The First Auto
|The First Auto|
|Directed by||Roy Del Ruth|
|Produced by||Darryl F. Zanuck|
|Written by||Anthony Coldeway
Jack Jarmuth (titles)
Darryl F. Zanuck (story)
Charles Emmett Mack
Patsy Ruth Miller
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
|Running time||75-77 minutes|
The First Auto is a 1927 film about the transition from horses to cars and the rift it causes in one family. It stars Russell Simpson, Charles Emmett Mack, and Patsy Ruth Miller. While mostly silent, the film does feature a few spoken words and some laughter via the Vitaphone system.
In 1895, champion horse racer and livery stable owner Hank Armstrong (Russell Simpson) is greatly disturbed by the advent of the "horseless carriage" in Maple City. He mocks Elmer Hays, a car manufacturer, when he states in a public lecture that the days of the horse are numbered and that a car will one day go 30 miles an hour. However, Armstrong's efforts are in vain. He quarrels with his friends when they start purchasing the machines and is only stopped from horsewhipping his own car-mad son Bob (Charles Emmett Mack) by the timely appearance of Bob's girlfriend Rose Robbins (Patsy Ruth Miller).
Bob leaves to find a job in nearby Detroit. There, he is present when famed driver Barney Oldfield (playing himself) breaks the speed record, driving a mile in a minute . Meanwhile, Hank goes bankrupt and has to sell off all his possessions to satisfy his creditors.
One day in 1905, Bob returns without telling his father to compete in the first car race in the county. A jealous rival for Rose's affections convinces Hank to tamper with a car on display so that it will explode. When Bob sends Rose to bring his father to the race, Hank is horrified to discover he has sabotaged his son's car. They hurry to the track, but are too late. Bob's car crashes and burns. Hank is convinced he has killed Bob and burns down his livery stable, but Rose brings word that Bob is expected to live. Relieved, Hank gives up his hopeless resistance and joins his son in his car manufacturing company.
- Russell Simpson as Hank Armstrong
- Frank Campeau as Mayor Sam Robbins
- Gibson Gowland as The Blacksmith
- Anders Randolf as The Auctioneer
- William Demarest as The Village Cut-up
- Paul Kruger as Steve Bentley
- Douglas Gerrard as Squire Rufus Stebbins, the richest man in town and the first to buy a car
- Charles Emmett Mack as Bob Armstrong (as Chas. E. Mack)
- Patsy Ruth Miller as Rose Robbins
- Barney Oldfield as Himself - the Master Driver
To ensure authenticity and provide a measure of safety in the racing scenes for The First Auto, race car driver, Barney Oldfield was hired as a technical coordinator for the production. Oldfield, the first to achieve a speed of 60 mph (97 km/h) in 1903, also was given a small role in the film. Mack was killed in an accident while driving to work, prior to the end of filming. According to Robert Osborne of Turner Classic Movies, his car was struck broadside by a wagon on a country road. His co-star Patsy Ruth Miller had turned down a ride with him that day because she was not needed for filming until later. The last scene shows Hank at a car race, while Bob and Rose are away (off-screen) at a horse show.
The New York Times reviewer, Mourdant Hall characterized The First Auto as "... packed with sentiment, but it is nevertheless a good entertainment." He noted that Oldfield was driving a famous race car, Henry Ford's 999.
- Drew, William M. Speaking of Silents: First Ladies of the Screen. New York: The Vestal Press: 1989. ISBN 978-0-91157-281-0.