Saturday, October 17, 2009

Bold Bank Robbery (Lubin, 1904)

Siegmund "Pop" Lubin is remembered today perhaps as one of Edison's chief rivals in the patent wars at the turn of the last century. Lubin was based in Philadelphia, and is all too often referred to in the history books only for his "remakes" (rip-offs) of popular Edison titles.

It's true that the Lubin company turned out some pretty audacious imitations (their version of "The Great Train Robbery", released a year after Edison's version), but along the way, Lubin turned out some pretty interesting films which deserve to be evaluated on their own terms.

One such picture is "Bold Bank Robbery", made in 1904 by Jack Frawley (who also wrote and shot the picture). The film begins a group of men enjoying a drink and a smoke, dressed in elaborate tuxedos and top hats. They are framed in a theatrical manner in front of a painted flat. What's remarkable is the sense of space that this single, flat backdrop provides. It's both highly theatrical yet also hints at the kind of screen space that more sophisticated sets would come to provide in the near future.

The gentlemen depart, and head out to their horse-drawn carriage waiting outside the club. We are immediately aware of the use of the actual exterior location compared to the interior shot we had just witnessed.

Arriving at a home, they don masks and change into burglar garb, then head out to meet a car parked out front waiting for them. They are driven down to an embankment, where they proceed to tie up their driver and dump him in a ravine. The rest of the group drives off to the bank (another painted set), where they knock out the teller and proceed to blow up the vault, making off with bags of money and make their getaway in the car.

Meanwhile, a couple stumbles upon the bound body of the driver, laying on the side of the road. Telling them what has happened, the police are called, who track the robbers down to the home they are meeting in. A rooftop chase ensues, leading through the streets, through a lake, on a streetcar, and even on to a train. The police miss catching the last robber as he rides off on the train, so they have the station agent wire ahead to the next stop, where two officers wait for the robber to get off the train, whereupon he is placed under arrest. Finally, we see the three robbers serving time in a prison, working on a chain gang.

This ten minute film includes a tremendous amount of action. There are numerous chase scenes, and the final business, with the last robber being pursued through the streets, on the train, etc. is a remarkable bit of action staging. The exciting outdoor visuals contrast nicely with the painted flats of the interiors.

There are, of course, inevitable comparisons to be made to Edison's "The Great Train Robbery" and to Frank S. Mottershaw's "Daring Daylight Burglary" (produced by Charles Urban), both from 1903. Even the title is reminiscent of the latter film, and the staging of the action recalls Edison's "Great Train Robbery" in the bank scenes, and also the final chase with the law pursuing the criminals. Lubin's films may not have been the most original in their content or innovative in their style, but "Bold Bank Robbery" remains an exciting film in its own right, with some interesting location changes and, in a few instances, above-average production design.

1 comment:

THE REEL said...

brilliant man!!!!!!!
i mean, i have searched a heck lot of blogs but never found someones as intruiging.
let me tell you about myself. I am Sujoy Ghosh, editor of TheReelMag ( and invites you to our portal if you want to contribute
Take care.