Chapter XVIII


Making the Movies by Ernest A. Dench
New York, The Macmillan company, published 1915 (now in the Public Domain)

pp. 75-79

Without exaggeration, the motion picture producer is a clever Jack of all trades, for he will tackle anything under the sun. The fact that he is not thoroughly familiar with his subject matters little since he has the knack of acquiring the requisite knowledge when it will serve him in good stead.

It is, indeed, doubtful whether any class of productions call forth for so much resourcefulness and ability as do biblical photoplays. The producer is only too well aware that if he goes wrong on any point he will surely gain the censure of the church. It might pass muster easily before the average movie audience, but if he can please the clergy at the same time, then he has good cause to pat himself on the back.

The sacred, and, therefore, difficult task the Kalem Company set themselves was the producing of "From Manger to Cross," a film which has received the hearty approval of the clergy, press and public alike in all Christian countries. It has also merited the distinction of being called the greatest religious production of all time.

It may strike you as rather unusual that there was little elaborate planning for its production. It came about in this way: A troupe of Kalemites happened to be making a batch of modern dramas in the Holy Land, and while the leading lady, Miss Gene Gauntier, was recovering from a sunstroke, it occured to her that it would be exceedingly opportune to film the life of our Savior. After consultation with her director, she wrote the scenario in five reels.

Somehow or other the news that the picture was going to be produced got to the ears of ten ministers who were attending a conference in Jerusalem. So, to gratify their curiosity, they discussed the photoplay with Miss Gauntier, who surprised them with her knowledge of the Bible. For instance, she was aware that Mary, Martha's sister, and Mary Magdalene were one and the same person.

When the scenario was completed, all the responsibilities rested on Sidney Olcott, the director. Before he could put on the picture he had to secure the authority of the Turkish Governor General of Jerusalem. This official was very obdurate, but after having given up all heart, Mr. Olcott finally won the day by his persuasive abilities and was free to do what he liked. The Governor, although a Mohammedan, realized the influence the picture would have on Christians and gave Allah's blessing on the work.

The studio in which the interiors were filmed was located between a monastery and a Roman Catholic nunnery. No less than five players portrayed Christ. The first was a new born baby borrowed from its Australian parents who were sojourning in Cairo. The second was a youngster of two, while the third was a boy of eight. In the important parts of the youthful and adult Christ, the director was in a dilemma for suitable types. Requiring also a number of extras for apostles, etc., he made a trip to London, securing what he required. The young Christ was a boy of thirteen, Percy Dyer by name, who would easily pass for sixteen. the older character was taken by R. Henderson Bland, an English stage actor, who was as natural a counterpart as could be found. He left London for Palestine a few hours after being engaged. On the sea voyage each in turn read aloud from a book on the life of Christ so that all could gain a proper appreciation and reverence for the subject. In fact, Mr. Olcott was so fastidious that he gave them to undertand that unless they were able to realise the sacredness and holiness of the undertaking he did not want them for the film. None, however, replied in the negative, and it is safe to say that all lived their parts during the weeks n which filming operations took place.

Every night the following day's work was planned out. The players suffered great inconvenience thorugh the intense heat. Nearly all the settings were produced on the actual locations, while biblical experts, after visiting the museum in Cairo, and inspecting the old models, gave out exact directions for the stage carpenters for a number of chariots that should reproduce the old; and instruct the costumiers, as well, on the correct dress of the period.

Mohammedans were engaged to participate in the crucifixion scenes; and they did not need much encouraging to produce the desired realism.

Mr. Bland recently addressed a meeting in a New York Church when the picture was shown. "I shall never forget the day I toiled along the Via Dolorosa with the huge symbol that has carried the message of mercy through the ages. Great crowds stood for hours in the blazing Syrian sun and numbers lined the walls and covered the roofs of the houses. The crowds around my carriage were so dense that police were told off to keep the people back. When I left the carriage to take up my position in the scene a way was made for me with no word said. Women stepped forward and kissed my robe."

Surely it spoke volumes for his adaptability for the difficult role he had to assume.

Making the Movies - Contents ... Back to Chapter XVII ... On to Chapter XIX

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