Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Barney Oldfield’s Race for A Life (USA, 1913)

A damsel in distress? Definitely not Mabel Normand.

Barney Oldfield’s Race for A Life(6)
Barney Oldfield’s Race for A Life(1)

This film portrays some stereotypical items of silent films, such as a villain with a fake moustache, a damsel tied to railroad tracks and a hero to save the girl, usually in the last minute.

Actress Mabel Normand is the damsel, who loves her boyfriend, played by Mack Sennett (who in real life was president and founder of Keystone studios) and rejects the advances of the villain played by Ford Sterling. As a revenge, he ties the girl to the tracks. 
Barney Oldfield’s Race for A Life(7)
Barney Oldfield’s Race for A Life(3)

We can see some details in this film that show Mabel plays a less fragile damsel in distress than her predecessors. Pay attention and observe that it was necessary two men to kidnap the girl. And even before that, the girl makes it very clear to the villain that she was faithful to her boyfriend and hits Sterling. Although the villain was far from being the smartest guy in the world, the girl’s bravery was impressive for the time anyway. 
Barney Oldfield’s Race for A Life(4)

However, it does not mean that the female protagonist had an easy life in this film. She spends around half of the film trying to be free from the chains while her boyfriend and some friends try to save her from a certain death. This attempt to save the girl provide us with a delightful chase scene, typical of films by Keystone Studios.
Barney Oldfield’s Race for A Life(2)
Barney Oldfield’s Race for A Life(5)
Barney Oldfield (1878- 1946) was an American early car racer in the real life, a famous one. At that time, celebrities like him and Harry Houdini (1874 - 1926) were often invited to be in films as themselves. We have to remember that there was still some prejudice towards cinema, specially compared with theatre, which was considered a more respectable art for by some people. Studios were only starting to rely on the appeal of stars in their films, so a face that was familiar beforehand would not only bring more respectability to films, but would also attract more people to cinemas.Of course that this reality would be completely overcame with the advent of what came to be known as the star system, but this is another interesting story which deserves being analyzed in another post.

Further reading and materials:

1. Watch the film on line in archive.org site:  http://archive.org/details/BarneyOldfieldsRaceForALife1913_18

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