Sunday, December 5, 2010

A Christmas Carol (1910, Edison)

“A Christmas Carol” (1910) is an early version of the classic Charles Dickens’ novel. Ten minutes in duration, this silent short was directed by J. Searle Dawley at the Edison Film Manufacturing Corporation. The story begins with an old miser Ebenezer Scrooge, played by Marc Mc Dermott, who is so harsh that on the day before Christmas he refuses to donate to the Charity Relief Committee. Scrooge also denies his worker Bob Cratchit, played by Charles Ogle, the permission to leave early. He even rejects his nephew’s invitation to spend Christmas at his house. That night, Scrooge sees the ghost of his former business partner Marley, who warns him of the punishment he will suffer in the next life if he does not change his ways. Late that night, Scrooge is visited by three spirits who show him more than he wants to see.

Even though it is ten minutes in duration, “A Christmas Carol” (1910) is faithful to the Charles Dickens’ novel, and it manages to condense the most important parts of the tale without losing the novel’s meaning. The highlights of the film are the visits by the four ghosts done with excellent special effects considering the film is one hundred years old. While it might seem primitive by today’s standards, “A Christmas Carol” (1910) has nicer sets and costumes compared to the average Edison shorts. The Edison Company contributed little to screen progress, but they did have some good actors like Viola Dana and Marc Mc Dermott, who gives a great performance as Scrooge. Hired by film pioneer Edwin S. Porter to make new and original films at the Edison Company, J. Searle Dawley adapted many popular novels to film. A Christmas Carol (1910) is a curiosity piece of the early years of American cinema when the first filmmakers were shaping the new art form.

Born in Brooklyn, New York, on June 26, 1897, Viola Dana, who was born Virginia Flugrath, began dancing at the age of three at Coney Island eating places. Patrons would throw coins at her, and Viola would pick up the money for her mother. From Coney Island, she became a legitimate child actress, appearing with Dustin Farnum and William Faversham. Her first major stage role was as Gwendolyn in Eleanor Gates’ “The Poor Little Rich Girl” which opened at New York’s Hudson Theatre on January 21, 1913, and ran for 160 performances. It led to Viola being billed as “Broadway’s Youngest Star.” The play was filmed in 1917 as a starring vehicle for Mary Pickford. Long before “The Poor Little Rich Girl,” Viola and her mother had discovered the Edison Company, and the actress first worked there in 1910, making her debut in “A Christmas Carol.” She was to remain with the company through 1916, playing primarily in the short subjects that Edison emphasized over features long after the advent of the long format production. The final major films that Viola made at Edison were five-reel features, “Children of Eve” (1915) and “The Cossack Whip” (1916), both directed by John Collins, who became her husband in 1915. The emphasis of Edison was on drama, and Viola gained a reputation as a dramatic actress, with the ability to cry often. It was a reputation that led to a contract in 1916 with Metro, with whom the actress remained through 1924, starring in some 51 feature films. By the early 1920’s, Viola Dana was the highest paid female star at the studio where she played both drama and comedy. Her diminutive stature, 4’11”, and good looks made Viola easy to cast, but by the 1920’s, she was tired of serious drama. She was fond of remarking, and her saucy grin was ideally suited to comedy. Viola had a wicked sense of humor. She always claimed that Frank Capra had chosen her for his first Columbia feature, “That Certain Thing” (1928 ) because, when she walked, she had the “cutest little wiggle.” With her stage background, Viola could easily have continued in talkies but chose to retire comfortably. Viola died on July 3, 1987. She was 90 years old.


  1. Silent, Thank you for your wonderful silent movie review on one of my favorite Christmas movies. The special effects are wonderful for 1910 and the acting is typical silent film acting. Merry Christmas.

  2. Dawn, thank you for posting such lovely photos of Viola Dana, who made her film debut in A Christmas Carol (1910). I'm glad you found the video of this 10 minute film and enjoyed it. These early silent shorts all have historical significance. I am thinking of reviewing one more holiday vintage film before Christmas and then take a break until the new year. Merry Christmas to you, too.

  3. Thank you silent. I will be looking forward to reading your next, holiday vintage film review.

    Happy New Year!!


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