His Regeneration (1950)

Film Review

HIS REGENERATION

Release Date: 7 May 1915

Studio: Essanay Film Manufacturing Company

Director: Gilbert M. Anderson (uncredited)

Starring: Gilbert M. Anderson, Marguerite Clayton, Victor Potel, Lee Willard, slightly assisted by Charles Chaplin

Writer: Gilbert M. Anderson

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Learn more about the Niles Essay Silent Film Museum, where His Regeneration was screened.

Synopsis

The Thief (Anderson) pawns his stolen jewels in the shop of the jewish pawnbroker. In the dance hall next door, the Tramp (Chaplin) flirts with a pretty girl until her muscular boyfriend appears. The Tramp flees up the stairs. Later, the Tramp falls over the dancers and is thrown out of the dance hall.

Slumming members of the upper class, two men and a young woman, all in evening clothes, sit in the balcony and watch the lower class dancers on the floor below. The Girl (Clayton) watches intently.

The Thief enters the dance hall and sits with a woman at a table. The man with the woman objects, and they fight. The man pulls a gun and shoots the Thief. The Girl rushes down from the balcony and uses her handkerchief to stop the bleeding. The police arrive and take the Thief away.

On a later night, the Thief and his partner break into a house and open the safe. The Girl, who is sleeping in the next room, hears a noise and investigates. She sees them, and the Thief recognizes the woman who helped him. He refuses to take her jewelry. His partner objects, and they fight. The partner pulls out a gun, and the Thief accidentally shoots him. The Girl's maid has called the police. As the police arrive, the Girl tells the Thief to hide in her room. She takes the gun and tells the policemen that she shot the dead thief who had attacked her.

The Thief hears her lie for his sake. He writes her a note expressing gratitude. She has saved him from 20 years in prison. He pledges that he will make himself worthy of her.

Outside the house, a policeman passes the now reformed Thief who watches placidly and walks away.

Discussion

Gilbert M. 'Broncho Billy' Anderson was the writer, director, and star of about 375 short films in the brief period of seven years from 1908-1915. With the necessity to produce a lot of films, time and inspiration for the development of complexity of plot, incident, and character was unavailable. His Regeneration is a good example of the resulting films, in which one-dimensional characters confront a simplistic problem that is quickly resolved. Simplistic, frequently used plot elements aided in the writing of the stories. Examples in His Regeneration include: a criminal being saved by an act of kindness and "slumming" members of the upper class visiting a lower class cafe or dance hall. Techniques in camerawork, editing, and blocking of scenes were advancing at the time, particularly in the films of D.W. Griffith, but Anderson's methods did not significantly progress.

Anderson is best known in the character of Broncho Billy, the first western star. In western or contemporary garb, Anderson was an unlikely star, not handsome in face or figure and lacking subtlety in his acting. He had, however, a rough-edged charm and forcefulness that seem to have been sufficient in the earliest period of filmmaking. Anderson withdrew from films after 1920, when younger and handsomer men were the public favorites, and audiences expected more depth and complexity in story and performance than Anderson could achieve.

In 1907, Anderson and his partner, George K. Spoor, formed a film production company, Essanay Film Manufacturing Co. The company, headquartered in Chicago, specialized in comedies but soon began producing westerns. Anderson traveled to Texas, Colorado, and California to make his films with authentic western backgrounds.

In 1912, Anderson established the Essanay-West Company and built a studio in Niles, California, to take advantage of the local scenery, especially a very picturesque area, Niles Canyon. Essanay-West produced 350 short films at the Niles studio, including many Broncho Billy westerns. Anderson left Essanay and sold his interest to Spoor in January 1916; the Niles studio was shut down the next month.

In December, 1914, Charlie Chaplin signed with Essanay. He spent a year with the studio and made 14 films, in Chicago and Niles. Presumably, Chaplin took part in His Regeneration (released May, 1915) for fun or as a favor to Anderson, who had appeared in Chaplin's The Champion (released March 1915). Chaplin's appearance involves a brief bit of amusing slapstick unrelated to the main plot. He does not interact with Anderson who enters after Chaplin has been ejected from the dance hall.

References

Broncho Billy Anderson is Dead at 88. The New York Times Obituary. January 21, 1971.