Theodore Wharton | From the Submerged | The Exploits of Elaine

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Theodore Wharton

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.

E.H. Calvert

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.

The Angelus

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 was made.

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.

Supporting Characters

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:

Chicago Architecture

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.

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.