Dorothy Gibson movie found

May 12, 2005
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The VHS copy of The Lucky Holdup, starring Dorothy Gibson, which we ordered from the Library of Congress, arrived at Jennifer Mill’s house in Dallas today. I was unable to drive up there to watch it with her but I’ll be going tomorrow. Jennifer did pop the tape in and said it was very enjoyable. She said in her opinion Dorothy was more attractive in motion than in her photos and that she could more easily make out her resemblance to Harrison Fisher’s illustrations of her.

The film is not in pristine condition and isn’t a complete print, missing several frames, the lost footage amounting to approximately 4 minutes of running time. As it is, The Lucky Holdup runs only a little over 8 minutes.

A surprise is that the movie’s original color tinting — blues, greens, yellows and pinks — has been preserved. The pace is fast in keeping with its storyline of a comedy crime story, Dorothy and her leading man Lamar Johnstone playing eloping lovers held up by a bandit.

I will share more information about the movie and my opinion of Dorothy’s "screen presence" after I see it tomorrow. But Jennifer said she thinks Dot was quite effective in her scenes, showing a range of cute and funny expressions. She also thought Dorothy was beautifully dressed, wearing a long fur coat and matching hat with feathers.

If any Texas members want to see the movie, let us know and we’ll be happy to arrange a meeting to show it.
 
May 12, 2005
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As promised, here’s a "critique" of the film. Actually this is a direct excerpt from the addition I made this evening to the book, which is now ready for the printers, pending proofing. It looks like we will beat our deadline.

These movies, "The Lucky Holdup," "The Easter Bonnet" and "The Revenge of the Silk Masks" were all released either during or after her return from Italy.

The first of the trio, "The Lucky Holdup," was a trifling, frolicsome story that Dorothy would never have imagined could be of any consequence. But 90 years later, it became the first of her lost films to be discovered, heroically salvaged by collectors David and Margo Navone and miraculously preserved by the American Film Institute in cooperation with the Library of Congress Motion Picture Conservation Center.

So far The Lucky Holdup is the only one of Dorothy Gibson’s movies known to exist, although even it is not completely intact, some four minutes of running time having been cut by the unknown exhibitor or exchange company who once owned it. If Dorothy could have guessed that an audience a century into the future would be served their first sampling of her celluloid self in this quaint action-adventure-comedy, she’d have been highly amused.

Not much is known about the making of this movie and Dorothy didn’t remember anything special about it. But to silent screen buffs there’s a lot that’s special about the eight minutes that’s left of "The Lucky Holdup"’s original 12 minutes of raucous fun and suspense. The best thing, of course, is adorable Dorothy as she smiles and schemes her demure way through this rare one-reel treasure.

"The Lucky Holdup," as the title on the surviving print reads, was actually registered and advertised as "A Lucky Hold-Up," released April 11, just as Dorothy was heading home from her European jaunt. Billed as "The Comical Tale of Cupid’s Victory Over a Highwayman," the story is a frenzied one.

In the movie, Miss Barton (Dorothy) and her beau Mr. Chapin (played as usual by dapper Lamar Johnstone) find themselves caught up in a feud between their affluent families.

Their fathers, who are partners in a brokerage firm, have come to blows over a deal and while at a banquet some time later, in seeing their children dancing, the embittered old men demand that the young lovers end their courtship at once. The couple, refusing to do so, elopes somewhere out West to a place "in the mountains" called Bear Gulch where they’re robbed by two bandits and taken to their hideaway. The kidnapped youths convince the robbers to send a letter with a demand for money to their respective parents, who unite in a common goal to rescue their children. The old men, on arriving at Bear Gulch, are held up by the same thieves but on awarding them their $5,000 ransom, "all’s well that ends well," as the closing title card reads.

The Lucky Holdup wasn’t as widely reviewed or advertised as other Éclair films starring Dorothy and what critical analysis it won wasn’t entirely positive. The Dramatic Mirror critic wrote that

"….Assuredly there is both humor and novelty in this little farce conception and the play has been constructed to bring out the amusing complications which arise…."

Yet, while Billboard found the conclusion effective, the Dramatic Mirror thought it was "not strictly American in conception." The Dramatic Mirror reviewer also thought the photography was less than impressive and that there was a "want of spirit displayed in the actors."

Since the whole film is not extant, it isn’t possible to give a thorough critique today. Nearly half of the scenes are missing, including the dance sequence at the beginning and the part of the story that takes place in the thieves’ mountain cabin. Of at least 14 title cards describing the action, only nine are in place. Even more disappointingly, the surviving footage is severely deteriorated throughout. Despite the missing frames (probably excised by an exhibitor to fit it into a tight program), and all its other drawbacks, the film is surprisingly effective as a comedy and quite delightful.

