Sunday, April 6, 2014

Silent Sundays: The New York Hat (1912)


When I was in high school I had bought a book about some interesting historical facts about New Jersey. Before you ask yourself why on earth would I buy a book about New Jersey, I live in the Garden State down the shore. Anyway, one of the most interesting things I read in the book was that NJ was used as a filming location for early silent films. Directors like D.W. Griffith used to go to the town of Fort Lee to make their films. For all that time that piece of information about NJ being the first Hollywood always stuck with me. Now that I have become a film enthusiast and have researched film history I find that fact even more interesting and special. It is awesome to know that New Jersey, the state that everyone makes fun for The Jersey Shore, silly accents, and guidos, played an important part in shaping the modern movie industry and helped to build the careers of Griffith, Paramount, Alice Guy Blaché, Mary Pickford, the Barrymores, and the Gish sisters.
            After all this time I have finally watched a silent film that was made in Fort Lee entitled The New York Hat.
            A young girl named Mollie Goodhue (Mary Pickford) has lost her mother. Before the mother died she wrote a letter to the local minister Pastor Bolton (Lionel Barrymore) to take whatever money she was able to save and use it to help buy her daughter nice things that were denied to her by the girl’s father.
            In the village is a hat shop with the latest hats from New York City. Mollie stands outside with some girls her age looking at the nice hats in the window wishing they could have one. Bolton passes by the shop and notices Mollie looking longingly at a ten dollar hat. Bolton goes inside and buys the hat for her. The local gossips just so happened to be in the store at the time Bolton buys the hat and soon enough word about his purchase spreads all over town.
            Bolton brings the hat to Mollie. He leaves before she opens the box. When she sees he has bought her the hat she saw in the window she is happy, sad, and delighted all at the same time.
            At church that Sunday the women notice Mollie is wearing the hat Pastor Bolton bought during the week. The three gossips from the store are up in arms using their vicious tongues to tell Mollie’s father what they have imagined has been going on. When Mollie comes home her father asks her about the hat. When she tells him that Pastor Bolton did buy her the hat, her father takes the gift and rips it apart.
            Upset Mollie runs to Bolton in a flood of tears to tell him what has happened to his gift. Not long after that the gossips and, possibly their husbands, angrily come to Pastor Bolton to speak to him and accuse him of a scandal. When they arrive Bolton shows them the letter Mrs. Goodhue had written to him before she died. Mr. Goodhue also comes and is also shown the letter. Everything that has happened was all a misunderstanding from malicious gossip.
            I liked The New York Hat. It was a cute story. Mary Pickford was perfect in her part as Mollie. At this time she was only nineteen years old. You can see she had that something that would make her one of the world’s most famous actresses. Lionel Barrymore was also very good. It was nice to see him as a good guy and to see him so young.  Lillian and Dorothy Gish and Jack Pickford have background parts. The Gish sisters are in the shop scene and Jack has a small part that you have to really look for or know what he looks like in the church scene.
            The New York Hat is great to watch if you are interested in film history because the film industry was just really starting out and this is where some of the most important stars of silent Hollywood began their careers.

            If anyone is interested in learning about Fort Lee, NJ pertaining to the film industry please visit the website: Fort Lee Film Commission  

Saturday, April 5, 2014

The Dark Past (1948)


“Perhaps the memory that causes your dream has something to do with your family, your mother maybe.”

            The Dark Past has an interesting plot but it is one that had been and has been done a million times. It starts off with a police psychologist named Dr. Andrew Collins (Lee J. Cobb) looking at men in a line up. He sees there is a young teenage boy in it. The boy looks  nervous and he tries to act tough when he is asked his name. At the end of the lineup he tells someone he wants to work with the young boy. The person asks why of all the men they just saw would he want to waste his time with a boy. Andrew recalls his ordeal with a criminal named Al Walker (William Holden).
            A few years ago Andrew had been working at a college as a psychology professor. He and his family and some of their friends went away to their house out on a lake. He and his friend Professor Linden are set to go out hunting one day and he gives Linden his gun to fix.
            On the same day on the front page of the paper is a story about how a notorious killer named Al Walker had escaped from jail. Walker, his men, the prison warden, and his girlfriend Betty (Nina Foch) are driving in a car down towards the lake. They will be staying at Andrew’s house without him knowing to wait for their getaway. Walker has the car pulled over so the warden can get out. He lets the warden walk a bit and then shoots the man dead. That night they ambush Andrew’s house from the outside in. Walker has the maids shut up in the basement, three of the guests upstairs, and Andrew’s wife and son in another room. Linden comes by the house with the shot gun. He mentions he passed some police officers on the road looking for Walker. Andrew makes a gesture that Walker is in the house and Linden says something about the trigger on the gun not working and points the gun towards where Walker is hiding. Walker comes out and shoots Linden in the arm.
            Every move Andrew makes agitates Walker making him very jumpy. Andrew has kept very calm and makes it a point to study Walker. He notices that the criminal keeps staring at book on insanity. Andrew begins to talk to Walker as if he was a patient. He explains how the brain works in two ways: the conscious and the unconscious. He asks Walker if something traumatic happened to him in his childhood.  Walker immediately gets defensive and anxious. Betty comes downstairs to take care of Walker and help him get to sleep. She explains to Andrew that Walker has the same dream over and over again of being outside and it starts to rain. An umbrella appears over him but there is a hole and he tries to stop the rain from coming in but it keeps coming and it hurts his hand. When he goes to get out from under the umbrella he is behind bars.
            The police come because they have been called by Linden’s wife. Linden was supposed to be home 
around 9:30pm and it is two in the morning. Walker shoots up when he hears the doorbell. He makes Andrew answer it and say that Linden left a long time ago and that he is the only one awake in the house. After the police leave Andrew tells Walker that he can help make his nightmare go away if he will tell him about it. Andrew breaks down the dream: when Walker was younger he lead the police to a man who was doing illegal things. When the police came in he dove under the table. The man was shot and he staggered over to where Walker was under the table and fell on the table. The man’s blood seeped through the cracks and Walker tried to stop the blood from coming through but it dripped onto his hand. Andrew figures Walker is guilty because the man he gave up was his father and he gave up his father so that  he could be alone with his mother who used to baby him when the father was away.
            Maids down in the basement managed to get away and get the police to come to the house. Walker planned to shoot his way out of the house but Andrew put the idea into his head that he can no longer shoot people because of his guilt at killing his father. He was right and Walker is taken away.
            Back in the present Andrew tells the person that he wants to help the young boy seek help because he does not want him to end up like Al Walker. He wants to stop the boy from becoming a true criminal.

            The Dark Past was alright. As I said the story had been done before this and has been done since. It was based off of a play and you get that feeling with the whole story just taking place in the house. William Holden as a bad guy was interesting to see since he always played a good guy. Nina Foch did well in an early role. Lee J. Cobb was believable as the psychologist who keeps it cool with a psychopath in his house. The Dark Past is a film to watch only if you are a fan of either William Holden or Nina Foch. It is not required viewing.