Friday, September 05, 2014

The Black Hand (1906)

"Ripped from the headlines" crime drama about a group of extortionists who threaten to harm a local businessman's daughter unless he pays them off; when he refuses, they kidnap her and hold her for ransom until the police rescue her.

Photographed by Billy Bitzer with a documentary-like authenticity, especially in the kidnapping scene, which plays out in an extended long take as pedestrians move about in the background until the girl enters the shot and is whisked away by the gangsters in a waiting carriage. The action unfolds like a procedural, depicting in great detail the methods of the police to track and rescue the girl. The direction and photography maintain a realistic style throughout, though the scenes shot on painted sets lack the immediacy of the street scenes.

This was one of the many narrative films directed by Wallace McCutcheon for the Biograph company before Griffith's arrival, and a good argument could be made that it was he, rather than Porter, who played the more significant role in establishing storytelling approaches in early American cinema.

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