Immortal Films: Viewers of 1916 Chose Movies That Would Never Be Forgotten (most are forgotten)

In 1916, Motion Picture Magazine published a fan-sourced list of motion pictures that they “deemed fit to live to a green old age.” Lists like these are always enlightening because they show that viewers living in 1916 or 2019 have absolutely no idea what will last. Some of these movies are indeed still known today, some for the wrong reasons, and some were forgotten soon after this list was made. Let’s see what we can learn.

(I will follow up the title and magazine readers’ description with a report on the film’s survival status. If you know of surviving prints, please reach out to me!)

The Christian (1914)

Big, human motives. Strong plot. Superb characterization. All-star cast. Beautiful photography and locations. Finely directed.

This eight-reel Vitagraph production starred Earle Williams. It is missing and presumed lost.

Judith of Bethulia (1914)

Absorbing story. Excellent acting. Convincing atmosphere. Fine photography and directing. A rare example of the treatment of a Biblical plot that leaves an impression of being neither stagey, pokey, nor spectacular.

This film survives and you can read my full-length review here. It’s pretty meh, truth be told, because it defangs its heroine thoroughly. Available on DVD.

Quo Vadis? (1913)

Strong and appealing story. Careful detail in costumes, properties, and settings. Strongly cast. Able handling of camera and ensembles. Beautiful spectacles in large scenes. Educational, historical and dramatic.

Massive Italian super-epic. It survives but I haven’t watched it yet and it looks like there’s no definitive home video version but let me know if you find a good one. Italian epics were HUGE box office in America pre-WWI. The war forced distributors like George Kleine to find other means of income, which was when he partnered with Thomas Edison.

Cabiria (1914)

Wonderful, spectacular scenes. Excellent detail, atmosphere, settings and locations. Well cast, impressive. A new epoch in the handling of large bodies of men and elaborate stage-settings. Contains an interesting plot and characters.

The monster of all Italian epics. Available on DVD from Kino.

The Alien (1915)

The acme of simplicity, appeal and beauty. Strong heart-interest story, fine characterization, plot a bit of real life. Well cast, ably directed and beautifully photographed and produced.

A melodrama about the trials and tribulations of an Italian immigrant starring George Beban but NOT The Italian. This film is missing and presumed lost.

A Price for Folly (1915)

Exquisite atmosphere, compelling story and strongly cast. Remarkable versatility by Edith Storey in the adventuress’ role.

Another melodrama, this one about a wastrel son scared to the side of right by dreaming about his parents engaging in a murder-suicide. Yipes! Missing and presumed lost.

The Birth of a Nation (1915)

Remarkable blending of history, drama, and preachment into a compelling whole. Fine judgment in detail, costumes and ensemble effects. A Griffith “ride to the rescue” climax that thrills.

The “preachment” being, of course, that lynching is grand and slavery was really cute and nice. I am very proud to wear my Birth of a Nation Hater badge. It’s on Bluray and all that stuff if you must.

C.O.D. (1915)

One of the best feature comedies. An elaborate plot of the French farce order. All-star cast and funny situations from start to finish.

This one does sound fun. Three men with the initials C.O.D. are traveling on the same train and chaos ensues. Unfortunately, missing and presumed lost.

The Battle Cry of Peace (1915)

The first great preachment on a subject of national importance : America’s defenselessness. As a test between the power of the editorial and the film it is highly interesting, showing that “the photoplay is mightier than the pen.” It is soul-stirring, an appeal to “thinking” patriotism, dramatically well conceived, and should be seen and taken to heart by every American citizen.

This anti-pacifism picture only survives as fragments and it’s hardly surprising considering the antipathy to the war once it was over.

The Island of Regeneration (1915)

A remarkable and intimate study of the mainsprings of life — the motives back of our moves. A most “unusual “castaway” story, which has since had many imitators. Careful and brainy directing, showing Edith Storey and Antonio Moreno at their best.

This film gets mentioned a lot in contemporary movie media and, I am so sorry, but it’s also missing and presumed lost.

