Alice Guy film, A SEVERE TEST, now available

Screenshot from A Severe Test

In August of 2012 I posted a blog entitled Films by Alice Guy Lost and Found.

The article discussed two films that had recently been found and have now been preserved: Parson Sue and A Tramp’s Strategy.

It looked like The Coming of Sunbeam, another recent find, would get preserved, if it was not too late to save the film based on the elements available.

And it looked like a 1911 Solax film entitled Across The Mexican Line, which as far as I knew at that time, only existed in fragmented form at the British Film Institute, was beyond saving.

I really love it when I’m wrong about things like this!

Because Across The Mexican Line (Solax 1911) is alive and well and fully preserved.So is A Severe Test (Solax 1913), another film that seemed lost when I did my original research for my book, published in 2002. 

Let’s start with that one. Here is the plot summary published in Moving Picture World, April 1913, p. 420. Daisy is played by Marion Swayne, Mr. Jones by Darwin Karr, Daisy’s friend Ella by Vinnie Burns, and Lucy Smith the cook (called Isabelle in the plot summary, which might be an indicator that Alice Guy wrote it) is most likely Billy Quirk in blackface. 

The film came out the same week as A House Divided, and the stories have some similar elements, specifically a misunderstanding based on misplaced objects that is exacerbated by a cook. Here is the plot summary for A Severe Test published in Moving Picture World

Screen shot from A Severe Test

A SEVERE TEST (Solax release, April 25, 1913)

Daisy Jones had been married just a year when her husband failed to kiss her one morning, and she decided that he did not love her any more. She wrote a note to her friend, Ella, telling her that she was going to leave her husband a note telling him that she had jumped in the lake. She would leave some of her clothes on the pier to make it look more plausible, and she and Ella would hide themselves by and see how he took it.

She got the notes in the wrong envelopes. Ella’s went to her husband and vice versa. Ella was horrified and rushed to the husband’s office, where she learned the truth. The husband and Ella carry out the plan and he decides to teach her a lesson. 

Daisy took a suit-case with some clothes in it to the pier. Ella met her. They placed the clothes on the pier. The husband came down, looked at the clothes, acted horrified for a moment, then kicked the clothes, stuck his thumb into his best and walked away whistling a tune. Daisy saw him and cried bitterly; then became indignant. She went home with Ella.

Jones decided to carry the joke further. He went to his printer friend and had him make out a wedding invitation announcing the coming marriage of Frank Jones to Isabelle Smith, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas C. Smith.

By a mistake in the composing room it get into the paper. Jones was frantic. So was Mrs. Jones. Jones looked in the directory to see if anyone by that name lived in the city. Sure enough, there was Smith, Thomas C.,  Mrs. Smith, and Isabelle. Jones rushed to Smith’s to apologize. Daisy rushed to Smith’s to punish Isabelle.

Isabelle happened to be Smith’s cook, and she was a big negress. She greeted Mrs. Smith with a rolling pin, and when Mrs. Jones saw her she sank into a chair. Jones, in the meantime, was ion his knees begging Mr. and Mrs. Smith to forgive him. They were elderly people and a little deaf, but they understood that Jones wanted to see Isabelle. They showed him to her room The negress rages turned on Jones. Daisy aroused and protected him — then turned on Jones to give him a good round scolding, [sic] when he pulled the note meant for Ella from his pocket and his wife wept and pleaded for forgiveness. They made up and his wife learned that Frank still loved her.

Screen shot from A Severe Test

Apart from the plot summary and the notice of distribution, no advertising was taken out in Moving Picture News for A Severe Test. This could be because the all of Solax’s advertising budget was invested in one— and two— page spreads for Beast of the Jungle.

Screen shot from A Severe Test

You can read the story about how the W. Dustin Alligood, a film collector in Maine, who makes his films available through Harpodeon, preserved the film here. There are a some lovely before-and-after stills.

He arranged and played a piano score for the film based on tunes from the era. He sells downloads on the Harpodeon website, though the files appear to need updating. The preview still works.

It’s always a great thing when a private collector makes his beloved films available to the public. Harpodeon has many wonderful films on it, it is worth exploring.