Earliest Courtroom Drama?

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Brooksie

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Earliest Courtroom Drama?

PostFri Feb 27, 2015 8:17 pm

Having recently shared Billy Wilder's Witness for the Prosecution (1957) with Mr Brooksie, he made a good observation: given that the courtroom drama is an inherently talky (i.e. dialogue-based) genre, where there many silent courtroom dramas?

I was surprised to find that very few came to mind - Within the Law (1923), Chicago (1927), and The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), but not much else. The fact that there was a rash of them in the early sound era (The Trial of Mary Dugan, The Letter, Madame X and so on) makes me wonder if the genre was considered to be rendered off limits by the nature of the silent film medium, much like musicals.

What others can we think of? What about the earliest one?
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Re: Earliest Courtroom Drama?

PostFri Feb 27, 2015 9:06 pm

Brooksie wrote:Having recently shared Billy Wilder's Witness for the Prosecution (1957) with Mr Brooksie, he made a good observation: given that the courtroom drama is an inherently talky (i.e. dialogue-based) genre, where there many silent courtroom dramas?

I was surprised to find that very few came to mind - Within the Law (1923), Chicago (1927), and The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), but not much else. The fact that there was a rash of them in the early sound era (The Trial of Mary Dugan, The Letter, Madame X and so on) makes me wonder if the genre was considered to be rendered off limits by the nature of the silent film medium, much like musicals.

What others can we think of? What about the earliest one?



Well, THE WITNESS FOR THE DEFENSE (1919) devotes most of the last reel or so to a critical courtroom sequence. There's also a fair amount of courtroom footage in the modern story of Griffith's INTOLERANCE (1916) and the stand-alone version THE MOTHER AND THE LAW (1919). And then there's the climactic final reel of DeMille's THE CHEAT (1915), which is the earliest I can think of. DeMille also did MANSLAUGHTER (1922). I vaguely recall a number of late 1910s and early 1920s films with major courtroom scenes but can't think of any other titles off-hand.
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Re: Earliest Courtroom Drama?

PostFri Feb 27, 2015 9:30 pm

Christopher Jacobs wrote:...And then there's the climactic final reel of DeMille's THE CHEAT (1915), which is the earliest I can think of.


Climatic is right: Fannie Ward's acting had been rather mannered (though I loved it!) up to that point, but in that scene she was stupendous. More stupendous was the crazed pandemonium that DeMille then evoked, I don't know how, but it was something the like of which I've never seen again.
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Early Courtroom Drama- Porter and Méliès

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Re: Earliest Courtroom Drama?

PostFri Feb 27, 2015 11:34 pm

There was THE STRANGE CASE OF MARY PAGE, an Essanay serial of 1916 with Henry B. Walthall and Edna Mayo.
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Re: Earliest Courtroom Drama?

PostSat Feb 28, 2015 12:20 am

Pauline Frederick not only did the silent version of Madame X, but also a fun little film called Her Honor the Governor (1926) which ends in a big courtroom scene. Her first talkie, how lost, was another version of On Trial (1928)--the Essanay version from 1917 does survive.

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Re: Earliest Courtroom Drama?

PostSat Feb 28, 2015 12:00 pm

Where are My Children? (1916).
The Red Kimono (1925).
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Brooksie

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Re: Earliest Courtroom Drama?

PostSun Mar 01, 2015 6:52 pm

An obvious one I forgot before - Manslaughter (1922).

David Denton wrote:There was THE STRANGE CASE OF MARY PAGE, an Essanay serial of 1916 with Henry B. Walthall and Edna Mayo.


Now, that is amazing. Never heard of it, never saw it (obviously, it's lost) - and yet only yesterday I happened to pick up this postcard at a collector's fair:

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Re: Earliest Courtroom Drama?

PostMon Mar 02, 2015 12:09 pm

There must be a lot of those around. Brooksie's postcard has the theater stamp on it. Mine hasn't been used either.

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Re: Earliest Courtroom Drama?

PostMon Mar 02, 2015 4:38 pm

A few years ago I saw The Ware Case (1928) in London with a live piano playing (just like the old days). It was very thrilling with lots of suspense and emotion. A gentleman is accused of murder and the entire film is played out from the courtroom testimony of key witnesses, but each of them give a different version of events and we see various sequences of events from different perspectives, and they all integrate at the end. The ending was fantastic. A brilliant twist. The audience roared with laughter and clapped. Nobody was expecting what happened at the end! I hope they will release it on DVD.




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Re: Earliest Courtroom Drama?

PostMon Mar 02, 2015 9:10 pm

"Now, that is amazing. Never heard of it, never saw it (obviously, it's lost) - and yet only yesterday I happened to pick up this postcard at a collector's fair"

Brooksie,

I saw at least one episode at LOC, so part of it still exists.
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Brooksie

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Re: Earliest Courtroom Drama?

PostMon Mar 02, 2015 10:58 pm

David Denton wrote:I saw at least one episode at LOC, so part of it still exists.


Well, heck - even better!

I must track down The Ware Case (1928) - sounds intriguing. I wonder how many we'd be able to name that weren't based on pre-existing stage plays? A lot less, I suspect.
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Re: Earliest Courtroom Drama?

PostTue Mar 03, 2015 5:49 pm

Last edited by silentfilm on Wed Mar 04, 2015 12:15 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Earliest Courtroom Drama?

PostTue Mar 03, 2015 5:58 pm

"Evangeliemandens liv" also has a courtroom scene.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0127544/
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Re: Earliest Courtroom Drama?

