An elderly gentleman will allow his daughter to marry a deep sea diver on one conditions: that he dive for a pirate treasure that was lost decades before.
Glub Glub Glub
A huge thanks to Christopher Bird for graciously allowing me to see this very rare film from his private collection.
Oh, we are going to have some fun today. Silent movie fans know that we spend quite a bit of time correcting the notion that silent were all over-the-top melodrama and slapstick and nothing else. However, the fact remains that there were indeed some melodramas made. Quite a few were very good (I recommend Suspense and The Mystery of the Rocks of Kador) and some are… like Out of the Deep. But gosh, is it ever entertaining. In fact, Moving Picture World advised pianists to hustle in order to keep up with its speedy pace.
This is a real rarity, it’s not even listed in some filmographies, there are no big stars even by silent film nerd standards. But we do get pirates and capes and underwater cabbages and that’s not nothing.
Shot at least partially on location in Bermuda, the story concerns an old mariner (Richard Neill) who has a daughter (Laura Sawyer) of marriageable age. She has caught the attention of a reprobate (Charles Sutton, we know he’s bad because his eyebrows are massive) but prefers the company of a deep sea diver (Benjamin F. Wilson). By the way, these character descriptions are exactly as they appear in the Edison Kinetogram, the publication that marketed the studio’s latest offerings. I’ll just be using the actors’ first names in the synopsis to avoid awkwardness.
Anyway, Laura takes Benjamin home and he chases her around the table and it’s all fun and games until her father shows up. Dear old dad does exactly what every dating couple hopes for: he launches into a long story of his youth. It seems that he chanced upon a courting couple but the man was starting to get fresh with the young lady. Dad intervened and won the young lady’s love for himself (I’m sorry, I can’t seem to find who plays her but her waist is insanely tiny). The jilted rival decides that he likes this not at all and engages a band of pirates to abduct his ex, as one does.
It seems that he hired quite a lot of pirates to kidnap one tight-laced lady but then again I can’t say that I am an expert at this kidnapping business. Dad spots his wife being carried away by pirates and decides that this will simply not do so he gathers his friends from the bar and sets out to save her. This may sound like the start of one of those drunk buddy comedies but the film plays it absolutely straight.
After a hilariously inept battle (the guys on the edges just kind of wave their swords and don’t fight anybody), one of the pirates shoves a chest of treasure into the drink, as pirates are wont to do, I suppose. (But isn’t a treasure map also traditional?) The wife is saved and (presumably) gives birth to Laura at some point.
Back in the present, Dad has a proposal: he will allow Benjamin to marry Laura if he uses his deep sea diving skills to bring up the treasure. One wonders why he did not think of this diving business sooner. Was he just hoping Laura would fall for someone with the equipment so he wouldn’t have to hire them for the job and could get the work for free? If so, it’s a good thing she dated a diver and not, say, a dog catcher.
But they have bigger problems than plot holes. Charles the reprobate has heard everything and stows away on their ship when the trio goes off to recover the treasure. The fiend!
(Spoiler, I guess. I always feel odd putting a spoiler warning on one-reelers but there you have it.) While Benjamin is diving (and shown underwater courtesy of double exposure), Charles knocks out dad and tries to suffocate our unfortunate diver but Laura gets the baddie’s gun and holds him at bay so she can continue pumping air to her lover. Benjamin seems to be under attack by sea cabbages. Also, Laura randomly forgets to operate the pump so I think we can safely assume she won’t be asked on many more of these diving expeditions.
Oh my, that was fun! Between the corseted waists and the splendid cape action going on there is always something to look at. The director is anonymous and that’s probably for the best as this is not exactly the most sophisticated of films. The fight choreography is abysmal and the undersea material is fairly rough as well. The acting is over the top, not Copper Beeches bad but a decent amount of arm flailing and such.
This film is interesting in that it uses a flashback sequence to tell much of its story. Dream sequences, hallucinations and other unrealities were already firmly established tropes by the 1910s. I have seen several reviews claiming that The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) was one of the first films to use the flashback structure but this is clearly not the case. (I’m not saying that this film was the first or even one of the first on-film flashbacks. I’m just saying that 1912 is earlier than 1920.)
I have mentioned before that early studios like Biograph and Edison fell down when it came to marketing their films. Edison’s ads were just plain dull, a problem I had to deal with while working on my design for an Edison home video release. Since a picture is worth a thousand words, here is the original ad for Out of the Deep:
As you can probably tell, Edison thought the big money was in selling motion picture equipment, which also helps explain his aggressive patenting. (Though the idea that Hollywood was founded on piracy is a myth.) Edison had things the wrong way round: there was some money in equipment but there was an absolute fortune in the movies themselves.
For comparison, here is an ad from the American branch of the French Gaumont company published around the same time as the Edison ad. As you can see, the movies are the star of the show and we are shown stills and given an idea of the types of films they offered.
Out of the Deep is a bit accidentally hilarious (a lot accidentally hilarious) but there were plenty of genuinely artistic Edison pictures after the early successes (Children of Eve, for example). In my opinion, the studio was done in by the one-two-three punches of cheapness, an inattention to punchy marketing and Edison’s own lack of interest in the industry he helped create. (Oh, and the failure of his talkies to catch on and a studio fire.) Edison exited the motion picture market almost exactly a century ago with the 1918 feature The Unbeliever. (Its director, Alan Crosland, is probably most remembered for directing the film that proved to be the beginning of the end for the silent era: The Jazz Singer.)
Out of the Deep is not technically a good film but I guarantee that a good time will be had by all who watch it. The melodrama is deliciously overplayed, the underwater scenes are charmingly odd and the heroine surprises us all in the end.
Where can I see it?
I was granted a viewing by a generous collector but, alas, this film is not yet available on home video.
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