Even if they are not human actors, animals sometimes have an important place to play in movies. They can represent friendship, danger or simple company. With her blogathon The Animal in Films Blogathon, Crystal from In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood allows us to celebrate our furry friends and what they brought to the art of films.
For the occasion, I decided to focus on the British silent short Rescued by Rover directed by Lewin Fitzhamon in 1905.
The story is simple, a baby (Barbara Hepworth) is kidnapped by an alcoholic bigger (Mrs Sebastian Smith) during a ballad in a park with her nurse (May Clark). The family dog, Rover (Blair) will save her.
Of course, Rescued by Rover was made long before Lassie, but just like the famous dog, Rover is a Colley. The film is often considered to be the first fiction film made in the UK and the first fiction film to use a dog in its story. On its release, “Rover” became a popular dog name. The film was written by Margaret Hepworth and it’s her own dog, Blair, who was used for the role of Rover. Blair itself is considered to be the first canine film star. Blair was also seen in the 1903’s version of Alice in Wonderland, Rover Takes a Call (1905) and The Dog Outwits the Kidnapper (1908).
The film is, of course, a family affair, not only because it stars Margaret Hepworth’s dog, but also because it stars the writer herself in the role of the mother, her husband Cecil Hepworth in the role of the father and their daughter, Barbara, in the role of the baby. Were the actors paid? Well, an article from the BFI informs us that Rescued by Rover was made on a seven pounds thirteen shillings and sixpence budget. So, probably not. 😉
Rover is, of course, a very brilliant dog. It has a perfect flair and it doesn’t take it long to find the baby. Rover can open doors (which turns out to be very useful in this situation), swim (well, like most dogs) and remembers its way.
When we watch this film, we become quite fond of Rover (or Blair) as it seems to be the perfect dog. It doesn’t even bite the kidnapper! What a gentle dog. What an absolutely adorable pet! Of course, another thing I love about this film is the baby. Seriously, even if we don’t see her very often in the film, little Barbara Hepworth really is one of the cutest babies I’ve seen on screen. With her little white dress and her round cheeks, she is nothing but absolutely sweet. We are glad Rover is here to save her! The movies stars with a medium shot of her and Rover.
Narratively, Rescued by Rover remains a very simple film. Where it becomes interesting, it’s on the technical aspects, particularly the editing. The film contains a total of 22 shots, which was rare at the time, especially for a five minutes feature. Movies were more often made in a more “theatrical” approach where the camera was static, filming the subject in a long shot or medium long shot. But here, the characters move out from the space where they initially were, and the story has a certain physical evolution. Also, we don’t need much information to understand what’s happening. When we see Rover running in the street, we immediately know it’s on its way to save the baby.
So, Rescued by Rover is a simple, but important film. The most interesting fact on how it influenced history is that, the film inspired D.W Griffith, who also used parallel cutting in his films. And that’s still often used today. Kidnapping also was the main subject of his first film, The Adventures of Dollie (1908)
If you haven’t seen Rescued by Rover yet, I highly recommend you to do so. It’s very short and worthy. You can watch it here:
Many thanks to Crystal from In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood for hosting this very original blogathon!
Of course, I invite you to read the other entries as well: