#450) The Evidence of the Film (1913)

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#450) The Evidence of the Film (1913)

OR “Caught on Camera’s First Episode”

Directed by Lawrence Marston and Edwin Thanhouser

Class of 2001

The Plot: A dishonest broker (William Garwood) plots to steal $20,000 in bonds, and frames an innocent film studio messenger boy (Marie Eline) for the crime. But what the broker doesn’t realize is that he committed his crime while a film crew was shooting outdoors, and the messenger boy’s sister (Florence La Badie) – a film editor for the studio – finds the footage of the broker. Turns out these newfangled “motion pictures” can help solve crimes too! This changes everything!

Why It Matters: The NFR write-up is an overview of the long-gone Thanhouser Company, with praise to founder/co-director Edwin Thanhouser’s “command of visual storytelling that rivals D.W. Griffith’s.” There’s also an essay by Edwin’s grandson Ned.

But Does It Really?: Like many of the early shorts on this list, “Evidence of the Film” is on here a) for what it represents and b) because it was a “lost film” for many years. On its own the film is unmemorable save for the then-novelty ending, but “Evidence” is one of the sole survivors from the short-lived Thanhouser Company film library. As a historical document, “Evidence” is a reminder that the early years of filmmaking were filled with studios that fell as quickly as they rose, and not just the handful of filmmakers we remember now. “Evidence” is on here purely for its historical significance, but that makes it no less worthy than some of the list’s more popular entries.

Everybody Gets One: Thanhouser Company was founded in 1909 in a converted skating rink in New Rochelle, New York. As the aforementioned essay explains, Thanhouser had a lot of interplay with other studios of the day, including Mutual Film and D.W. Griffith. One of the biggest stars of Thanhouser was Florence La Badie, seen here as The Film Editor, who tragically died in a car accident just weeks after leaving the studio. 

Wow, That’s Dated: This film’s plot hinges on the profession of delivery boy, as well as the untapped potential of film technology. Also, that $20,000 heist would be over $500,000 today!

Other notes 

  • Is no one going to acknowledge that the Messenger Boy is played by a girl? Marie Eline was a mainstay at Thanhouser, even dubbed “The Thanhouser Kid”, so why not just make the character female?
  • If nothing else, this film shows just how many women worked behind the scenes as film editors even back in the 1910s. These women paved the way for the likes of Margaret Booth, Anne V. Coates, Thelma Schoonmaker, and Sally Menke, to name just a few.
  • Of course film as evidence is the real hero of this story, but it helps that The Broker is a very dumb criminal. 

Legacy

  • Thanhouser had a successful first few years, but then the studio was hit with several problems. Within a few years Thanhouser was sold to Mutual Film, had its main studio destroyed in a fire, and was run by a series of indecisive leadership before being liquidated in 1920. Of the over 1000 films made by Thanhouser, less than 60 survive. 1912’s “The Cry of the Children” would also make it into the NFR in 2011.
  • As previously stated, “The Evidence of the Film” disappeared and was deemed lost, until discovered in 1999 on a projection booth floor in Superior, Montana. The fact that the film made the National Film Registry two years later is not a coincidence.
  • And of course, this is the film that presaged security cameras, and the hilarity that ensues from that footage.

450 films: it’s not so much a milestone as it is a checkpoint before 500. Anyway, thanks for reading!

Tony 

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