Sunday, April 1, 2018

Silent Film of the Month: From the Manger to the Cross (1912)

Run Time: 70 minutes. Studio: Kalem Company. Director: Sidney Olcott. Writer: Gene Gauntier. Main Cast: R. Henderson Bland, Percy Dyer, Gene Gauntier, Alice Hollister, Samuel Morgan. Producer: Frank Marion. Cinematographer: George K. Hollister.

Happy Easter everybody. As Easter is one of the most important days in the Christian faith (which I am blessed to be a part of), I feel it is the perfect time to discuss a classic film about the life of Jesus Christ.

If some of the stories about the making of this film are true, this movie came about in some strange ways. One story is that writer and actress Gene Gauntier (she played the Virgin Mary) came up with the story for this film while suffering from sunstroke. Another story about this film is that R. Henderson Bland was given the lead role, because director Sidney Olcott liked his voice over the phone. This would make some sense if this movie was a talkie, but it is a silent movie.

This movie is a heartfelt and faithful retelling of the life of Jesus Christ. The faithfulness is certainly heightened by the fact that nearly ever intertitle directly quotes the bible. In fact the verse number appears on the bottom of each intertitle.

Also adding to this film's authenticity is that the movie was shot on location in Palestine. However this did not come about for reasons of making a biblical movie. The Kalem Company had gone here to shoot some one reel films in a desert setting, and making this movie was an afterthought. One must realize what an undertaking this was for a New York Studio in the early 1910's, as airplane travel was not yet a possibility.

This movie was a great success. It cost $35,000 to make and made almost a million dollars at the box office. Critics of the time were also very kind to this movie. The film would receive a reissue in 1917.

The Kalem Company released a regular magazine-length newsletter entitled Kalem Kalendar. Below is that newsletter talking about From the Manger to the Cross.

The following is from an issue of Motion Picture News.

"The General Film Company is in receipt of word from England regarding the Kalem feature 'From the Manger to the Cross.'

"The report (and it comes from The 'Film Censor and Exhibitor's Review' of London) is that the picture has made a wonderful hit at the Picture House on Oxford Street. That our English cousins consider 'From the Manger to the Cross' worthy of special attention is evidenced by the fact that the accompanying music is of the highest order, selections from 'The Messiah,' 'Elijah,' 'Judas Maccabeus,' 'Olivet to Calvary,' and 'The Crucifixion' being rendered by such well known artists as the King's Trumpeter, William Short, A. R. A. M., Miss Elizabeth Davies, Henderson White and Ward Cowdray."

Resources Used

Fifty Great American Silent Films, 1912-1920: A Pictorial Survey by Anothony Slide and Edward Wagenknecht.
-Michael J. Ruhland