubin films of 1915. Dressler had originated the role of Tillie on the stage before playing her character in the movies.

Lubin Manufacturing Company, 1915. Only this first of six original reels survives. Approx. 15 minutes in length. Featuring: Marie Dressler, Colin Campbell, Eleanor Fairbanks, Clara Lambert Miller, Tom McNaughton, Sara McVicker, and “Jimmy the monkey.”

The original print of this film is held by the Motion Picture Division of the Library of Congress.

Where the Road Divided (1915)

When a city slicker comes to town, a wise father should lock up his innocent daughter, lest she be led astray. Then, again, if he did, we wouldn’t have this story.

Edgar Jones and Louise Huff were briefly husband and wife and did most of their work at the Betzwood studio where Jones headed up one of the two permanent stock companies in residence. The rugged Jones and the tiny doe-eyed Huff were a perfect couple by early movie standards and the two made dozens of successful films together. They met at Betzwood and their romance was much publicized by the studio. Their marriage in January of 1914, at a church in Oaks, PA, was an event the locals did not soon forget. The couple were accompanied to church by a troop of Betzwood cowboys yelping and firing pistols into the air. Anticipating later Hollywood practices, the marriage ended in divorce in the summer of 1915.

Our 16mm print of this film came from the Library of Congress which saved the original negative from self-destruction about in the early 80s. The film had already suffered some damage at the time of its transfer to safety film, enough that the original two reel story has been reduced down to one reel, and there is at times a bit of noticeable nitrate decomposition.

The “vision” of the Big City that lures poor Louise Huff to her doom is a shot of Market Street in Philadelphia taken from the top of city hall.

Lubin Manufacturing Company, 1915. Directed by Mark Goldaine. Starring Edgar Jones, Earl Metcalfe, and Louise Huff.

The original print of this film is held by the Motion Picture Division of the Library of Congress.

Race Suicide (1916)

Only one reel of this six reel feature survives today. It is apparently the second reel, and tells a story set in the time of ancient Rome.  Originally the film was intended as a response to D. W. Griffith’s multi-story masterpiece, Intolerance, which had been released the year before. Race Suicide also consisted of a series of stories set in different historical times, but they were presented sequentially and not intertwined as in the Griffith film. The basic theme of Race Suicide seems to have been the self destructive tendencies of the human race, and probably reflects the appalling loss of life and destruction that had already taken place in Europe as a result of the on-going First World War. The mood of this surviving episode is dark and the ending is unusually somber and cynical. Lubin usually insisted on happy endings.

The film was produced by Lubin’s son-in-law, Ira Lowry, and represented the company’s last attempt to produce a film equal to the increasingly high standards of the audiences and film critics of the day, standards which had been elevated by the efforts of D. W. Griffith. Lubin was already on the verge of bankruptcy, and several months after the release of Race Suicide—which was not successful—he closed his studios at Betzwood, North Philadelphia, and in California. The studio in Florida and the stock company stationed in Rhode Island had already been withdrawn.

Though Griffith’s Intolerance was a critical success, it did not do well at the box office. In 1919 Buster Keaton poked fun at both Griffth’s Intolerance and Lubin’s Race Suicide, with a comedy tale in three different centuries, The Three Ages.

Lubin Manufacturing Company, 1916. Directed by George Terwiliger. Starring Earl Metcalfe and Ormi Hawley.

A Ready-Made Maid (1916)

Billie Reeves

This film was made in Atlantic City and Betzwood shortly after Lubin closed his Jacksonville, Florida, comedy studio in order to save money. Billie Reeves got his start on the vaudeville stage in Fred Karno’s “Night In An English Music Hall,” the same company that launched the career of Charlie Chaplin. In fact Reeves originated the “drunken swell” routine that Chaplin eventually took over with great success at the Karno company. Fred Karno apparently had a knack for finding talent. Working along side Chaplin in London was a very young Stan Laurel. Lubin tried to capitalize on Reeves’s origins by advertising  him as “The Original Drunk” and even “the Third Chaplin.”

Lubin Manufacturing Company, 1916. Directed by Earl Metcalfe. Starring Billie Reeves, Carrie Reynolds, Arthur Mathews, and Peter Lang.

Photo: Billie Reeves in character