The House of Cards
Reviewed in July 2009 / Click Here to Comment
Director: Edwin S. Porter. Cast: Marc McDermott, Herbert Prior, Mary Fuller. Screenplay: Edwin S. Porter.

Photo © 1909 Edison Manufacturing Company
Right up front: the IMDb thinks Edwin S. Porter directed this movie; the liner notes for Edison: The Invention of the Movies aren't so sure. I hope it isn't Porter, because I frankly feel fonder toward the movie if it's the work of a limited imitator or acolyte than if it represents such a stunted effort by the wit behind The Gay Shoe Clerk and the dynamic choreographer of Life of an American Fireman and The Great Train Robbery. The serviceable but wholly unremarkable expository scenes look like an anaesthetized version of the hoedown milieu in Robbery, and a totally rote plot of extortion, gambling losses, attempted burglary, and sentimental intervention trots onward from there. No one's thinking too hard: in the close-up on a love note from town sheriff Rattlesnake Jim (Herbert Prior) to his beloved, he rather zealously signs it "Town Sheriff Rattlesnake Jim." Can't hurt to trigger your lover's memory, I guess. Nothing makes sense unless it's building to a climax that the filmmakers have persuaded themselves will elevate the whole thing, which does and doesn't come to pass. The pitifully contrite thief (Marc McDermott) is challenged by Town Sheriff Rattlesnake Jim to a bizarre duel: they lay out their arms at opposite sides of a table with its own trapdoor. Open the trapdoor, and a rattlesnake emerges. Whomever it bites first loses the bet. Or maybe it's chicken, and whoever retracts his arm in a panic is the loser? The angle, the bright lighting, and the script subtly fail to explain just what we're seeing, or else I'm just hopelesly obtuse. No question the long continuous take has the Bazinian kick of real-time threat, and the indolent danger embodied in the snake easily makes a stronger impression than the dog-eared scenario around it. But the movie is still one part snake to nine parts dog-ear. It concludes right after the duel, not just because Porter, or whoever, knows there's no point pushing onward from this climax but because the movie has equipped itself with literally nothing else to say or show. Grade: C–

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