Irish Cinema Catches the Public Eye in February 1916

Audience P&Pg 19 Feb 1916p475

Voices filling the dark; Pictures and the Picturegoer 19 Feb. 1916: 475.

At the end of January 1916, cinema-trade-journal Bioscope’s Irish correspondent Paddy congratulated George Hay, manager of Waterford’s Broad Street Cinema, on his catchy new programmes. “‘The Picture and Picturegoer’ is on sale in the theatre,” he observed, “and Mr. Hay has had his entire programme printed on the front page. This catches the public eye, and moreover, when the paper is left lying about at home it catches the eye of other members of the family.” Getting and remaining in the public eye was important to the cinema business, but much of the publicity it garnered in Ireland in February 1916 was negative.

Elaine Hand Sep 2 1915 Bio

Eye-catching ad for The Exploits of Elaine incorporating the clutchching hand motif; Bioscope 9 Sep. 1915: 1127.

Cinema’s “Clutching Hand” certainly caught the public’s eye in February 1916. The Exploits of Elaine (US: Wharton, 1914) serial had been showing in many Irish picture houses, including Dublin’s Rotunda, which had shown the first episode, “The Clutching Hand,” on 18 October 1915. The plucky Elaine’s (Pearl White’s) repeated imperilling by master criminal the Clutching Hand (Sheldon Lewis) and rescuing by scientific detective Craig Kennedy (Arnold Daly) proved a lucrative formula. Showing one episode a week, the Rotunda reached the 14th and final episode, “The Reckoning,” on 20 January 1916. “Those who have followed the various episodes in this serial picture must not omit to visit the Rotunda,” a newspaper article warned, “and witness the first dénouement of the Clutching Hand, in which the culprit is revealed through his inadvertence in referring to the hidden treasure” (“The ‘Clutching Hand’ Revealed”). “Thus far,” the Irish Independent observed, “‘Exploits’ may claim to have established a record in general interest, and increased attendances are like to be experienced as the story reaches its climax” (“Dublin and District”).

Exploits_of_Elaine_-_The_Devil_Worshippers_(1914)

Poster for the episode of The Exploits of Elaine in which the Clutching Hand’s identity is revealed. Source: Wikipedia.

Other picture houses were not far behind the Rotunda. On 10-12 February, Cork’s Coliseum showed the 13th episode, “The Devil Worshippers,” in which the identity of the master criminal the Clutching Hand is revealed. Smaller towns started the serial later, with the first episode being offered to audiences in Ballina in June 1916 and in Longford town in July 1916. Seeing its success, producers Wharton Studios had quickly followed it with The New Exploits of Elaine (US: Wharton, 1915), and the Rotunda and others would begin showing this as soon as the original concluded. As a result, the phrase “Clutching Hand” was in circulation in Ireland as a synonym for criminality throughout 1916. Calling for an enquiry into the military killing of civilians during the Easter Rising, for example, Dublin alderman Laurence O’Neill described himself as having “the clutching hand of the military authority upon him” (“Action of Corporation”).

Pictures and the Picturegoer 26 Feb. 1916.

Pictures and the Picturegoer 26 Feb. 1916.

We have seen here that White’s Elaine offered young women an adventurous role model, but court cases reveal that the Clutching Hand proved equally inspirational for the criminal careers of Irish child gangs. A writer in the Southern Star noted that “the Exploits of Elaine, or the Clutching Hand, is drawing crowded houses at the local Kinema” in Kinsale, Co. Cork. As a result, “[a]ll our youth are now budding Sherlock Holmes.” But the influence of the serial was not so clear cut:

This habit of observation properly cultivated is a very useful thing and fits the youngster for life’s battle, but, judging by the cases before the local court on Saturday last the Clutching Hand is also in evidence. A month was the reward in this case. (“Kinsale Notes and Notions.”)

Cinema could be educational by providing “useful lessons by ocular demonstration” but the “Clutching Hand remains.”

The Southern Star writer did not provide details of the case in Kinsale, but more evidence exists for those the Clutching Hand inspired in Newry and Mullingar. On 9 February 1916, seven boys and one girl were each sentenced to five years in various reformatories and industrial schools for stealing from shops in Newry. As each child was sentenced and put in a room beside the court, they sang the popular World War I song “Are We Downhearted? No!” – a song that begins by mentioning Pat Malone of the Irish Fusiliers – and cheered.“[A]s each fresh defendant came from the magistrates’ hands he was received with the sign of the ‘Clutching Hand,’ and solemnly responded” (“Boys and the ‘Clutching Hand’”). Sentenced to five years at Philipstown Reformatory for stealing 16s 7d and some handkerchiefs on 14 January, Bernard Hughes described how

they planned the robberies, and with the proceeds went to a picture palace, in the café of which they had tea, bread and butter, lemonade, chocolate, wine, and cigarettes. After sleeping in “Duck” Marron’s common lodginghouse all night at 4d. each, they visited Warrenpoint next day, where they were arrested.

