US / 14 minutes / bw silent / Thanhouser, Mutual Dir: Edwin Thanhouser, Lawrence Marston Pr: Edwin Thanhouser Cast: William Garwood, Marie Eline, Florence LaBadie, Riley Chamberlin.
This interesting little one-reeler—a thematic precursor of, among other movies of noirish interest, items like Close-Up (1948) and BLOWUP (1966)—was lost until 1999, when a copy was found on the projection-room floor of a cinema in Montana. In 2001 it was added to the Library of Congress’s National Film Registry.
Crooked broker Henry Watson (Garwood) receives an ultimatum from his client Mrs. Caroline Livingston (uncredited): return the $20,000’s worth of her bonds that he holds or face criminal proceedings. He cooks up a swinish plot, filling one envelope in private with torn-up newspaper and another, identical envelope in front of his clerk (Chamberlin) and secretary (uncredited) with Mrs. Livingston’s bonds. He then has the clerk call a messenger to take the envelope to Mrs. Livingston.
Watson (William Garwood) schemes . . .
We’ve already learned that the extremely youthful messenger boy (Eline, in fact a girl) has a big sister (LaBadie) who works at a movie studio—circumstantial evidence later suggests it’s the Thanhouser studio. As he strolls through the streets to his destination, the boy pauses to watch a movie crew at work filming a group of actors. At this point Watson approaches, “accidentally” knocks the boy to the ground and, under cover of helping him up, swaps the real envelope for the dummy.
The messenger boy (Marie Eline) is up but limping.
The substitution’s discovered at Mrs. Livingston’s house, of course. She suspects Watson, but he produces his clerk and secretary as witnesses that the envelope did indeed contain her bonds. Accordingly the child is fetched before the judge, and then despatched to jail.
Mrs. Livingston (uncredited) makes her complaint.
A few days later, however, the big sister is editing the very same movie that her little brother saw being filmed when she comes across a sequence showing Watson doing the devilish deed. From there it’s but a short step to having her brother freed and the dastardly broker arrested in his stead.
The boy (Marie Eline) phones his sister . . .
. . . and she (Florence LaBadie) is horrified.
What she discovers . . .
. . . and what she shows to the cops.
The chapter titles are as follows:
• The Dishonest Broker Plots to Outwit his Client
• The Moving Picture Company at Work
• The “Dummy” Package is Given to the Messenger Boy
• The Broker Has Witnesses to Prove his Innocence
• Some Days Later. The Evidence of the Film
• The Detectives See the Picture
• The Innocent is Freed
A friend of Mary Pickford (who engineered her first screen break, a bit part in D.W. Griffith’s In the Window Recess ), Florence LaBadie was an extremely prolific actress, making over 180 movies—most of them shorts by today’s standards although of good length for the era—between 1909 and her death in 1917, aged just 29, after an automobile accident. Marie Aline was similarly prolific as a child actress, mainly for the Thanhouser studio—which promoted her as “The Thanhouser Kid”—but later for other companies. Her final movie came in 1919, after which she did stage work, often with her younger sister Grace.
The sister (Florence LaBadie) at work in what is presumably the Thanhouser cutting room.
The Evidence of the Film is available for streaming, along with many other Thanhouser silents, here; compilation DVDs of the movies are also available from the Thanhouser site. There’s a shot-by-shot analysis of the movie here.