Filmed entirely in Fort Lee, both in town and in the surrounding woods, the movie is remarkable for the example it gives of Éclair’s reputation for ideal lighting and clear photography. It is also beautifully tinted in shades of blue, green, yellow and rose.

But most importantly, The Lucky Holdup allows fans of silent movies to acquaint themselves with the moving image of Dorothy Gibson and to judge her on-screen abilities. She doesn’t have much time to exhibit a full range of emotion in this picture, but she does have ample opportunity to prove to viewers that she definitely had a refreshingly natural method of performing, not at all stilted or overwrought. Dorothy’s mannerisms and gestures are all very subtle and her facial expressions, especially her smile, are beguiling. In this movie, whatever one may think of the unfolding story, it is a treat to witness the star’s personal charm and magnetism.

Probably Dorothy’s finest moment in The Lucky Holdup is a scene set at a bank where she and her new husband discover they’ve run out of money for their little escapade. Seated before the teller’s desk, Johnstone confesses that his account is dry. Dorothy insists they must have more cash.

He pulls a dollar out of his pocket, and hands it to Dorothy. His lips can be read as he says, "One!" Dorothy has the most realistic look of absolute disgust on her face and her words are also easy to make out:

"Is that all?" she asks, and leans her head sulkily on her hand, completely aggravated.

One thing that should be pointed out is that contemporary criticism of the acting in this vehicle as lacking in spirit seems unjustified. All four principals — Dorothy, Johnstone, Guy Oliver as Dorothy’s doting father and Alec Francis as Johnstone’s ill-tempered dad — each go through their scenes with admirable restraint. Johnstone, who is extremely good-looking, is particularly winning as a strapping collegiate type, and Dorothy, though underused, is also quite convincing as his pampered bride. But it may have been the cast’s very naturalness that seemed lackluster to critics, accustomed as they were to other players’ more "stagy" style.

Additional Éclair stock members glimpsed in The Lucky Holdup are Jack Adolfi as a clerk, Isabel Lamon as a maid, and Julia Stuart in an unidentified role in the few seconds that remain of the party scene.
 

Inger Sheil

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Dec 3, 2000
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Ta for that review and analysis, Randy - sounds intriguing, and I imagine it must have been quite a moment to be one of the first to have a chance to view this treasure after its restoration.

Any chance of still being released from the movie soon?
 
May 12, 2005
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Hi, Inger:

It was pretty neat to see Dorothy in motion. It was just disappointing that the best scenes of her — the closer up ones — were in such bad condition. One can see cracks, holes and globs of emulsification on the footage. But in slow motion, we were able to capture some good stills. She was attractive in her portraits but she had a very mobile, expressive face that doesn’t come across in most still shots. In movement, you can see her peppy spirit. Also she had a very sly, naughty sort of smile — very alluring.

There were two especially funny moments in the movie, by the way. One is when Dorothy and the other actor are going through their scene of being robbed on a country road, and the horse pulling their coach is snorting behind her and leaning its nose in to touch her shoulder! She keeps looking back in an agitated way and moving farther off, concerned either for the upkeep of her fur coat or the well-being of her shoulder! The other funny thing is that after the bandits have been given their ransom, everybody shakes hands and pats each other on the back like old friends. It was really silly!

As to this movie being commercially released, I doubt it seriously, at least not on a large scale. It’s just not in good enough shape in my opinion, and it’s incomplete. Except for die-hard fans of silent movies and Titanic, it also doesn’t have an audience. On top of that, the donor, David Navone, and AFI would have to approve its marketing. On a small scale, however (such as a limited-edition eBay offering) we are considering something like that ourselves as part of the promotion of the book. We just want to make sure Mr. Navone is compensated since he is the one who found the film.

I plan to give a copy to BTS — so maybe Geoff can emcee a screening at the next convention.

Randy
 

Kyrila Scully

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Apr 15, 2001
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Sweet! Ah, how I wish I could have sat beside you as you watched it. I don't know what would have been more interesting - Watching Dorothy or watching you watching Dorothy.

Kyrila
 

Inger Sheil

Member
Dec 3, 2000
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I was wondering how the damage to the film would manifest itself on screen - great to know that you've captured some stills, though. And I look forward to seeing it at the BTS!
 
May 12, 2005
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Inger, I completely misread your question. I'm sorry! Yes, as soon as we get the stills developed, I will share some here soon. We will be publishing only about 4 but there are many more so I can post them with your help or that of another moderator, as I tend to have trouble resizing images here.

There are some good ones of Dorothy on the telephone and also some of the holdup.

Randy