Life's Shop Window (lost silent drama film based on book; 1914)
Life's Shop Window was a silent drama-themed film directed by J. Gordon Edwards and distributed by the Box Office Attractions Company (which was soon succeeded by Fox Film Company, which in turn was turned into 20th Century Fox). It was the first film distributed under the Box Office Attractions name, and was based off of the book of the same name by Annie Sophie Cory (also known as Victoria Cross and Vivian Cory).
While the film got mixed to positive reviews when it first released, nowadays, it has fallen into obscurity and is thought to have possibly been lost in the fire that occurred at the Fox studios in 1937.
An English boarder at John Anderson's farm named Bernard Chetwin is not infatuated with Anderson's daughter, but with the Anderson family's servant, Lydia Wilton. She explains to Chetwin that she wishes for a better life; the two end up falling in love. Wilton meets a man named Eustace Peltham, who explains to her the philosophy of "life's shop window" (hence the name of the film); he thinks that most people make their decisions based on superficial matters. Soon, as part of a secret ceremony, Chetwin and Wilton marry each other.
Chetwin decides to build his own farming plantation in order to support his wife, leaving Anderson's farm for independence in Arizona. However, afraid of the problems that may happen on the frontier, Chetwin chooses to leave Wilton on Anderson's farm, intending to come back for her later. While this happens, Wilton has a baby, and is thrown out of Anderson's farm due to his wife refusing to accept that Chetwin and Wilton have married, and thinking that she had a baby out of wedlock. She travels to Chetwin's ranch in Arizona.
However, the responsibilities of handling a ranch take up most of Chetwin's time, causing Wilton to start feeling she has been neglected and is not loved. Soon after, a traveler (who turns out to be Eustace) stumbles upon the ranch. He, intending to take advantage of her loneliness on the ranch, convinces Wilton to abandon Chetwin and his son and to run away with him. However, as she begins to leave the ranch, an Indian woman (and a servant on the ranch) named Starlight confronts Wilton and explains to her that taking care of her child is more important of a matter. She angrily rejects Eustace and once again reunites with Chetwin. Chetwin begins to spend more time with his wife and child while the fate of Eustace remains unknown (though he is implied to have been killed by Starlight).
Around 1914, William Fox was operating the Box Office Attraction Film Rental Company, where he would rent film prints from filmmaking studios and screen them in theaters around the New York area. Life's Shop Window is theorized to have been intended to be produced in this way. But, before production could start on the film in this manner, Fox decided he did not want to work with other companies to produce films, instead deciding to produce films under his own company. He bought a film studio in New Jersey, hired actors and a film crew, and began to create an adaptation of a piece of literature, as making film adaptations of books was the norm in the industry at the time.
The film rights to Life's Shop Window were purchased by Fox for around $100 (around $2,552 in 2020 dollars). Similarly to a theater adaptation of the book before this film, many parts of Annie Sophie Cory's original story had to be cut in the film version due to their high amounts of sexual and controversial content; this was done in order to make Fox's studio seem more "presentable" to the rest of the film industry. Fox chose J. Gordon Edwards to be the film's director, in what appears to be his directorial debut (though an earlier film, St. Elmo, is also believed to be his directorial debut).
The budget for Life's Shop Window was relatively low for the time; while most films cost around 20-30 thousand dollars to make during the era, Life's Shop Window only cost either $4,500 or $6,000. Fox did, however, "exaggerate" the cost of the film's production to over thirty times its actual cost. The film was almost destroyed before it was even released; when it was screened to William Fox, he was so dissatisfied with it that he said "let's burn the damn thing" before he was convinced to let it be released to the public.
Much of the reviews for the film were mixed. W. Stephen Bush, a film critic for Moving Picture World classified it as a "first-class" film, even though he criticized the cinematography, story, and the poor quality of the music that accompanied the film. Bush also gave the story's censorship a mention, declaring that "not even the sternest of moralists can find anything objectionable". The week after Bush published his review, William Fox sent out his own response to Bush's review, declaring that he avoids "the salacious or the sex drama" in his films. Peter Milne, a critic for Motion Picture News commended Fox for making a "clean" version of the book, while also praising it for realism. The review that Variety released, however, was very negative; the reviewer criticized the direction, the editing, and Claire Whitney's acting, declaring that the film would only make a profit because of the book it was based on.
Even with the reviews the film received, it was very successful with audiences, with women being the biggest demographic. Many lines at the theaters were over a block long. In 1915, William Fox founded the Fox Film Company, and continued distributing the film under this new company. In later advertising, along with the exaggerated costs of the film's production, the film's New York success was used to help advertise it more successfully in its later run.
Despite the success of the film during its initial release, no copies of Life's Shop Window are known to exist. This may be due to the fire that occurred at the Fox film studio in 1937. The film was very likely also destroyed in the fire, as the Library of Congress does not know of any copies of the film in their archives.
- The Fox Film Corporation, 1915-1935: A History and Filmography by Aubrey Solomon. p. 14 and 227. Retrieved 21 Jan '20
- Some short excerpts of Victoria Cross, 1868-1952: A Bibliography where Cory's various names are detailed. Retrieved 21 Jan '20
- An excerpt of a 1914 issue of Moving Picture World with a review and recap of Life's Shop Window. Retrieved 21 Jan '20
- The New Historical Dictionary of the American Film Industry by Anthony Slide. pp. 13 and 26-27. Retrieved 21 Jan '20
- Balboa Films: A History and Filmography of the Silent Film Studio by Jean-Jacques Jura and Rodney Norman Bardin II. p. 70. Retrieved 21 Jan '20
- The Bible on Silent Film: Spectacle, Story and Scripture in the Early Cinema by David J. Shepherd. p. 197. Retrieved 21 Jan '20
- An entry for St. Elmo on Library of Congress' website. Retrieved 21 Jan '20
- The Hollywood Story by Joel W. Finler. p. 41. Retrieved 21 Jan '20
- A Million and One Nights: A History of the Motion Picture by Terry Ramsaye. p. 701. Retrieved 21 Jan '20
- An excerpt from The Cincinnati Enquirer that mentions the film. Retrieved 21 Jan '20
- Fox's response to Bush's review of his film in Moving Picture World. Retrieved 21 Jan '20
- Peter Milne's review of Life's Shop Window. Retrieved 21 Jan '20
- The review for Life's Shop Window in Variety. Retrieved 21 Jan '20
- An excerpt of the Asheville-Gazette News with a mention of Life's Shop Window. Retrieved 21 Jan '20
- The entry for Life's Shop Window on the Library of Congress' website. Retrieved 21 Jan '20