The rich food and lodgings they experienced on their spree contrasted markedly to the conditions in which at least some of them lived. Head Constable Mara gave evidence of having been invited by accused James O’Hare’s father, a sailor home on leave, to see how his children were living:

They were covered with vermin, and their mother was drunk. The house was filthy, and nothing in it but a dirty sack for five children to sleep on. [Another accused John] Hanratty, it was stated, lived in the worst house in Newry, with his mother and his sister.

Such testimony does not appear to have influenced the magistrates towards any more leniency than extended incarceration. Nevertheless, the solidarity between the children in court seems remarkable. By mentioned just these signs of defiance in court without the details of their desperate living conditions, most papers presented the case as a commentary on the antisocial nature of cinema.

The Exploits of Elaine showing in Mullingar. Westmeath Examiner 26 Feb. 1916: 8.

The Exploits of Elaine showing in Mullingar. Westmeath Examiner 26 Feb. 1916: 8.

Reports of the Newry case, or similar cases elsewhere, may have inspired the behaviour of the 12-year-old John Connor, Thomas Keena and Michael Creevy who on 26 February 1916 were arrested for stealing in Mullingar. Sergeant Campbell informed the petty sessions that having been told by J. F. Gallagher that £1 10s had been robbed from his shop, he went to Healy’s Picture House and found the boys in possession of the remainder of the money. Although the chairman of the petty sessions seemed inclined to grant Creevy’s mother’s request for bail for her son, the boy himself asked not to be sent home but to go to a detention home with the other boys. While in the cells at the police barracks, the boys reportedly sang “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary” and shouted “Hurrah for the Clutching Hand” (“Robbery in Patrick Street”). The magistrates hearing the boys’ case sent a resolution to the Mullingar Town Commissioners urging them not to renew picture house licences until the proprietors undertook not to show any film that depicted burglary to children under 16 (“Youths Charged with Robbery”). The Commissioners simplified this by barring boys under 16 from evening performances (“Mullingar Town Commissioners”).

These cases lent fuel to the campaigns to regulate – or eliminate – cinema. “What is really a little alarming,” argued a writer in the Irish Times citing the Newry case,

is the prospect of a gradual Americanisation – and a very cheap sort of Americanisation at that – of all our English and Irish ideals and of the whole British outlook on things in general. To-day the picture-house does little or nothing for patriotism; it is not helping us to victory in the field. (“American Films.”)

This writer supported H. G. Richards’ suggestion in the London Times that the importation of all foreign – mainly American – films be banned, including raw film stock. Richards argued this move would save £2 million, free up space on cargo ships, encourage the British film industry to expand, and make films more educational. Considering some of the economic and moral arguments for and against a ban, the Sunday Independent seemed to come down against it. “Naturally for the defence,” an editorial item observed, “we have the sound standing arguments of the public need of diversion in war as well as peace-time, and the benefit to temperance of the competition of the Cinema theatres with the publichouses.” The writer seemed to consider something of a clincher the fact “that on each of the British battle cruisers which await the appearance of the German fleet is installed a picture show for the amusement of the fighting men” (“The Passing Show”).

Few in the industry shared Richards’ views. Fan magazine Pictures and the Picturegoer pointed out that while British audiences were staunch supporters of British films, domestic companies could not supply the market. “[U]nfortunately, the [British] films that are worth much would not go far to feed the four thousand odd theatres,” s/he observed. “Indeed, if all the British film companies suddenly decided to work day and night in order to turn out films with the rapidity of a munitions factory, the output would provide but a mere drop in the ocean” (“Don’t Close Our Picture Theatres”). As the article pointed out, the dearth of people and materials in wartime made it unlikely that the British industry could expand to any great degree.

While these kind of arguments were unlikely to convince those intent on reshaping a mainly entertainment medium into a mainly educational one, other government priorities militated against a film-import ban. The Irish papers prepared their readers for the imposition of an amusement tax in the upcoming budget as a much-needed revenue-raising measure. Cinemagoers would feel the clutching hand of the war economy in May.

References

“Action of Corporation: Petition to House of Commons.” Freeman’s Journal 3 Aug. 1916: 7.

“American Films.” Irish Times 14 Feb. 1916: 4.