PostTue Mar 03, 2015 6:50 pm

While not in any way the earliest, there is a climactic courtroom scene
in the 1925 and 1930 remake of THE UNHOLY THREE.
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Re: Earliest Courtroom Drama?

PostThu Mar 05, 2015 4:30 pm

anything concerning the Titanic ie Saved from the Titanic. There were two Titanic trials, one in America and one in England. Titanic author Wyn Wade the trials were the first psycho-drama in 20th Century.
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Re: Early Courtroom Drama- Porter and Méliès

PostThu Mar 05, 2015 4:54 pm

Weren't there a couple of films about the infamous Dreyfus affair?
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Re: Earliest Courtroom Drama?

PostFri Mar 06, 2015 5:41 pm

Richard Barthelmess in The Noose (1928)
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Re: Earliest Courtroom Drama?

PostMon Mar 09, 2015 12:38 pm

The first version of Madame X was in 1916
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Re: Earliest Courtroom Drama?

PostMon Oct 05, 2015 2:39 pm

Don't think THE LAST PERFORMANCE (1929) has been cited yet, although the courtroom scenes occupy only a fraction of the film. Nor has the silent version of THRU DIFFERENT EYES (1929).
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Re: Earliest Courtroom Drama?

PostMon Oct 05, 2015 9:07 pm

THE STRANGE CASE OF MARY PAGE was a 15 episode serial by Essanay that was released in early 1916. Basically, it was a murder trial with lots of flashbacks that slowly unraveled the story. Mary was framed for the murder by the psychopathic victim, if I'm not mistaken. He was obsessed with her and she rejected him. The serial was a bit of a story line mess so Essanay showed the defendant in lots of gorgeous dresses to distract people from the confusing plot.
Also, another early trial film is Lubin's production of Charles Klein's THE THIRD DEGREE from early 1914. It starred Gaston Bell as the rich man's son who sleeps on his artist friend's couch and wakes up to find that said artist has killed himself. No one believes him so he is arrested and tried for "murder." Earlier, this was a big hit on Broadway.
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Re: Earliest Courtroom Drama?

PostMon Oct 05, 2015 10:19 pm

The Primitive Lover (1922) with Constance Talmadge, has a short trial scene.

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Re: Earliest Courtroom Drama?

PostTue Oct 06, 2015 8:33 am

Possibly THE LEAVENWORTH CASE (1923) could be on the list. The source novel has a lengthy coroner's inquest sequence, but since the film is lost who knows?
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Re: Earliest Courtroom Drama?

PostTue Oct 06, 2015 10:13 am

Aaron1927 wrote: A gentleman is accused of murder and the entire film is played out from the courtroom testimony of key witnesses, but each of them give a different version of events and we see various sequences of events from different perspectives, and they all integrate at the end.


That reminds me of the opening of the French comedy Les Deux Timides, shown a while back in San Francisco. A case is being prosecuted by an inexperienced lawyer, and the flashbacks show completely different stories (with the same actors) as the case is described by the defense and the prosecution. Then the nervous lawyer gets his notes scrambled and starts floundering, and the flashback also gets scrambled with the actors doing things in the wrong order.
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Re: Earliest Courtroom Drama?

PostSun Nov 29, 2015 6:50 am

A SHIP COMES IN (1928) has a scene where Rudolph Schildkraut's character [who has been framed] is on trial for planting a bomb which injures a judge and kills his secretary.
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Re: Earliest Courtroom Drama?

PostThu Dec 03, 2015 12:59 pm

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Creighton Hale, Patsy Ruth Miller and Mae Busch in Name the Man (1922).
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Re: Earliest Courtroom Drama?

PostThu Dec 03, 2015 1:23 pm

1907's The Unwritten Law must rank as among the first courtroom films, based on the trial of Harry K. Thaw for shooting Stanford White. Evelyn Nesbit plays herself.
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Re: Earliest Courtroom Drama?

PostThu Dec 03, 2015 2:35 pm

Although not the earliest, there are a number of courtroom scenes in the 1917 film Mothers of Men. The interesting twist (for 1917) is that the judge in the courtroom is a woman (Dorothy Davenport), who then runs for Governor of California. A moral question is raised when her husband is sentenced to death. If she grants him a pardon, which is one of her powers as governor, will it make it seem as though women are not strong enough to be governor, harming the future progress of feminism? The film was re-released as Every Woman's Problem in 1921, but that title is a bit misleading... being Governor of California is a problem no woman has yet had to deal with.
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Re: Earliest Courtroom Drama?

PostThu Dec 03, 2015 3:15 pm

Rodney wrote:Although not the earliest, there are a number of courtroom scenes in the 1917 film Mothers of Men. The interesting twist (for 1917) is that the judge in the courtroom is a woman (Dorothy Davenport), who then runs for Governor of California. A moral question is raised when her husband is sentenced to death. If she grants him a pardon, which is one of her powers as governor, will it make it seem as though women are not strong enough to be governor, harming the future progress of feminism? The film was re-released as Every Woman's Problem in 1921, but that title is a bit misleading... being Governor of California is a problem no woman has yet had to deal with.


California allowed women to vote in 1912 and we didn't immediately slide into the ocean, so I suspect they were trying illustrate the perils of further equality. As you know, that scenario happens to male governors all the time. Awkward.
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Re: Earliest Courtroom Drama?

PostSun Sep 03, 2017 3:37 am

The Max Davidson short JEWISH PRUDENCE / PRUDENCE (1927) has a courtroom scene where Max and his incompetent son are being questioned by his future son-in-law, who has to win a case before he can marry the girl!
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