August 29, 2007
Only in the Way (1911)
In 1909, a former theater actor named Edwin Thanhouser decided to enter into the rising motion picture business after making a good fortune by managing the Academy of Music Theater in Milwaukee. After moving to New York, he opened the Thanhouser Company, a motion picture studio that enjoyed a good popularity from 1910 to 1917, producing films of great quality in terms of acting, almost on par with those done by Griffith for the Biograph Company. The high standards in the acting of this movies was the result of Thanhouser's involvement, as he was among the first producers to have a strong experience in theater. The 1911 short film, "Only in the Way", is one of the Thanhouser movies were this can be easily appreciated, as while it's far from a masterpiece, the performances are excellent, specially the one by the young Marie Eline, the legendary star nicknamed "Thanhouser Kid".
In "Only in the Way", Marie Eline plays little Marie, the only daughter of a young marriage that seems to be having a bad time. The problems between Mom and Dad begins when Grandma decides to live with them as, while Marie is delighted by the idea, Mom dislikes to have her husband's mother around, as she feels that Grandma will only give her troubles. Marie, who needs the help of a crutch to walk, is very close to her Grandma, and considers her the only friend she has in the world, as like her Granny, she also finds herself at times out of place in her family. Soon after Grandma's arrival, Marie's Mom decides that Grandma must leave, so she asks Grandma to go and live in a retirement home. Marie feels saddened by the news, but soon she decides that if Grandma is an obstacle in Mom and Dad's way to happiness, she must be in the way too, so Marie runs away hoping to live with her Grandma.
Unfortunately, little is know about this early films, so the names of the crew behind the movie are now lost forever. One can assume that in these early Thanhouser movies, Edwin Thanhouser had a lot of creative control, as only after becoming successful he would hire (and credit) writers and directors for his movies. Anyways, what can be said about "Only in the Way" is that the story is pretty well developed considering that it was a 12 minutes long one-reeler. The plot captures nicely the internal conflict of the child, and the consequences that family troubles have on children. The directing of the film is of good quality, nothing really amazing, but very effective and with an excellent cinematography. What really stands out are the performances of the actors, as not only they are of excellent quality, but move away from the stagy style of the early movies and have a natural style (This hints that Thanhouser himself was the director).
As written above, the performances are of a really good quality, looking quite ahead of its time and on par with what Biograph was producing at the time (Griffith's films were a big influence for Thanhouser). Sadly, there are no records on who played who in this movie, except for Marie Eline, who as "The Thanhouser Kid" was one of the early movie stars. The actress who plays Mom is very good, and while due to the limited runtime we get nothing but glimpses of her neurosis, her portrayal is top notch. At the same time, the actress who plays Granny is also very natural in her performance, and the chemistry she has with Marie Eline makes for some great scenes together. Still, "Only in the Way" is completely Eline's show, and she certainly makes the most of it, delivering a terrific performance that even now looks amazing for an actress of her age (she was 9 at the time).
While probably not as well known as the Biograph or the Edison Company films, the Thanhouser short films have some pretty interesting elements that make a good watch for those interested in the history of early American film-making. The Thanhouser Company would enjoy great popularity in the following years after movies like the 1912 version of "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" (starring a young James Cruze) and 1914 "The Million Dollar Mystery" (also with Cruze). Sadly, Thahouser films would end its production in 1917, when the film industry was on a depression (and when most of the major studios had already moved to Hollywood). Still, its movies are, while maybe not masterpieces, a small glimpse of how American film-making was being developed in those early years. despite its shortcomings, "Only in the Way" is a good short movie and the perfect introduction to the movies of the Thanhouser company.
Buy "Only in the Way" (1911)