You Remember Ellen (1912) A Silent Film Review

A highly romanticized look at old Ireland with all the fairy tale trimmings, this film was the result of the Kalem film company’s second Irish jaunt. The product is more polished but the goal was the same: provide a nostalgic and sweet look at the old country for the Irish in America.

Oh, that old castle? I’m thinking of trading it in.

In our last exciting episode, the Kalem studio film crew (consisting mainly of director Sidney Olcott and writer/actress Gene Gauntier) had taken Ireland and America by storm with their on-location romance, The Lad from Old Ireland. Success always calls for a sequel and so a return to Ireland was inevitable. Olcott and Gauntier returned, accompanied by a more extensive cast and crew, and set up shop in County Kerry.

With Olcott directing, Gauntier adapted a poem from Thomas Moore and played the leading role opposite Jack Clark, Kalem leading man and future Mr. Gene Gauntier.

Hi, here's the homeless guy I met on the road. So, you coming to the wedding?
Hi, here’s the homeless guy I met on the road. So, you coming to the wedding?

As the poem is rather short and as the film follows it closely, here it is:

You remember Ellen, our hamlet’s pride,
How meekly she bless’d her humble lot,
When the stranger, William, had made her his bride,
And love was the light of their lowly cot.
Together they toil’d through winds and rains,
Till William, at length, in sadness said,
“We must seek our fortune on other plains;” —
Then, sighing, she left her lowly shed.

They roam’d a long and a weary way,
Nor much was the maiden’s heart at ease,
When now, at close of one stormy day,
They see a proud castle among the trees.
“To-night,” said the youth, “we’ll shelter there;
The wind blows cold, the hour is late;”
So he blew the horn with a chieftain’s air,
And the porter bow’d, as they pass’d the gate.

“Now, welcome, Lady,” exclaim’d the youth, —
“This castle is thine, and these dark woods all!”
She believed him crazed, but his words were truth,
For Ellen is Lady of Rosna Hall!
And dearly the Lord of Rosna loves
What William the stranger woo’d and wed;
And the light of bliss, in these lordly groves,
Shines pure as it did in the lowly shed.

If you want the story with less “woo’d” and “roam’d”… (What did the letter E ever do to Moore? Or was it Moor’?)

Wow! Work is a lot of work.
Wow! Work is a lot of work.

Rich guy travelling incognito marries a village girl but can’t hack the peasant thing. So he has his servant beat her to death… Oh wait, that’s the Colleen Bawn. Let’s start again. Rich guy travelling incognito marries a village girl but can’t hack the peasant thing so he takes her to his castle (as one does) and they live happily ever after.

(I’m not the biggest fan of the poetry of the British Isles, especially from this period. Much gazing heavenward and being oh-so poetical and whatnot. That’s me in the corner shouting, “Get a real job!”)

It's all terribly romantic but doesn't make a bit of sense.
It’s all terribly romantic but doesn’t make a bit of sense.

Now we can all see that this charming little vision is a bit short on plot. Does Ellen know how to use the right fork? What does William’s family think? Did the interclass marriage cause a scandal? We don’t know, the poem is all about the dear little vignette and reality is not permitted to enter.

Basically, our dear humble maiden marries up spectacularly and has no problems at all. In real life I would be very happy for her but as a movie character? We need conflict, we need opposition. There has to be someone telling the protagonist “no” or the story is dull. If I were Ellen, I would be a bit annoyed at William for making me walk in the wind and the rain when he could have just hired a carriage. Jerk.

Of course we're sleeping in the woods. Who has money for a hotel? Not me!
Of course we’re sleeping in the woods. Who has money for a hotel? Not me!

We roll our eyes today about the movies being made out of anything (anything!) with name recognition. That’s how we ended up with movies based on the Battleship board game, a cooking blog and emojis. Emojis. This is annoying but we must remember that this thirst for branding is not new. In fact, it has existed as long as there have been motion pictures.

Silent movies (including many of the big hits) were based on such sources as paintings (The Beggar Maid), poems, poems based on paintings (A Fool There Was from the poem by Kipling, which was allegedly based on the painting The Vampire by Phillip Burne-Jones), plays based on novels based on actual murders (the aforementioned Colleen Bawn) and plays not based on poems but everyone kind of ignored that fact for marketing purposes (The Bells).

Here's a grape. I wish it were poison.
Here’s a grape. I wish it were poison.

Connecting a film to fine literature had the added bonus of classing up the joint. This was 1912 and movies were not yet considered to be entirely respectable entertainment. Kalem certainly wanted to emphasize the Thomas Moore connection as it reprinted the complete poem in (shudder) the Kalem Kalender. (I have no evidence that the Kalem company—kompany?—has any connection to a certain family of famous-because-they-are-famous K fanatics but I shouldn’t be surprised if this were the case, er, kase. And this is the first and last Kardashian joke I will ever krack on the site.)

Get a cab? Who has money for cabs?
Get a cab? Who has money for cabs?

As was the case with The Lad from Old Ireland, the main draw for You Remember Ellen is seeing Ireland and the everyday life of the Irish. However, this film is the more polished product. While the story is rather sparse, Gene Gauntier continues to charm and her role is larger and more interesting. She has a laidback manner and a natural acting style that is very refreshing, especially compared to some of the more simpering performances of the period. It does much to save her rather trite character from being wholly insufferable.

We must leave and never return! Who has money to visit your parents?
We must leave and never return! Who has money to visit your parents?

That being said, the casual reader may wonder if the O’Kalems were just sweet little tales of Irish love. Well, around this time, Sidney Olcott was beginning to look for something a little more… dangerous for his films. And what did he choose? He decided to support the revitalized Irish independence movement. While filming in Ireland. Which was under British rule. You’d better believe things got sticky but that’s another story for another review.

Movies Silently’s Score:★★

Where can I see it?

You Remember Ellen was released on DVD as part of The O’Kalem Collection put out by the Irish Film Institute. The set includes eight of the O’Kalems, as well as a documentary on their production entitled Blazing the Trail. It’s a great set, the price is reasonable and the money is going to a worthy cause.

2 Replies to “You Remember Ellen (1912) A Silent Film Review”

    1. The bigger problem was that jerk William dumping the poor girl into an entirely new lifestyle without so much as a “by your leave” What WAS it with Georgian/Victorian people and thinking that tricking the love of your life into thinking you were poor was romantic? It’s nuts. If I were Ellen, I would dump caviar on his head and go back to my cows.

Comments are closed.