WHEN THE TABLES TURNED
Gaston Méliès? William F. Haddock? (US 1911)
Gaston Méliès moved his company from Texas to California in April 1911, where he continued to primarily make Westerns, including, as with When the Tables Turned, some in a comic vein (an invaluable photograph of the troupe celebrating July 4th in Santa Paula appears in Moving Picture World, 29 July 1911, with all people identified). The plot uses a mistaken identity theme: actress Ethel Kirby (Edith Storey) tires of New York and takes a train to Texas. Also on the train is Florence Halley, heading to her aunt, Mrs. Burton (Eleanor Blanchard). In a letter Florence had disparaged the cowboys of the locality as awfully tame, so her aunt plays her a trick, telling the cowboys to kidnap her niece when she’s at the station. The men mistake Ethel for Florence and terrify the actress until she realizes their game and turns the tables on them, pretending to be stark raving mad. Critics were delighted, with the New York Dramatic Mirror (21 June 1911) writing, “this is one of the most mirth-provoking farces that this reviewer has witnessed for some time.”
As archivists we’re constantly discussing the thrill felt every time a “lost” film is discovered. On finding an unidentified Gaston Méliès reel, I immediately contacted scholar Dr. Robert Kiss with some frame grabs, and he informed me the film was When the Tables Turned, which also existed at the Library of Congress. Next I reached out to my colleagues at Culpeper to see if they could scan their material and get it over to me in time to examine and potentially add it to what USC had, hoping we could arrive at a near-complete version of the 1-reeler, since USC had around 700 feet.
When the file arrived I examined the material scene by scene, and soon was exposed to what can only be described as an under-reported emotion archivists experience from time to time. That emotion comes from the cruel irony one feels on learning that two archives have essentially the exact same incomplete footage from an otherwise lost film. To be clear, there are only a handful of examples of Gaston Méliès’ original body of over 100 films that exist, so anything from a new film is remarkable. It is also frustrating to know that two archives have the same footage from When the Tables Turned, yet neither has a complete copy. The good news is that the USC copy has about 3 seconds of footage from the head not found in the LoC copy, and the LoC copy has about 3 seconds from the tail.
While both prints were tinted and obviously rare, the LoC copy was in slightly better shape so most of what you will see from this title reflects the LoC print. The USC print was another one of the reels Christopher Bird acquired from Ian Maxted prior to donating them to the USC Hugh M. Hefner Moving Image Archive.
regia/dir: Gaston Méliès? William F. Haddock?
photog: William Paley.
cast: Edith Storey (Ethel Kirby), Francis Ford (Cowboy), Ben Cooper (Cowboy), ? (Florence Halley), Eleanor Blanchard (Mrs. Burton, la zia di Florence/Florence’s aunt).
prod: Gaston Méliès, G. Méliès, Inc./Star Film Company.
copia/copy: DCP, 10’37”; did./titles: ENG.
fonte/source: Hugh M. Hefner Moving Image Archive, University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts, Los Angeles.