Message in the Bottle (IMP)
Message in the Bottle was filmed in Cuba. But this narrative takes place in Africa. The advertisement for the film (second image, below) claims that it features “a tribe of genuine savages.” I find this designation both offensive and suspect, but not all that surprising. This appeal to a “primitive” authenticity of the actors was similar to those made around the same time with regard to Native Americans featured in Western films. Even if we get rid of the offensive term “savages,” the claim that these actors are actual African”tribespeople” is suspect. Unless the film crew actually traveled to Africa, or paid to bring a whole African tribe to Cuba (which seems unlikely — and if they had, they would have boasted about it in their publicity material), it is more likely that the actors featured in the image below were Afro-Cubans. They would have been as familiar with the trappings of modernity as anyone in the U. S. in 1911.
Our Front Cover Illustration.
We are pleased to call our readers’ attention to the new Imp release, “The Message in the Bottle,” illustrated on the front cover of this issue.
It is not necessary to present in this column the synopsis of this excellent production, as it will be found in the regular department, but we cannot let this opportunity pass without giving a few words of commendation for the superb manner in which the production is presented.
The regular Imp Company is re-inforced [sic] by some native talent which for the first time have appeared before a moving picture machine and have thrown their whole heart and soul in the acting.
The scenery of Cuba and the natural effects, both on land and water, makes this production a realistic one, and the impressions after seeing it on screen are lasting.
* The illustration was enlarged from a section of the film.
-MOVING PICTURE NEWS, 4, No. 8 (25 February 1911: 5.
Manufacturer’s Synopsis published in MOVING PICTURE NEWS, 4, No. 8 (25 February 1911): 16:
Lieutenant Shannon, a handsome young officer of the United States Army, bid farewell to his sweetheart, Louise Spencer, and takes passage on a battleship to join his regiment. We see him on the deck of the ship waving farewell to his friends as the craft steams majestically away.
The boat is shipwrecked and the young officer drifts ashore on a raft on the southern coast of Africa. Exhausted and almost famished, he manages to beach his frail craft and then, stripping a cloth from the improvised mast which he has used as a signal, he writes on the canvas, puts the message in a bottle and, corking the receptacle, he tosses it into the sea, breathing a prayer that it many be found by friends and that he may be rescued. Staggering ashore with strength almost spent, he falls exhausted on the rocks to be captured by members of a tribe of cannibals and half carried before their king. His presence among the savages at first provokes curiosity and hostile demonstration, but his life is spared and coming is hailed with delight.
Later, recognizing his prowess in battle, he is crowned a leader. At the head of the tribe he is engaging an invading faction in battle and distinguishes himself, returning to the king with a report of victory, carried on the shoulders of admiring members of the tribe, the fight having been a decisive struggle in many natives participated.
The young lieutenant has so ingratiated himself into the affections of the ruler that the dignitary wishes to reward him, and offers Shannon the hand of his daughter in marriage. The young white man is averse to any such arrangement, but he consents when the request is accompanied by a stern command.
In the meantime the message in the bottle has been found by some of Shannon’s friends while bathing, and the lose no time in fitting out an expedition to search for him. They arrive on the island just as the wedding ceremony is being performed. It is an elaborate affair, the warriors are all in attendance in their wild, fantastic glory, hideously ugly and warlike in their fete costumes. They are dancing the Tango-Africano war dance with Shannon and the dusky maiden kneeling, when the wedding rites are interrupted by the arrival of officers and jackies of a gunboat together with Louise Spencer, who welcomes Shannon as one arisen from the dead. He is overjoyed to see his friends and sweetheart.
As the ship’s cutter moves away from the island, bearing the young officer, the dusky maiden, who was to have been his bride, stands immovable, poised on a rock, arms extended, bidding him a sad farewell, heart-broken.