The Little Minister (1913)

Clara Kimball Young in a charmingly fitting role as the luring, captious, willful gypsy girl, Babbie. Fine attention to detail of Barrie’s novel.

I do not know if this one is lost or not. Here’s hoping it is not!

Neptune’s Daughter (1914)

A good example of a slender plot being carried by the star, Annette Kellerman, who is not a great screen actress, but whose aquatic gracefulness and skill, in beautiful surroundings, hold and thrill her audiences.

Only fragments of this film survive.

The Stoning (1915)

A world-old subject. The fallen woman — the “Eternal Magdalene” — treated with newer and deeper sympathies. Viola Dana proves her right as an emotional star. Quaint, convincing and powerful.

I can’t find information on the survival status of this Edison film.

The Lily and the Rose (1915)

A fine example of the “human touch.” An old story rendered appealing by true-to-life handling. A happy contrast to the old school of screen production, with overdone realism, exaggerated sentiment and melodramatic action. Griffith’s production is simple, human, strong — life itself, beautifully told.

You don’t often see “realism” used in a pejorative sense when describing sound films. The Library of Congress has four reels out of five.

The Penitentes (1915)

A recent release of the Griffith cycle of early American historical backgrounds. Deals with a fanatical religious sect of old New Mexico, who yearly crucified one of their number. Around this historically correct motive is woven an appealing and dramatic love-story.

Good heavens! Missing and presumed lost.

Tess of the Storm Country (1914)

Probably the most sympathetic medium in which Mary Pickford has played. Runs the gamut of her emotions, from childish appeal and spritely comedy to fine pathos and rugged dramatics. An able supporting company, with strong characterizations, and big moments without big physical effects.

So nice Mary Pickford made it twice. There are blurry prints of the 1914 film floating around but I hope a proper restoration is possible.

The Eternal City (1915)

A fine vehicle for the grace, artistry and beauty of Pauline Frederick. The photography and locations were handled and selected by master craftsmen, producing some superb effects.

Shot in England and Italy. I am so sorry to keep typing this but… missing and presumed lost.

From the Manger to the Cross (1912)

The greatest religious photoplay, dealing with the history of Christ. Was over a year in the creating, each scene being as nearly historically correct as possible and being photographed entirely in Egypt and the Holy Land. Does not lag, nor is it stilted like most religio-dramatics. A reverent, finely conceived, and dramatically strong photoplay that carries its appeal outside of religious persuasion.

It survives, it’s on DVD and I reviewed it! Phew! Glad to have some good news in what is turning into a rather depressing piece.

Hearts Adrift (1914)

Mary Pickford’s most popular photoplay, perhaps not deservedly so. A strong rival to the “Island of Regeneration” in appeal and theme. Novel castaway situations that forcibly bring out Little Mary’s guilelessness, naivete and innocence of heart.

Well, we’ll never know how this film compares to “Island of Regeneration” because it is also lost. Sigh.

The Juggernaut (1915)

One of the best examples of the big and gripping physical situation — a railroad wreck. Interest in the leads — Earle Williams and Anita Stewart — is always secondary to “the impending disaster.” The climax is one of the biggest spectacles ever set for the camera.

A reconstruction is available on Bluray and via streaming. HA! HA! WE’VE SAVED ONE! Take that! (Shakes fist at anyone saying lost films don’t matter.)

Love’s Sunset (1913)

One of the last photoplays in which Earle Williams and Clara Young played opposite each other. The acting of the principals is finished to a degree and always in accordance. The sentiment of the story is exalted, clear, and as true as a mother’s heart.

No info on the survival status of this one.

The Spoilers (1914)

One of the first features to break loose from the screen traditions of the Northwest: the overdone, impossible two-gun man ; the dime-novel Indian; the get-rich-quick miner with crepe beard, etc. The types of “The Spoilers” are taken bodily from life —neither exaggerated nor idealized. The epic of the gold-rush days in Alaska. William Farnum is finely cast as Glenister, and his fight is one of the great Homeric struggles of the screen.

There are fuzzy prints floating around but at least we have it.

