THE BATTLE OF ELDERBRUSH GULCH (1913)
- With much of the acting company he would use two years later in his epic The Birth of a Nation (1915), D. W. Griffith produced a primitive, two-reel silent Western that is foundational to the development of later Westerns. The Battle of Edlerbrush Gulch, from Biograph, is almost exclusively an action film with lots of gunplay and plenty of Indians. Two waifs and a young mother with child in arms come into a hardened Western town. Lillian Gish played the unnamed young mother, and Mae Marsh played a waif (Hattie) many years younger than her real age. Crazed Indians attack Elderbrush Gulch after they tried to steal Hattie’s two puppies for food. Hattie was rescued just as she was about to be scalped. One of the Indians was killed. Griffith creates elementary panoramic shots for these battle scenes, foreshadowing his later work with epic films. In the melee, the unnamed mother loses track of her baby, thus creating the “child-in-danger” theme. Children cower in the cabin awaiting their certain death. Through the battle, the young mother wanders around looking for the baby. Eventually Hattie heroically rescues the baby.The cavalry arrives and all are saved.Several scenes between the mother and Hattie border on inappropriately comic. Very little dialogue—in other words, very few storyboards—detracts from the continual action. Notably absent from the primitive filmmaking is the running insert, a staple in virtually every Western since the silent era. Despite innovative film techniques, Griffith’s extreme racism, as is well-known from The Birth of Nation, makes the 24-minute Western nearly unwatchable today.
Historical Dictionary of Westerns in Cinema. Paul Varner. 2012.
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