The story of Suspense, a one-reel thriller, is a simple one—a tramp threatens a mother and child, while the father races home to their rescue—but the techniques used to tell it are complex. Weber and Smalley employ a dizzying array of formal devices. The approach of an automobile is shown reflected in another car’s side-view mirror. We catch our first glimpse of the menacing burglar from the same angle as the wife does—from directly over him while he glares straight up. Three simultaneous actions are shown, not sequentially but as a triptych within one frame.
Smalley and Weber began their film careers as a husband-and-wife team acting under the direction of Edwin S. Porter at the Rex Company, one of the many early independent film studios established to combat the power of the Motion Picture Patents Company, a conglomeration of the major producers and distributors in the United States. By the time Porter left Rex, in 1912, Smalley and Weber had graduated to directing and were fully responsible for the small studio’s output. Suspense is one of the very few films made at Rex that survives, and its staggering originality raises a tantalizing question: is it a fascinating anomaly or a representative sample of the studio’s overall production? —MoMa
Lois Weber, who had been a street-corner evangelist before entering motion pictures in 1905, became the first American woman movie director of note, and a major one at that.
Herbert Blaché, the husband of Frenchwoman Alice-Guy Blaché, the first woman to direct a motion picture (and arguably, the first director of either gender to helm a fictional narrative film), cast her in the lead of his movie Hypocrites in 1908. Weber first got behind the camera on A Heroine of ‘76 (1911), a 1911 silent that was co-directed by the original American director, ’Edwin S. Porter’, and the actor Phillips Smalley, who played George Washington. She also starred in the picture.
In 1914, a year in which she helmed 27 movies, Weber co-directed an adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice (1914) with Smalley, who also played Shylock. making her the first woman to direct a feature-length film in the United States. (Jeanie Macpherson, who would play a major role in cinema as Cecil B. DeMille’s… read more
Pull "Phillipps Smalley" out of the credits list for this film! Another instance of the anti-feministic values of the time which tried to lessen Lois Weber's contributions to the film.