#385) From the Manger to the Cross (1912)

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#385) From the Manger to the Cross (1912)

OR “Savior the Moment”

Directed by Sidney Olcott

Written by Gene Gauntier. Based on the New Testament.

Class of 1998

The Plot: As you’d expect from the title, “From the Manger to the Cross” is the life of times of Jesus Christ: Son of God, King of the Jews, Light of the World, Ol’ Blue Eyes. Divided into 10 parts, the film chronicles Jesus’ virgin birth, his penchant for miracles, his ever-growing group of followers, and his ultimate betrayal and crucifixion. All this, plus actual on-location footage from the Holy Land!

Why It Matters: The NFR gives a brief rundown of how novel this film was by 1912 standards, from its on-location shooting to its “innovate camera angles” and extended runtime (70 minutes!). The accompanying essay by author Daniel Eagan corroborates these claims.

But Does It Really?: I can give “Manger” a slight pass for its then-groundbreaking artistic achievements, as well as for its representation of the short-lived film studio Kalem Company. The movie itself is quick and not likely to offend even the most devout followers, and I assume the book is better. Overall, “Manger” is preservation-worthy, but not on the top of anyone’s list.

Everybody Gets One: Kalem Company was founded in 1907 by former Biograph Studio managers Frank Marion and Samuel Long. The duo successfully lured away two of Biograph’s biggest stars, Sidney Olcott and Gene Gauntier. In addition to acting, Gauntier wrote screenplays for the company, while Olcott directed several shorts and features, eventually becoming president of the company. Both Olcott and Gauntier spoke fondly of the creative freedom they were given with Kalem.

Other notes

  • Coincidentally, I watched this movie on a Sunday.
  • “Manger” was noteworthy for its on-location production in Egypt and Palestine. Many Kalem productions were already shooting in Egypt, and Gene Gauntier was inspired by the locations to start writing a film about the life of Jesus.
  • Sidney Olcott makes his director cameo as a Blind Man, while screenwriter Gene Gauntier cast herself as no less than the Virgin Mary. It was during production in Palestine that Gauntier married her husband, actor Jack J. Clark, seen in the film as John the Apostle.
  • Almost every intertitle is lifted directly from a Bible passage. You gotta love a movie that cites its sources. And while we’re on the subject, after 2000 years, is it still really a new testament?
  • How did they divvy up who wrote what section of the New Testament? Did Luke have the best spin on the Nativity?
  • This may be the oldest movie on my “Die Hard” Not-Christmas list.
  • Herod the Great wants Jesus killed, so Mary and Joseph take him to Egypt? Aren’t they big on killing firstborns over there too?
  • Points for this movie’s spectacle. Those are the actual pyramids and sphinx.
  • Boy, Jesus moved around a lot as a kid. It’s impressive he still managed to have so many friends.
  • The story goes that Robert Henderson-Bland won the plum role of Jesus because Sidney Olcott was impressed with how he sounded on the phone. Interesting tactic for casting a silent movie, but go on…
  • Jesus heals a young Rasputin! No wonder it took so long for him to die.
  • Wait a minute, Jesus only turned water into wine to impress people at a wedding reception? That’s not a miracle, that’s just efficient catering.
  • Did Jesus always have a follow spot on him? Whose job was that?
  • We have a “walking on water” shot! It’s an impressive bit of silent movie trickery, and one of the film’s few optical shots.
  • The last third of this movie focuses on the last days of Christ, so basically “Jesus Christ Superstar” without the songs.
  • Wow, Jesus is kicking ass! I didn’t realize he used a whip in the Cleansing of the Temple.
  • In a surprise twist to the story, Judas turns out to be a real Judas.
  • One of the priests that Judas bargains with looks a lot like Santa Claus. I feel he has ulterior motive to get rid of Jesus…
  • Hey, the Last Supper doesn’t look like the painting at all! There are people on both sides of the table! Blasphemy!
  • I’m a bit confused as to the random italicized words in the intertitles. At first I thought it was just in reference to Christ (“Crucify him”), but it seems more random than that.
  • Fun effects with the earthquake after the crucifixion. I didn’t realize Jerusalem was on a fault line.
  • Interesting that this movie doesn’t chronicle the Resurrection. Sequel?

Legacy

  • “Manger” was a runaway hit for Kalem Company, but Sidney Olcott departed from the studio shortly afterwards when they refused to give him a raise. Gene Gauntier followed suit later to form her own studio, and Kalem suffered financially. Kalem Company was sold to Vitagraph Studios in 1917, which in turn was bought by Warner Bros. in 1925.
  • There have, of course, been several retellings of the life of Christ over the years; told by everyone from Mel Gibson to Mel Brooks.

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