Silent night – Christmas movies of the silent era

 

A Christmas Past DVD         A Christmas Carol & Old Scrooge DVD
Happy St. Nicholas Day! For your enjoyment, a little somethin’ to break the monotony of all that hardcore Christmas that has gotten to be a little bit out of control…

Santa Claus (1898) was directed by George Albert Smith (Weary Willie, Making Sausages), a former portrait photographer and member of the UK‘s Brighton Set. In 1906, he and Charles Urban patented the world’s first commercial color film process, Kinemacolor. Smith was something of an English Georges Méliès, employing and pioneering the use of special effects, mostly in the fantasy genre.

 

Scrooge; or Marley’s Ghost (1901) was apparently the first adaptation of seemingly millions of Charles Dickens‘s novel.


The Night Before Christmas
(1905) was directed by the great Edwin S. Porter (Uncle Josh in a Spooky Hotel, Uncle Josh at the Moving Picture Show, The Gay Shoe Clerk) and is a pretty loose adaptation of the famous poem by Clement Moore. It will undoubtedly appeal to fans of dioramas and vintage children.


A Winter Straw Ride
(1906) is another Porter effort. It’s pretty light on plot, mainly focusing on the titular straw ride (sleigh ride) and the hijinks surrounding it.

 

A Little Girl Who Did Not Believe in Santa Claus (1907), co-directed by James Searle Dawley and Edwin S. Porter depicts a rich boy going to great lengths to delude a jaded poor girl into believing in the supernatural.

Essanay‘s version of A Christmas Carol (1908) starred Tom R. Ricketts (The Lavender Bath Lady, The Dangerous Maid, Bobbed Hair) as Scrooge; the film was released in December 1908 and probably launched the concept of the Christmas box office. Unfortunately, it appears to be lost, although it’s often confused with later silent versions.

 

A Trap for Santa (1909) is a typically melodramatic effort of celebrated racist D.W. Griffith (The Greaser’s Gauntlet, The Zulu’s Heart, The Feud and the Turkey).

The second filmed version of A Christmas Carol (1910) was directed by James Searle Dawley and  starred Australian actor Marc McDermott (Satin and Calico, The Girl and the Motorboat, The Man Who Could Not Sleep) in the role of Scrooge.


Making Christmas Crackers
(1910) begins as a rather too in-depth look at the tedious process of making Christmas crackers, produced by George Howard Cricks and John Howard Martin. However, in the final minute or so, it thankfully veers into poetic realist territory.

A Christmas Accident (1912) is a story of two households whose residents couldn’t be more different, the rich, cranky Giltons and the poor, good-hearted Biltons. However, during the magic of the holiday, the two end up finding something they didn’t expect — love.

Scrooge (1913), starring Sir Seymour Hicks (Always Tell Your Wife, Sleeping Partners, Young Man’s Fancy), was re-released in 1926 as Old Scrooge. He again reprised the role of Scrooge in 1935’s film, Scrooge.

 

The Adventures of the Wrong Santa Claus (1914) as subtitled, An Adventure of Octavius — Amateur Detective, stars Herbert Yost (A Drunkard’s Reformation, The Faded Lilies, A Troublesome Satchel) as the titular private dick. Although the character is as unfamiliar to modern audiences as Ecks and Sever, filmgoers in the teens were familiar with him from The Adventure of the Extra Baby, The Adventure of the Hasty Elopement, The Adventure of the Actress’ Jewels, and many, many more.


Santa Claus Vs. Cupid
(1915) stars Raymond McKee (Two Lips and Juleps; or, Southern Love and Northern Exposure, T. Haviland Hicks, Freshman, Shoddy the Tailor) and Billy Casey as rival Santa-suited suitors attempting to win the affection of Helen Bower, played by Grace Morrissey (Curing the Office Boy, Blade ‘o Grass, The Tell-Tale Step).

The Dividend (1916)
Production still from The Dividend (1916)


The Dividend
(1916) was directed by Thomas H. Ince (The Hateful God, In the Land of the Otter, Shorty’s Adventures in the City) and Walter Edwards (The Colonel’s Adopted Daughter, His Superficial Wife, The Sin Ye Do). It concerns the yuletide misadventures of a drug addled man named Frank, played by Charles Ray (Bread Cast Upon the Waters, One of the Discarded, The Conversion of Frosty Blake).

 

The Right to Be Happy (1916) was another adaptation of A Christmas Carol, this time directed by and starring KiwiRupert Julian (The Heart of a Jewess, In the Days of his Youth, The Boyhood He Forgot ) as Scrooge).

Bab's Diary (1917)
Production still for Bab’s Diary (1917)

Bab’s Diary (1917) was directed by James Searle Dawle, who called himself “the first motion picture director.” It was, however, at least his third film in the Christmas genre.

 

Scrooge (1923), starring Russell Thorndike (The Dream of Eugene Aram, The Audacious Mr. Squire, The School for Scandal), is available, re-titled A Christmas Carol, on the DVD, A Christmas Carol & Old Scrooge. The DVD company in question, Jef, are not known for the care they put into their releases.

The Goose Hangs High (1925), directed by James Cruze (The Golf Caddie’s Dog, The Ring of a Spanish Grandee, Why Reginald Reformed), has something to do with Socialism, Christmas, and a snobbish grandmother.

Santa Claus (1925) was shot in the Alaskan arctic and concerns the goings on in the Land of Winter the other 364 days of the year.

 

*****

Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities — or salaried work. He is not interested in writing advertorials, clickbait, listicles, or other 21st century variations of spam. Brightwell’s written work has appeared in AmoeblogdiaCRITICS, and KCET Departures. His work has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft & Folk Art MuseumForm Follows FunctionLos Angeles County StoreSkid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured in the Los Angeles TimesHuffington PostLos Angeles MagazineLAistEastsider LABoing BoingLos Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA? and at Emerson College. Art prints of his maps are available from 1650 Gallery and on other products from Cal31. He is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

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