“Boys and the ‘Clutching Hand’: Remarkable Case at Newry.’” Irish Times 10 Feb. 1916: 6.

“The ‘Clutching Hand’ Revealed.” Irish Times 20 Jan. 1916: 9.

“Don’t Close Our Picture Theatres: ‘Movies’ the War-Time Medicine of the Masses.” Pictures and the Picturegoer 26 Feb. 1916: 494.

“Dublin and District: Rotunda Pictures.” Irish Independent 20 Jan. 1916: 5.

“Kinsale Notes and Notions.” Southern Star 5 Feb. 1916: 7.

“Mullingar Town Commissioners: Cinemas and the Youth.” Westmeath Examiner 18 Mar. 1916: 6.

Paddy. “Pictures in Ireland.” Bioscope 27 Jan. 1916: 344.

“The Passing Show.” Sunday Independent 13 Feb. 1916: 4.

“Robbery in Patrick Street: Extraordinary Performance of Boys.” Westmeath Examiner 4 Mar. 1916: 8.

“Youths Charged with Robbery: Cheering for the ‘Clutching Hand.’” Westmeath Examiner 18 Mar. 1916: 6.

The Lure of the Picture House: Disaster and Comedy in Irish Cinemas, May 1915

By May 1915, cinema had become so compulsive for some Irish people that it landed them in trouble with the law. Dublin newspapers reported on “the lure of the picture house” that had led two children, Annie Hughes and Rose Kavanagh, from Newtown Park Avenue in Stillorgan, to beg door-to-door to get money to go to the cinema (“Lure of the Picture House”). At the Police Court in Kingstown (now Dún Laoghaire), Kavanagh’s father said that his daughter acted without his knowledge and that “it was the attractions of the picture houses that cause them to beg” (ibid.). Hearing from the police that the girls were constantly begging, Justice Michael Macinerney put them on probation for 12 months.

Illustrated ad for Rupert of Henzau (Britain: London, 1915) at Dublin's Picture House, Grafton Street; Evening Telegraph 31 May 1915: 2.

Illustrated ad for Rupert of Henzau (Britain: London, 1915) at Dublin’s Picture House, Grafton Street; Evening Telegraph 31 May 1915: 2.

Whatever about its compulsion to drive people to illegal activity – a point made both by some reform groups and by some wrongdoers seeking to lay the blame for their actions with the new medium – other commentators were making the point that cinema had become a habit for many people. Writing in Irish Life, playwright and novelist Edward McNulty assessed the progress of the cinematograph against the many claims made for it:

[A]ll the things predicted of the cinematograph are undoubtedly realisable, but, unfortunately, most of the brightest anticipations have not been achieved. The cinema was, above all, to be educational. All the drudgery of teaching was to vanish. Schools and colleges were to be transformed into theatres of instruction; the daily paper was to be supplanted by the Cinema News Bureau, and the French irregular verbs were to be assimilated in the guise of light comedy. (Paddy, 20 May).

Nevertheless, “ in spite of its defects and disappointments, we must gladly acknowledge that the marvel of cinema is the vehicle of diurnal delight all over the civilised globe” (ibid).

Although Irish cinema of the period was certainly a vehicle for diurnal delight, May 1915 was striking for the motivations other than delight that lured patrons to the picture houses. If diurnal delight was epitomized by Charlie Chaplin’s comedies, their power of attraction was at least matched by war films. The Cinema News Bureau had not – and would never – replace the newspaper, but the sinking of the RMS Lusitania showed how the media worked together to serve wider ideological war needs. The Cunard Line’s transatlantic steamer was torpedoed by a German submarine off Kinsale, Co. Cork, at about 2pm on 7 May, and initial reports appeared in the evening newspapers (“Lusitania”), with fuller accounts dominating the news on 8 May. The story had several aspects of interest to Irish papers, some of which had particularly local resonance and other of which linked to war-related issues. Rescue efforts were coordinated from the Cork port of Queenstown (now Cobh), where survivors and victims were initially brought and the inquest held. The large loss of civilian lives – almost 1,200 of the nearly 2,000 people on board died – world have made this a particularly important story in any case, and one that justified propagandistic condemnation of German disregard for civilian life and the rules of war. As well as this, the fact that more than 100 Americans were among the victims provided an impetus for discussion of the hoped-for US entry into the war on the British side.

