Movie Diary 12/14/2021

A Trap for Santa (D.W. Griffith, 1909). A destitute, alcoholic father (Henry B. Walthall) leaves his family to spare them his downfall; after an inheritance improves the family’s lot, he unwittingly breaks into the home on Christmas Eve. As usual, Griffith’s way of seeing the corners of rooms and diagonals of exteriors is eagle-eyed and sensitive to the emotional pitch of the scene. Plus, you really know where things are – literally, you know how this room connects to that room, no small thing when the plot depends on it.

Santa Claus vs. Cupid (Will Louis, 1915). From Edison, a convoluted story (written by future Jazz Singer director Alan Crosland) about romantic rivals and a Santa party. Light amusement plus some heart-tugging. Slapdash around the edges, but with some zingers at the end.

The Night Before Christmas (Edwin S. Porter, 1905). The poem, illustrated with moving pictures. It has one great shot, a miniature diorama of Santa’s sleigh cruising along the polar mountains and then taking flight. Santa appears in a medium shot at the very end of the film, a touch reminiscent of the cowpoke aiming his gun at the camera at the end of The Great Train Robbery.

Santa Claus (Frank E. Kleinschmidt, 1925). Half-hour film about Santa’s world at the North Pole, with location shooting in Alaska and some Inuit extras and polar bears. Some remarkable shots, plus the concept of Santa sitting at the Pole with a high-powered telescope and watching slum kids in America being unkind to others – you better watch out. These films were shown at the Paramount Theatre in Seattle as part of a Silent Movie Mondays event, which I got to introduce.

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