Theodore Wharton | From the Submerged
| The Exploits of Elaine
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Theodore Wharton was an American film director.
From the Submerged
From the Submerged (1912) is a short film about the poor.
It is moving, and striking for its social commentary.
Leading man E.H. Calvert is notable for both his virile appearance and his sensitive acting.
Many years later, he would appear as District Attorney Markham in the Philo Vance films,
based on the novels by S.S. Van Dine.
Calvert doubled as a director in the silent era,
making films of several very good short stories by Mary Roberts Rinehart,
including "Affinities" and a series based on some of her comic Tish tales:
"The Cave on Thundercloud", "Mind Over Motor", "Tish's Spy".
Hating the Poor
The hero discovers that the rich woman he wants to marry, despises and laughs at the poor.
This is a shock to him. In the contemporary United States, such attitudes are common
among well-to-do non-Jewish white people. One can just be having a casual, pleasant conversation
with such upper middle class people, and all of a sudden they will wrench the conversation around
to express hatred of the poor, and minorities like Mexican immigrants, gays and Moslems.
Just as in From the Submerged, it is really shocking and upsetting.
These attitudes are common among right wingers, and constantly expressed with venom.
In real life, many people are poor because of the economic crisis of 2007 and beyond.
Many others coped with disasters in their lives, such as sick parents or children.
Some poor people are lazy or drunks; many others work hard at one or more very low paying jobs.
The constant hatred from conservatives for the poor is disgusting, and a major obstacle to
any sort of social progress or justice.
There is what looks like a reproduction of Jean-François Millet's painting The Angelus (1857),
above the father's bed. This very famous painting is a profound expression of the sacredness
of work among the poor. It expresses both the liberal concern for the life and economic struggles of the poor,
and devout Christianity, that were common in the Progressive Era when From the Submerged
Other links to religion are found in From the Submerged. The heroine points to Heaven,
while inspiring the hero and saving his life. And a minister appears in the finale.
The film link religion and a concern for the problems of the poor.
Many characters just seen briefly are vividly characterized. The man running the breadline is
clearly somewhat middle class, in his white shirt. He looks earnest, helpful and hard working.
He seems alive and alert in his glances, a person of thoughtfulness and action.
The poor men in the breadline are also vivid, both as individuals, and as expressing their social types.
So are the rich people at the party. The poor man who helps the hero is very good. He expresses the kindness
and direct action sometimes found among the poor. Often times, when real life working class or poor people
find another person in trouble, they immediately do something practical to help them.
The transfer of food is an example of this.
The acting of the leads is also vivid. They continually express complex mental and emotional states.
The characters seem like complex people who have many thoughts, even if the film is under half an hour.
Marriage as a Prize
From the Submerged concludes with the happy discovery that the poor man the heroine
thinks she has married, is actually wealthy. Wharton would go on to make The Lottery Man (1916),
based on the 1909 play by Rida Johnson Young, a comedy about a football star who offers himself as a matrimonial prize in a lottery.
Links to French Film
Richard Abel's DVD commentary, points out how the split screen shot
of the hero's mental imagery recalls French melodrama of the era.
I would add that specifically From the Submerged has resemblances to the films
of French director Léonce Perret:
- Perret used such mental imagery in part of screen: in Le coeur et l'argent (1912),
the hero seeing the heroine in L'Enfant de Paris (1913).
- From the Submerged mainly follows the convention of such Gaumont directors
as Perret and Louis Feuillade, of using studio sets for interiors,
and location filming for exteriors. The set of the outdoor breadline is an exception.
- Perret liked porches of villas, with steps leading up from ground level.
From the Submerged has such a porch at the end. However, Perret tends to photograph
such porches with a fixed shot that shows ground and porch as a whole, while From the Submerged
uses a very interesting slow pan, to follow its characters up the porch.
- From the Submerged has scenes with river backgrounds, a favorite locale of Perret.
- From the Submerged has its hero moving from desperate poverty
to entering among higher classes. The youthful hero Bosco of Perret's L'Enfant de Paris
will also make such a move, although far more modestly.
- From the Submerged uses a newspaper article as a substitute for a title card;
both Perret and Feuillade will extensively employ such title card alternatives.
From the Submerged was filmed in Chicago. The exterior of the house where the hero lives,
shown in the last scene, is in a distinctive Chicago style.
The building whose photo or painting
appears in the background of the breadline set, resembles a bit Louis Sullivan's
Carson, Pirie, Scott store (1899). However, it is perhaps an imaginary building, created for the film set.
The bridges in the park are full of elaborate geometric grillwork:
Geometric grillwork will be a staple of future film. It is widely seen in 1910's films
by Louis Feuillade in France and in Raoul Walsh's
Regeneration (1915) in New York City. It is interesting to see it here.
- The first bridge has spirals and curves above, a diamond lattice pattern below.
This bridge is seen in the background of the opening shot. Then in close-up during the bridge scene
where the woman saves him. Then from a more frontal angle, during the hero's mental image.
- A second bridge, seen near the end, has X-shaped girders under its arching curve.
Curving grillwork was heavily employed in real life by Louis Sullivan.
Both bridges are full of curving and curvilinear patterns. The second bridge shots also use
beautiful curving lines of the river and riverbank.
Re-Use of Locations
From the Submerged keeps re-using locations. Perhaps this is partly thriftiness.
But it also plays a structural role in the plot. There are two scenes each in the park, the breadline,
the bedroom and the porch of the mansion.
The mansion porch is shot differently in the two scenes, and might actually be either a different set,
or even a different porch in the story. First we see a swing on the porch, with the street in the background.
This might be a studio set, with the street a photo. At the film's end, we see the porch from the street,
with the characters walking up it. This is a real locale. From this angle, we cannot see the swing.
An odd touch: the hero eventually moves into his father's old bedroom. The same painting
of The Angelus remains on the wall.
The Exploits of Elaine
The Exploits of Elaine (1914-1915) is a serial. Theodore Wharton was one of four directors credited
on the serial as a whole.
Both The Exploits of Elaine and its sequels co-star Arnold Daly as
the great detective Craig Kennedy. Craig Kennedy was a scientific detective created
originally in prose short stories by Arthur B. Reeve.
Reeve would go on to be a writer in some of the films.
The prose stories about Kennedy were already famous by the time he was included in these films.
The Life Current
A good episode is Chapter 10, The Life Current. This has both detective Craig Kennedy and the villains operating
in full scientific mode. The episode has involving story line, building up to an excellent climax.
The villains' house has a front porch, used to stage scenes. Porches also appeared in From the Submerged.
And we get more of the diamond lozenge grillwork on the fence, also echoing From the Submerged.
The newspaper office is vivid. It has the "multi-focus" approach sometimes found in the 1910's,
with many different actors and activities visible all at the same time.