There are plenty of lost films but there are also many unknown ones at least to me, I had never heard of The Empty Cradle and there is very little about the film on the interweb – even IMDB only has the cast list and no reviews. So, it’s quite a present to be able to sit in comfort and good company to unwrap the mystery of a film I didn’t know I wanted to watch until I’d seen it.
At London’s Kennington Bioscope they’re used to such treats and we watched a 80-something 16mm Kodascope print that required a good deal of attention from the projectionist in fixing broken sprockets prior to the show and then constantly re-focusing as light flowed through it in public for the first time in years.
She was forty when she made this film and clearly a very experienced and able actress who carried much of the emotional weight of the drama on her shoulders.
|Harry T. Morey|
The couple have three children, two characterful boys Buddy (Mickey Bennett) and Frankie (Edward Quinn) and a baby girl, Louise (apparently played by one Helen Rowland). Times are hard and as the boys dream of their Christmas presents – a drum for one and a pram for the other (plus a cow to provide milk for his baby sister) – Alice knows that she cannot afford for Santa to visit.
|Former Zeigfeld girl Madeline La Varre|
Evil wants to buy herself a baby and claim it as Robert’s own, thereby winning him back and the person she has chosen to acquire the child from is Alice. Meanwhile, down the hill as the boys play with their old toys on a cold Christmas morning, John heads off to his workshop to experiment once again on his process. There’s a flash and he reels back seemingly blinded… he’s helped back to the house to heap more misery on the flailing family fortunes.
If this all sounds melodramatic that’s because it is but the playing is so intelligent you forget the situation and feel for the characters… More than one cynical cineaste wiped a tear from their eye as the story unfolded after the apparently fateful decision… but I will say no more.
Lillian Henley provided expert accompaniment to the film and greatly enhanced the drama. Given the film’s rarity I wonder if she’d had a chance at a run-through but she played very well – I'd not seen her play before but she's certainly a musician to watch and hear! More details are on her website.
|Virginia Lee Corbin and Johnnie Walker|
Never judge a book by its cover or legs by their lack of covering…
I previously raved about Bare Legs and tonight saw no reason to change my opinion. It’s always better watching a comedy with a live audience and those wise-cracking title cards were rewarded with laughs all round in another full house. I also have to say that Jane Winton has the most gloriously expressive eyes especially as they well up with the shock of betrayal soon followed by pride in her suddenly surprisingly wonderful sibling…
|Jane Winton and those eyes...|
Bare Knees is available on DVD from Grapevine and we can only hope that The Empty Cradle will get more attention in future. For more like these keep your eyes on the Bioscope’s website.