Newspaper reports were joined on Monday, 10 May by the first newsreel images. The big newsreel companies Gaumont and Pathé sent film units to Queenstown. “Immediately the news was received,” revealed the trade journal Biosocpe,

Gaumont’s dispatched four photographers to the south of Ireland – one from London, Liverpool, Dublin and Belfast – and their joint film contributions were promptly sent to London, where they were supplemented by a few views of the arrival at Euston of survivors. The subject is introduced by a general view of the Lusitania, Messrs. Pathé Frères had men at Queenstown, and a staff of three photographers at Lime Street Station, Liverpool, to meet the train conveying survivors. (Filming ‘Lusitania’ Incident.”)

On Monday, Gaumont released a 350-foot “special topical,” while Pathé initially included just a 50-foot (approx. 1 minute) item in their regular Pathé Gazette, with the intention of supplementing this with a further 150-foot item for the weekend. “The enterprise of these two firms is only surpassed by their restraint,” commented the Bioscope, “when it is remembered that about ten cameras were employed, and the output of film ran into four figures” (ibid.).

Entertainment ads showing impact of Lusitania sinking; Evening Telegraph 10 May 1915: 1.

Entertainment ads showing impact of Lusitania sinking; Evening Telegraph 10 May 1915: 1.

Irish audiences also had the opportunity to see these films. Patrons of Dublin’s Rotunda were offered “a series of pictures depicting incidents connected with the arrival of the Lusitania victims and survivors at Queenstown” (“Rotunda Pictures,” 11 May). The depth of emotion expressed by the journalist who visited the Picture House in Sackville/O’Connell Street suggests that s/he saw the longer Gaumont film. “A picture showing scenes and incidents after the sinking of the Lusitania was shown at this House yesterday;” s/he reported.

[I]t was both interesting and pathetic, and one left with feelings of deepest emotion at the havoc and misery caused to countless human beings by the unmediated act of murder on the part of the German submarine, which, with a total disregard for the lives of women and children sent the mighty ship to the bottom. (“O’Connell Street Picture House.”)

The clear anti-German feeling here was congruent with the reporting on the sinking in general and particularly with the verdict of the inquest, which was given in an editorial item on the same page as the review of the Sackville/O’Connell. “This appalling crime was contrary to international law and the convention of all civilized nations,” it began, “and we, therefore, charge the owners of the submarine, the German Emperor, and the Government of Germany, under whose orders they acted, with the crime of wilful and wholesale murder” (“The Kinsale Verdict.”)

What seems incongruous – but may only seem so – is that the writer so affected by the Lusitania film should find immediate relief in the comedies that accompanied it on the same programme. “After viewing those harrowing incidents,” s/he observed, “the excellent comedies came as a most welcome change; they included ‘Love and Dough,’ featuring the well-known screen comedian Ford Sterling” (“O’Connell Street Picture House”). Images of war and physical comedy complemented each other on the picture-house screen, and as will be seen below, Chaplin had become the comedian in highest demand. Although for audiences in the early 21st century such changes of tone may seem strange or even inappropriate, for audiences in the 1910s, used to entertainments that included variety and contrast, this appears to have been perfectly acceptable.

In any case, films of various kinds provided the imaginative means for coming to terms with the tragedy of war, as well as the spectacle of such new technologies as the zeppelin, the torpedo and the submarine. Bearing echoes of the Lusitania sinking, for example, Dublin’s Masterpiece placed a special ad in the Evening Telegraph at the end of May advising the public that it would give its final exhibition of The Italian Navy “in which is shown a torpedo at its deadly work of sinking a passing vessel” (“The Masterpiece,” 29 May). The Lusitania sinking also had consequences for Irish cinema that only became clear much later. Although Walter Macnamara had shot the Irish historical drama Ireland a Nation for his New York-based production company partly in Ireland in 1914, a copy of the film did not reach the country until 1917 because “the first copy dispatched by them was lost with the ill-fated Lusitania; a duplicate copy was substituted, but […] this also failed to successfully run the submarine ‘blockade’” (“Between the Spools”).

The Lusitania films were joined by other propagandistic war films in mid-May. On 13-15 May, a “very important” War Office film of Lord Kitchener’s visit to British army headquarters in France was shown at Dublin’s Picture Houses in Grafton and Sackville/O’Connell Streets (‘“Lord Kitchener in France”’). Over the same period, the Grafton was also showing a film of the Battle of Neuve Chapelle,

“illustrated by Kineto War Map No. 5. By means of this exceedingly clever animated map the Battle of Neuve Chapelle is shown in a manner most thrilling to watch. The representation of the whole battle is wonderful, and everyone who sees it will be more than interested, as it forcibly portrays the difficult struggle of the British to hold this position against the heavy fire of the enemy’s’ batteries. (Ibid.)

