Rescued by Rover
|Rescued by Rover|
Rover and the baby, played by Blair the dog and Barbara Hepworth.
|Directed by||Cecil Hepworth
|Written by||Margaret Hepworth|
|Distributed by||American Mutoscope and Biograph Co.|
3 July 1905
19 August 1905
|Budget||£7, 13 shillings, and ninepence|
Rescued by Rover is a 1905 British short silent drama film, directed by Cecil Hepworth, about a dog who leads its master to his kidnapped baby, which was the first to feature the Hepworth's family dog Blair in a starring role; following the release, the dog became a household name and he is considered to be the first dog film star. The film, which according to Michael Brooke of BFI Screenonline, "marks a key stage in the medium's development from an amusing novelty to the seventh art," and, "possibly the only point in film history when British cinema unquestionably led the world," was an advance in filming techniques, editing, production and story telling.
Four hundred prints were sold, so many that the negatives wore out twice, requiring the film to be re-shot each time. Two professional actors were paid to appear, and the film is cited as the first film to have used paid actors. The style of shooting and editing would bridge the gap between the styles of directors Edwin Stanton Porter and D. W. Griffith, and prints have been preserved in both the United States and the United Kingdom.
The film opens with Rover, a collie playing with a child in front of a fireplace. Later that day, the baby is taken out in a pram by her nurse. The nurse refuses to aid a beggar woman, and is then distracted upon meeting a soldier. While talking to the soldier, she pays no attention to the baby, and the beggar woman approaches from behind and snatches the sleeping child.
In the next scene, the nurse confesses to the mother that the child has been lost. Rover, also sitting in the room, listens before jumping through the window and racing down the street, going around a corner and across a river. The dog makes its way to a slum and barges through each and every door; he finds the right one and enters. In an attic, the beggar woman is removing the clothing from the child; the dog enters and is driven off by the beggar.
The dog leaves the house and swims back across the river, down the street and into its master and mistress's home. In a study, the child's father is sitting; Rover enters and pleads with him to follow. They leave, with the man following the dog across the river in a boat to the slums. They enter the room where the child is hidden, and the father quickly takes the child from the beggar woman and leaves with the dog. Upon their return home, the child is placed in the arms of the mother, while Rover prances happily around them.
Rescued by Rover was predominantly a family affair – Cecil Hepworth's wife, Margaret, wrote the scenario and played the role of the mother on screen. Hepworth himself directed, painted the scenery and acted as the father. Their child was the baby on screen, and the part of Rover was played by the family dog, Blair. Two professional actors were paid to appear, Sebastian Smith as the soldier, and his wife as the old woman who stole the baby. The two actors were paid half a guinea each; Hepworth would recall "We couldn't get them for less". The film is often cited as the first film to have used paid actors. Completing the cast was Mabel Clark, who had previously played Alice in Hepworth's version of Alice in Wonderland, as the child's nurse. Clark was also the cutting room assistant.
The movie was so successful that Hepworth had to re-shoot the entire film twice. The first two negatives wore out in meeting the demand for prints.
Rescued by Rover is often considered to be the United Kingdom's first major fiction film. Some four hundred prints were sold at a price of £8 each, and they circulated for at least four or five years. The character of Rover the dog, played by Hepworth's family dog Blair, would become a household name and is considered the world's first canine film star. This first appearance of a dog in a narrative based film would cause the uncommon name of Rover to become popular for dogs.
Previous films by Hepworth and his company had been considered a continuation of the cinema of attractions. This was the period in early film where film makers would place more emphasis on the image and the ability to show something than a narrative story. For the first time in Rescued by Rover an attempt at a narrative rather than simple spectacle was made, and was also considered a step forward in both film grammar and structure. It is considered to be a little corny to contemporary audiences, although the format will be familiar to fans of Lassie.
It gave rise to a number of other chase films centred on animals, including Lewin Fitzhamon's later film Dumb Sagacity. Rescued by Rover has parallels with D. W. Griffith's debut film The Adventures of Dollie (1908).
Rescued by Rover contains more than twenty shots, an advance compared to Hepworth's film five years before, How it Feels to be Run Over which contains a single shot. This not only made the film longer, but demonstrated that advances in film language could be made in editing as well as shooting. The editing in Rescued by Rover included time contractions, so that Rover's journeys would take considerably less time on film than they did in reality.
In linking these shots together, Hepworth attempted to avoid the confusion of earlier multi-shot films such as The Great Train Robbery, directed by Edwin S. Porter. Three shots are used to set up the plot, that of the baby being stolen by a beggar woman, then the following sixteen shots show Rover tracking down the child. These sixteen are then repeated in reverse as the dog returns home, and then played again for a third time when it brings the father with him. A fourth repetition is spared by showing a shot of the kidnapper returning to her room, followed by a shot of the reunited family. The film shows a growing understanding about how stories can be told on film. It is assumed that the audience does not need to see the father, baby and dog return to the family home, but that they would assume that this occurred while the beggar woman was returning to her hovel. While the duration of that shot does not relate to the time required to travel back, it also did not affect the sense of logical representation on screen.
The film was not only a forerunner in the terms of editing, but improvements that modern viewers would find relatively minor were noted in their day. For instance, in the attic scenes, Hepworth's use of arc lights was celebrated for being an early use of harsh lighting conditions to create ambiance and indicate a dangerous world. Prints have been saved both in the Library of Congress film archive, and the National Film and Television Archive of the British Film Institute.
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