Graustark (1915)

An ideal romantic production of a school that is fast giving ground to truer-to-life conceptions. The present war in the Balkans has opened up a more general knowledge of these brave peoples, and shows us the absurdities of such a plot as Graustark. Francis Bushman and Beverly Bayne are finely cast, and their teamwork does much to lift the story out of its unnaturalness.

It lives! A print survives on 28mm.

A Fool There Was (1915)

An excellent photoplay featuring Theda Bara as a vampire woman, without whose alluring acting it could hardly have a place in this list of “Classics.”

It survives, it’s on DVD and I reviewed it!

Ghosts (1915)

Hardly the Ibsen “Ghosts,” but an excellent medium for the talents of Henry Walthall.

Available on DVD!

A Million Bid (1914)

A powerful photodrama containing an unusual appeal, and furnishing Anita Stewart a fine opportunity to make a reputation for herself, which she did. This play has two “big moments” that have seldom been equaled.

What are they? We don’t know! Missing and presumed lost.

So… That’s the list. What do you think? What would you add? How many have you seen? Let me know!

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20 Replies to “Immortal Films: Viewers of 1916 Chose Movies That Would Never Be Forgotten (most are forgotten)”

  1. I saw The Stoning at Cinesation years ago– I think it’s at George Eastman House. It is excellent, the story sounds like Victorian cliches (innocent girl, feckless boyfriend, pregnancy) but it’s handled in a neorealist fashion and really well done, one of the top films of the teens by my book.

  2. Have only five (she sighed) … I really liked ‘Judith of Bethulia.’ Much preferred the 1922 version of ‘Tess’ to the original.
    Now I have to look up info on that New Mexico cult! How gruesome!

  3. I’m a little surprised no Chaplin film is mentioned, considering his enormous popularity back in 1916, but of course he had not made a feature yet, and who cares about mere comedy anyway…

    1. Having read through my share of these fan favorite lists of stars and films, two things have become apparent:

      Comedy was definitely valued below drama
      Griffith’s actors were not nearly as popular with 1910s as many may be believe

  4. Thanks, Fritzi, for this great, thought-provoking piece. I did act and ordered the new Blu ray of JUGGERNAUT. I’d never heard of HARPODEON so I looked at your reviews of their releases and then started exploring their site. It’s always a lovely learning experience with your essays. I also found and ordered a new sealed VHS copy of Mary’s 1922 TESS OF THE STORM COUNTRY. The used DVD copies have gotten too pricey. I wish Milestone or Flicker Alley would produce an improved re-release including Mary’s earlier 1914 take. I also wish for a restored THE SPOILERS–both the 1914 version and the 1923 one. Ditto with all three silent versions of THE LITTLE MINISTER I can dream…

    1. I am very hopeful that the Mary Pickford Foundation’s new distribution deal with Flicker Alley will get the Mary Pickford releases running again! 😀

      Harpodeon has lots of good stuff. They’re the only source I have found with quality material from J. Warren Kerrigan’s early career, for a start.

  5. Hi, Fritzi. Love’s Sunset is listed as lost in the Women Film Pioneers page fro Clara Kimball Young, but there is no mention to The Little Minister whatsoever.
    Now the urgent question: where do I get a Birth of a Nation Hater badge? I’d be proud to wear it!

  6. Ditto David’s comments. I went to the Harpodeon website and I’m excited to get some of their stuff. Thanx for the info.

    1. A follow-up question on Harpodeon. Does anyone know how to reach them? The contact email at their website does not seem to produce any response. I wanted to ask them if they were selling the new Blu ray edition of THE JUGGERNAUT. It’s not clear from checking the website. If I can order from them instead of Amazon, I will. Thanks for any info.

      David

      p.s. Fritzi, I just watched your DVD, KIDNAPPED, which I DID buy from Amazon (actually from AmazonSmile which makes me feel a bit less guilty). Great work!

      1. The Bluray is coming soon, they’re just waiting for a mini-poster to include inside. I am actually going to be receiving a review copy so watch this space. So glad you liked Kidnapped!

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