"The First Auto" (1927)

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Big Silent Fan

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"The First Auto" (1927)

PostTue Apr 01, 2014 3:01 pm

I was somewhat shocked after watching "The First Auto," TCM's recent Silent Sunday feature when I learned that actor Charles E. Mack was killed (in an auto accident) when driving to a race track to appear in another scene for this movie. The reason this was such a shock? In the film, Mack plays young Bob Armstrong, whose seriously injured when the car he was racing (in the film) blows up. In the story, the father initially believes he died until news comes that he will recover. In real life unfortunately, Charles E. Mack never does recover. Too bad since he certainly had a growing career before his life ended.

The film was advertized as a comedy, but only because it made fun of the new 'Tin Lizzy' automobiles. The film was a drama. It's mostly a tale of a man's love for his horse and refusal to accept the arrival of automobiles.
There were some interesting filmed sequences showing an actual auto race. I could imagine where the cameraman must have needed to be positioned to film from the front, side and directly behind the driver as the cars drove on a dirt track at high speed. Risky, to say the least. The cast included 'real' auto race car driver Barney Oldfield who also provided technical advice on staging the race scenes.

The film apparently still has the original Vitaphone recording. While it might have been quite novel in 1927 to hear words carefully voiced over or sound effects added to the orchestra score, I found it somewhat annoying.
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Brooksie

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Re: "The First Auto" (1927)

PostTue Apr 01, 2014 3:53 pm

I watched it because I have a motor racing historian in my family who is always interested in seeing depictions of car or motorbike races on the screen. It's an odd movie, I couldn't quite grasp its tone. For some reason it felt much earlier than 1927, and not just because of its early century setting.

I am not a big fan of Movietone soundtracks for the reason that they really don't add much, and have a strange way of dating a film that doesn't seem to happen with silents. The Our Dancing Daughters soundtrack is a good example - the talking sections (it's too much to call them dialogue) are more distracting than anything else.
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Big Silent Fan

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Re: "The First Auto" (1927)

PostTue Apr 01, 2014 6:53 pm

Brooksie wrote:For some reason it felt much earlier than 1927, and not just because of its early century setting.


The film's introduction says. "A ROMANCE OF THE LAST HORSE AND THE FIRST HORSELESS CARRIAGE." The film says that it begins in 1895 and in one of the letters seen in the film (a cancellation notice from a Life Insurance Company) is dated 1897. Later, when Rose becomes "the first girl to walk home from an automobile ride," the title says that was in 1904.

All the autos seen were made before 1920 except for the final scene where Armstrong & Son were now selling new cars. Most of them were from around 1926.
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entredeuxguerres

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Re: "The First Auto" (1927)

PostTue Apr 01, 2014 10:01 pm

Brooksie wrote:I am not a big fan of Movietone soundtracks...


Wouldn't say I'm a "big" fan, but they're often superior to the needle-drop tracks tacked-on by cut-rate producers today; but not this one, from which no known (stupid) musical cliché was excluded! Only by watching half of it in FF was I able to endure to the end. (Though I shouldn't complain: "written by Darryl F. Zanuck" was clear warning of the schlock sure to follow.)

Must say I was impressed, however, by the number & variety of pre-1910 vehicles in good running condition assembled for this picture; even as long ago as the mid-'20s, these would have been rare outside of junk yards, thanks it part to the relative cheapness of new Model Ts, which made upkeep of such antiques a foolish economy. Thanks also to the flivver, the right-hand drives seen on many of these vehicles quickly became an anachronism, because the popularity of left-hand drive Ts made that the American "standard."
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Brooksie

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Re: "The First Auto" (1927)

PostTue Apr 01, 2014 10:32 pm

Big Silent Fan wrote:
Brooksie wrote:For some reason it felt much earlier than 1927, and not just because of its early century setting.


The film's introduction says. "A ROMANCE OF THE LAST HORSE AND THE FIRST HORSELESS CARRIAGE." The film says that it begins in 1895 and in one of the letters seen in the film (a cancellation notice from a Life Insurance Company) is dated 1897. Later, when Rose becomes "the first girl to walk home from an automobile ride," the title says that was in 1904.

All the autos seen were made before 1920 except for the final scene where Armstrong & Son were now selling new cars. Most of them were from around 1926.


This is why I said 'and not just because of it's early century setting' - I meant that it felt somewhat dated in terms of filmic technique.
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smokey15

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Re: "The First Auto" (1927)

PostWed Apr 02, 2014 6:52 pm

Does anyone know if the film's ending had to be re-written due to Chas Mack's sudden death?
Apparently Mack completed most of his scenes before his tragic death.
I wonder what scenes were going to be filmed at the race track when he died.
This was really sad; he was only 26. The cast must have had a difficult time completing the movie
after this tragedy.
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Little Caesar

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Re: "The First Auto" (1927)

PostWed Apr 02, 2014 7:17 pm

entredeuxguerres wrote:
Brooksie wrote:I am not a big fan of Movietone soundtracks...