Ad for Dublin’s Masterpiece showing The Secret of Adrianople (1913); Evening Telegraph 15 May 1915: 1.

Ad for Dublin’s Masterpiece showing The Secret of Adrianople (Denmark: Kinografen, 1913) and Bohemian ad drawing attention to the big Whit Monday attraction, Tillie’s Punctured Romance (US: Keystone, 1914); Evening Telegraph 15 May 1915: 1.

For the week of 16-22 May, the Masterpiece advertised The Secret of Adrianpole. The preview in the Evening Telegraph described it as “a magnificent four-part war drama, the scene of which is laid in the now famous Dardanelles, and shows the defences of the much-talked-of Turkish forts” (“The Masterpiece,” 11 May). However, the film was not set during World War I, having been released under the title Adrianopels hemmelighed by the Danish company Kinographen in 1913. Interest in the Dardanelles raised by the Gallipoli land campaign that began on 25 April 1915 lent it renewed topicality:

Now, when all eyes are focused on the Dardanelles, and every scrap of information about the present bombardment eagerly devoured, this great picture comes most opportunely, reproducing in interesting fashion the places daily mentioned in the Press, and showing particularly the actual defences of Fort No. 13, one of the fortifications of so much interest at the moment. (Ibid.)

Although these war films clearly attracted audiences, by early summer 1915 Charlie Chaplin was Irish cinema’s most consistent draw. As already mentioned, the Rotunda showed the Lusitania newsreel beginning on Monday, 10 May; however, the “principal attraction for the great majority of the audience who will frequent the Rotunda this week will, undoubtedly, be the Keystone comedy film entitled ‘The Knockout’” (“Rotunda Pictures,” 11 May). The Knockout (US: Keystone, 1914) actually starred Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle and Minta Durfee, with Chaplin in a minor role, but the review of the Rotunda shows mentioned only that it featured “the well-known comedian, Charles Chaplin, as referee in a boxing match of a decidedly novel description” (ibid.). This favouring of Chaplin was consistent with a recent comment that no cinema “programme now is complete without the well-known comedian, Charles Chaplin” (“Rotunda Pictures,” 8 May).

Charlie Chaplin, caught between Mabel Normand and Marie Dressler in Tillie's Punctured Romance (US: Keystone, 1914)

Charlie Chaplin, caught between Mabel Normand and Marie Dressler in Tillie’s Punctured Romance (US: Keystone, 1914).

For the week beginning with the Whit Monday holiday, 24 May 1915, the Rotunda again featured a Chaplin film, Charlie’s New Job (US: Keystone, 1914), but the Bohemian upstaged them by securing exclusive rights to Tillie’s Punctured Romance (US: Keystone, 1914). The first feature-length comedy, the six-reel Tillie’s Punctured Romance starred Chaplin alongside stage actress Marie Dressler and Keystone favourite Mabel Normand. Reporting on a press showing of the film on 9 May, a writer in the Evening Telegraph observed that the “farcical element throughout the whole performance has full sway, and the spirit of fun dominates the various scenes. […] The film has been secured by the ‘Bohemian’ at the cost of £100, and the enterprise of the management should meet with a huge measure of public appreciation” (“Bohemian Picture House”). Their enterprise apparently was rewarded because the reviewer of the Whit Monday show commented that “Chaplin is certainly at his best in this production, and all those desirous of seeing him should go early, as the demand for seats last evening was very great” (“The Bohemian”).

Such diurnal delights would continue to lure audiences for many years to come.

References

“Between the Spools.” Irish Limelight 1:2 (Feb. 1917): 19.

The Bohemian.” Evening Telegraph 25 May 1915: 2.

“Bohemian Picture House.” Evening Telegraph 10 May 1915: 2.

“The Kinsale Verdict.” Evening Telegraph 11 May 1915: 2.

“Filming ‘Lusitania’ Incident.” Bioscope 13 May 1915: 623.

‘“Lord Kitchener in France.”’ Evening Telegraph 12 May 1915: 4.

“The Lure of the Picture House.” Evening Telegraph 3 May 1915: 6.

“Lusitania: Sinking Off Cork Coast: Help from Queenstown: 1,400 Passengers on Board.” Evening Telegraph 7 May 1915: 3.

“The Masterpiece.” Evening Telegraph 15 May 1915: 8; 29 May 1915: 8.

The O’Connell Street Picture House.” Evening Telegraph 11 May 1915: 2.

Paddy. “Picture in Ireland.” Bioscope 20 May 1915: 773.

“Rotunda Pictures.” Evening Telegraph 8 May 1915: 8; 11 May 1915: 2.