A Heroine of ’76 (Rex)
Another first for a production company founded in the tumultuous years of early Hollywood business configurations, A Heroine of ’76, was released by Edwin S. Porter‘s Rex Film Company 100 years ago today after much trade press fanfare.
A reviewer for THE MOVING PICTURE WORLD praised the film effusively, singling out Porter in particular as the party responsible for the achievement.
…this company strikes the note of permanent success in its first release, that of February 16, “A Heroine of ’76.” For the benefit of others let us give our reasons for this opinion. In the first place, the company wisely restricted its initial outlay to what was really necessary without starving the picture. As we have many times pointed out, to make a moving picture which shall succeed with the exchanges, the exhibitors and the public, it is not necessary to out-Pathe or out-Selig. Where the scenery and photographic facilities are adequate, where you have a competent producer, it is really astonishing what highly attractive films you can make with comparatively simple accessories, and quite a limited company of performers.
Who did the work? Probably the most efficient and proficient man in the moving picture making industry to-day [sic]. We allude to that Mr. Edward [sic] Porter who was for years identified with the Edison Studio in the Bronx, more recently with the Defender Company, and is now with the Rex Company.
Mr. Porter is that rare quantity in moving picture circles, a picture man by instinct; he thinks, lives, talks, and, we believe, dreams about pictures. He fitted up his plant, writes or rather invents his own scenarios and here, as to scenario writing, let us for a moment put a finger on our own phrase, “invent.” Porter has the dramatic instinct. He probably writes very little in the academic sense, but he “invents” situations— “actor proof situations” __as they were called in our hearing one day this week. The result is that his picture are crammed full of action and movement. They are the work, not of a litterateur, but of a craftsman. In passing we may say that such master dramatists and Sardou, Pinero, Belasco, we believe, and others, work out their plays, as it were, diagrammatically by models, etc., before writing anything. Porter, besides producing his own pictures, supervises the development of the negatives, the development of the positive and its tinting. The result of this devotedness, tenacity and application, is apparent in the elegantly made Rex first release which was referred to in our pages two weeks ago.
As to the story: here, though we who wrote this are aliens, we can both appreciate and understand what was shown on the screen, absolutely without having to read a line. The “Father of this country” is staying at an Inn. Three gamblers discover his identity, and one of them is appointed to assassinate him. But this man’s daughter gets wind of the plot, and in order to save Washington, assures that he shall occupy an apartment other than that originally assigned to him. She takes his place in the bed, and so poor Molly is stabbed. She survives her wound some hours. In the morning, Washington appears, pays his score to the man who thinks he has murdered him, and peacefully disappears. Then Molly drags herself downstairs and dies a tragic death in the arms of her father, who has killed her in mistake for George Washington. Pure tragedy! Acted all through with decision and conviction! Just five characters in this little play; Molly perfect in her action; Washington dignified in the little he has to do; the three gamblers realistically life-like in their passions. A series of admirably photographed interiors supply the background for this story—interiors showing the very perfection of photography in respect of light and shade and adequate contrast. Unquestionably, therefore, the Rex picture starts out well. If we are any judges of such matters this picture is the first of many successes by the company.
Rex quality will, in our opinion, lead before long to a second release, The Moving Picture World is not in the habit of indulging in irrational superlatives, but it singles out the Rex picture as embodying the finest possible photographic technique, allied with a clear, convincing, dramatic story, perfectly acted. This is the kind of thing that is popular with moving picture audience all over the world.
– THE MOVING PICTURE WORLD 8, no. 9 (04 March 1911): 463-464.