Wouldn't say I'm a "big" fan, but they're often superior to the needle-drop tracks tacked-on by cut-rate producers today; but not this one, from which no known (stupid) musical cliché was excluded! Only by watching half of it in FF was I able to endure to the end. (Though I shouldn't complain: "written by Darryl F. Zanuck" was clear warning of the schlock sure to follow.)

Must say I was impressed, however, by the number & variety of pre-1910 vehicles in good running condition assembled for this picture; even as long ago as the mid-'20s, these would have been rare outside of junk yards, thanks it part to the relative cheapness of new Model Ts, which made upkeep of such antiques a foolish economy. Thanks also to the flivver, the right-hand drives seen on many of these vehicles quickly became an anachronism, because the popularity of left-hand drive Ts made that the American "standard."


Just a few years after this movie was made, the AACA (Antique Automobile Club of America) was founded. Even during this time period, there were some people that did appreciate and preserve the cars of the brass era and before. So, I don't think that Zanuck and anyone else involved with this production would have had many problems in finding some old car collectors willing to let them use their twenty to thirty year old cars. As for the ecomony of maintaining old cars, what I find amazing is that many luxury cars (Stutzs, Auburns, Pierce-Arrows, Packards, etc.) of the 1910s and 1920s had their backends hacked off to make pick-up trucks during the depression!
Never cry over spilt milk, because it may have been poisoned. - W.C. Fields
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Big Silent Fan

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Re: "The First Auto" (1927)

PostThu Apr 03, 2014 5:51 am

smokey15 wrote:Does anyone know if the film's ending had to be re-written due to Chas Mack's sudden death?
Apparently Mack completed most of his scenes before his tragic death.
I wonder what scenes were going to be filmed at the race track when he died.
This was really sad; he was only 26. The cast must have had a difficult time completing the movie
after this tragedy.


It did seem strange at the conclusion to only read that Bob survived and not see him and his father reunited. That would have been an important scene. Perhaps they also planned to show him back on the race track before showing the current model cars and the sign, "Armstrong & Son" Automobiles."

It seems such tragic irony, for the actor to suffer such a similar fate as the character he was playing. I searched from some more information concerning his death but other than one unconfirmed comment that he was hit by another car, I didn't learn any details. There's an on-line memorial to Charles Mack with a photo of his gravestone.
http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cg ... 712&FLsr=0" target="_blank
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earlytalkiebuffRob

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Re: "The First Auto" (1927)

PostMon Oct 09, 2017 1:27 pm

Brooksie wrote:I watched it because I have a motor racing historian in my family who is always interested in seeing depictions of car or motorbike races on the screen. It's an odd movie, I couldn't quite grasp its tone. For some reason it felt much earlier than 1927, and not just because of its early century setting.

I am not a big fan of Movietone soundtracks for the reason that they really don't add much, and have a strange way of dating a film that doesn't seem to happen with silents. The Our Dancing Daughters soundtrack is a good example - the talking sections (it's too much to call them dialogue) are more distracting than anything else.


Although of course it was a Vitaphone soundtrack - discs as opposed to sound-on-film...
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earlytalkiebuffRob

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Re: "The First Auto" (1927)

PostMon Oct 09, 2017 1:33 pm

entredeuxguerres wrote:
Brooksie wrote:I am not a big fan of Movietone soundtracks...


Wouldn't say I'm a "big" fan, but they're often superior to the needle-drop tracks tacked-on by cut-rate producers today; but not this one, from which no known (stupid) musical cliché was excluded! Only by watching half of it in FF was I able to endure to the end. (Though I shouldn't complain: "written by Darryl F. Zanuck" was clear warning of the schlock sure to follow.)

Must say I was impressed, however, by the number & variety of pre-1910 vehicles in good running condition assembled for this picture; even as long ago as the mid-'20s, these would have been rare outside of junk yards, thanks it part to the relative cheapness of new Model Ts, which made upkeep of such antiques a foolish economy. Thanks also to the flivver, the right-hand drives seen on many of these vehicles quickly became an anachronism, because the popularity of left-hand drive Ts made that the American "standard."


Doubt if they would have been seen as musical cliches then - at least not on a film soundtrack - perhaps when used by a pianist or orchestra, however... Watching in FF is not really watching the film, just as skipping or skimming a book doesn't count as reading the thing. Has anyone out there ever read Zanuck's novelisation of NOAH'S ARK? Now there's a challenge!

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