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  • 1905

The Film Crises

Cartoon by Theodore Brown from The Optical Lantern and Cinematograph Journal (October 1905): 261.

This cartoon is a pointed comment on the threat facing British film producers from cheaper foreign imports (5d per foot rather than 6d), mainly from the Pathé company, which at this time was greatly expanding its facilities and output.33 The rooster seen on the table was the trademark of Pathé, and the small figure next to it represents that company’s founder, Charles Pathé, as well as Continental European manufacturers in general. The cartoonist, Theodore Brown was the editor of the journal in which this cartoon appears (there’s an ad for the journal on the back wall), and Brown was an important film pioneer in his own right and an imaginative inventor too. He is possibly the figure with moustache in the centre background of the cartoon. The main figures gathered round the table are, from the left: unknown; Robert Paul; possibly E.G. Turner of Walturdaw; Alfred Bromhead of Gaumont (the Elgé badge was Gaumont’s trademark); Charles Urban; unknown; Cecil Hepworth.

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[End Page 413]

Misdeeds of Arthur Swain, Polite Crook: He Biographs a Bank

Extract from short story by William H. McMasters from Sunday Herald [Boston, USA] magazine section (19 March 1905): 5–6.

William Henry McMasters was born in 1874 on the outskirts of Boston, and he worked in that city as a writer and publicist for the remainder of his life. Most of his work was for newspapers (though he did publish a novel in 1919 entitled Revolt). When this story appeared in 1905 in the Sunday edition of the Boston Herald (one of America’s oldest newspapers), the credit line stated that it was “reported by Wm. H. McMasters”, as if it were a genuine news happening. In fact it is manifestly a work of fiction.

The plot of the story is rather original. While most early film fiction involving crime has the camera revealing the telltale incident, in McMasters’ story it is in a sense the converse, with the film activity hiding a crime, for here a film production is organised as a ploy to mask a bank robbery. The idea would be taken up by other writers in later years.34 The story was apparently part of a series featuring a confidence trickster, Arthur Swain, who wears expensive clothes and is incredibly charming and confident: “Swain could interest anybody”, writes McMasters in this story. Incidentally, the fictional Swain bears a remarkable resemblance to a real confidence trickster, Charles Ponzi, who McMasters exposed a decade and a half later in a celebrated newspaper report.35

Our extract runs from the middle of the story to its conclusion. The earlier part of the story (not included here) has Swain ingratiating himself into the favours of a Boston Senator, who offers to bring Swain in on a lucrative mining deal. So Swain needs $10,000 urgently for the investment, and hatches his plan to get it. His former partner in crime is to be involved, though his role is unclear, and Swain tells him that this caper will be done without violence, using brainpower alone – presumably it was different in previous episodes. The next scene, where we join the story, finds Swain a hundred miles away in Norwich, Connecticut, under the alias of Montgomery Taylor, a film producer …

[…]

The biograph business and the bank

“A gentleman to see you, Mr. Spaulding,” announced the office boy of the Nutmeg National Bank of Norwich. Mr. Spaulding, the president, glanced at the card, which read:

Montgomery Taylor,

Universal Moving Picture Co.,

Chicago. – London.

“Show the gentleman in Frank,” said the president, and a moment later Arthur Swain was ushered into the palatial private office of the bank’s chief executive.

“I am glad to know you, Mr. Taylor, although I cannot even guess what business you can have with me.”

Swain smiled, placed his hat on a table and drew a chair close to that of the president.

“No, Mr. Spaulding,” he said, “and if you did you would probably guess wrong. I came in to rob the bank.”

The last remark...

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