Vaudeville and Motion Picture Shows

Source: William Trufant Foster (with the aid of sixty investigators), Vaudeville and Motion Picture Shows: A study of theaters in Portland, Oregon (Portland, Or.: Reed College, 1914), pp. 52-53

Text: “Picture 1 ‘A Seaside Samaritan.’ Robbers are reformed immediately by kind treatment. Picture of simple and happy home life. Kindness shown to strangers. Wrong-doers are converted too suddenly to be convincing. The right triumphs. Harmless but not helpful.

“Picture 2 ‘Rory O. The Bogs.’ Melodrama. Impossible to follow the story. Effect apparently harmless.” (1)

“Picture 1 ‘The Cross in the Cacti.’ Melodrama. Without moral value. Worst wrong-doer was killed but no evidence that the one who escaped deserv[e]d better treatment. Purely adventure. Comparativ[e]ly harmless.

“Picture 2 ‘Curing the Doctor.’ Melodrama. Harmful morally. Improper ethical standards. Low ideals of love.

“Picture 3 Farce. Cheap, vulgar in parts, probably harmless.

“Picture 4 ‘The Hounded Bride.’ Morbid, unmoral. Would have caused nightmare to me as a child.” (1)

“Picture 1 Saloon scene, drinking.

“Picture 2 Altho not elevating, still not bad.

“Picture 3 Ridiculous in a vulgar way. Without moral value.

“Picture 4 Morbid.” (1)

“I saw nothing morally wrong with any of the pictures. However, I question scenes showing brutality between a father and a mother, also extended death scenes.

“‘Betty’s Nightmare.’ show[e]d the unsatisfactory results of patent medicines and sensational novels. It perhaps dasht a little cold water on some embryo Mary Garden but it left the final impression that there is no place like home.

“Picture 2 Good, the right-doer prospers. Effect somewhat inspiring.” (2)

“Picture 1 Tragedy. Seducer shot. Moral value good. The wrong-doer was punisht.

“Picture 2 Portrays act of stealing. Might instigate theft.

“Picture 3 Farce. Portrays unwholesome scenes. Effect bad.

“Picture 4 Tragedy depicting dual life of a man.

“Singing disgustingly vulgar, coarse and exceedingly flat.” (3)

“The film has no educational value. The villians [sic] are worsted but not in such a manner as to teach the triumph of virtue. For blowing up a bridge to wreck a train, for throwing the hero into the ocean to drown and casting the heroine down an old well to perish they suffer merely a few blows at the hands of the rightfully angry hero.

“The children were intensely interested in the hero and heroine overcoming the obstacles placed in their way by the villains. The film appeal[e]d to their imagination and love of adventure in a harmless way.” (3)

“Picture 1 ‘The Intruder.’ Melodrama. Moral value good if any. True love scenes.

“Picture 2 Farce. Harmless for adults, bad for small boys. It suggests dangerous pranks.

“Picture 3 ‘Cue and Miss-Cue.’ Farce. Man lies to his wife. Much drinking at billiards and at the bar, vulgar hotel scene, unwholesome picture of family life.

“Picture 4 ‘The Female of the Species.’ Melodrama, Moral effect bad. No person worthy of admiration with the possible exception of the gypsy. Shooting and acts of violence. Man unfaithful to both women. The adventure appeals to children but much of it has a demoralizing effect on them.

“Vaudeville stunt of Reuben who told vulgar jokes and sang silly songs.” (3)

“Picture 1 ‘The Return of Helen Redmond.’ Moral value good, possibly, for a melodrama.

“Picture 2 ‘Wild Man from Borneo.’ Apparently not harmful.

“Picture 3 ‘What the Burglar Got.’ Husband lies to wife. His trickiness is made to appear laudable. Effect demoralizing. The cartoons were ill-disguised defences of the use of whiskey and tobacco.” (4)

“Picture 1 ‘A Rattle Snake.’ A disgusting scene of a Mexican harboring the snake and placing it in a bed to be occupied by a child. Other acts of a violent nature.

“Picture 2 Shows beer wagons and violence to persons. No act of immoral nature and very little to appeal to the intellectual. No censorship stated.’ (5)

“There was positiv[e]ly nothing of an educational nature and the finer qualities of chivalry, kindness and love were not shown to advantage. Je[a]lousy, intrigue and violence were generously portray[e]d in three out of four pictures. Only one picture was passed by the National Board. That such subjects should be thus used is most unfortunate. The effect must be morbid ideas and depression.” (6)

“Picture 1 ‘Indian Massacre.’ Shooting and daring riding. About as uplifting as the usual dime novel.

“Picture 2 Villain drinks whiskey. Commits robbery. Meets violent de[a]th. Of poor moral value for children.

“Picture 3 Pleasant fore[ig]n pictures.

“Picture 4 A so-called comedy on the ‘Mannish Old Maid.’ Not a wholesome plot. Promiscuous kissing and other acts not clean.” (7)

“Picture 1. ‘The Adventure of the Alarm Clock.’ Moral value bad. General effect bad. Passed by National Board.

“Picture 2 ‘Desperate Chance.’ Tragedy. Kindness, true love, faithfulness, violence, hanging scene, murder, drunkenness, neglect. Moral value bad until the end. Passed by National Board.

“Picture 3 ‘Iron and Steel.’ Kindness, brutality, fist encounters, de[a]th scene, cowards, cheating, true love, trechery, disobedience, revenge. Bad more than off-sets the good.” (8)

“Picture 1. ‘Too Much Love.’ Immoral. Virtue made source of mirth. General effect bad.” (9)

Comments: William Trufant Foster (1879-1950) was an American educationalist and economist, president of Reed College, Oregon, which published this report into vaudeville and motion picture shows in Portland, aiming to determine their influence upon children. It was conducted with the co-operation of local theatre managers and involved sixty investigators. The report states that fifty-one theatres showing motion pictures were investigated (the number in brackets refer to one of the cinemas). It includes blank versions of the investigators’ forms and a list of all their names. The text above comes from an appendix giving individual comments from the reports received. The films seen include A Seaside Samaritan (USA 1913), Rory o’ the Bogs (USA 1913), The Cross in the Cacti (USA 1914), Curing the Doctor (USA 1913), Betty’s Nightmare (USA 1912), Cue and Mis-cue (USA 1913), The Female of the Species (USA 1912), The Return of Helen Redmond (USA 1914), The Wild Man from Borneo (USA 1914), What the Burglar Got (USA 1914), The Rattlesnake (USA 1913), The Indian Massacre (USA 1912) and The Adventure of the Alarm Clock (USA 1914). The apparent absence of non-American film is noteworthy. The references to singing are to vaudeville acts that were sometimes part of early cinema shows.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

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