St. Elmo (lost silent drama film based on book; 1914)
St. Elmo was a silent drama film that was distributed by the Box Office Attractions Company (William Fox's film company that would become Fox Film Company, which then became 20th Century Fox). It was produced by the Balboa Amusement Producing Company. It was based on the best-selling book of the same name by Augusta Jane Evans, and was the first adaptation of the book to be feature-length.
Although it was a success financially, it was not as much of a success critically. Along with this, the film is one of many of Balboa's films of which no copies are currently known to exist.
Two cousins and best friends, St. Elmo Murray and Murray Hammond, are both infatuated with a "fickle" woman named Agnes Hunt. However, even though she loves Hammond, Agnes decides to marry Elmo instead, due to his wealthiness. When a ball is held to celebrate Elmo and Agnes' engagement, Hammond and Agnes decide to meet in the gardens during said ball. However, Elmo discovers them together and holds a duel against Hammond, where he kills Hammond with one shot. Soon after, his soul becomes possessed by Satan and he begins wandering the earth, making trouble and wreaking havoc everywhere he goes.
Around twenty years later, Edna Earle, a woman traveling by train in an attempt to find new employment after the death of her blacksmith father, meets St. Elmo and rescues him from some burning wreckage after the train she rode on derails. Thanks to meeting Edna, Elmo begins to regain his sanity and begins his redemption. As this happens, Elmo and Edna begin to fall in love in each other. Soon, he becomes the complete opposite of what he used to be, thus exiling Satan from his soul.
Around the time of this film's creation, the original St. Elmo was one of the most popular bestsellers out there, with many places, products, and cities were named after the book, with some parents even naming their children after characters in the book. However, theatrical and film adaptations of the book were not considered due to Augusta Jane Evans' worries over how her story would be told in the theater. She did not approve any scripts for an adaptation until 1909, which was the year she passed away. Soon after, many studios and people began adapting her books to the stage and screen, one of them being William Jossey of the Balboa Amusement Producing Company (Jossey also starred as St. Elmo in the film). Jossey's script was the first of it's kind to be feature-length. Before the release of this film, the only other film adaptation of St. Elmo was in short form.
St. Elmo was filmed in Long Beach, California, due to it being the place the Balboa studios were located. In one scene of the film, St. Elmo is building a church. To film this scene, the director filmed a site where an actual church was being built. The director of this film is disputed. While some sources (most of them being modern sources) claim Bertram Bracken directed it, other people claim that this film was directed by J. Gordon Edwards, and that this film was his directorial debut.
When promoting the film, Balboa made sure to emphasize the film's production value, with its poster claiming it had 194 "gorgeous scenes". The film was produced at a budget of $100,000. The Balboa Amusement Producing Company was not a film distributor, so they partnered with William Fox and his Box Office Attractions Company in May 1914, with all of Balboa's films being distributed by Fox, with St. Elmo being the first one released as part of this venture. Balboa's films began being shown either in theaters that Fox owned or shown in theaters that these films were rented out to. This process was known as the states' rights distribution system. After William Fox turned the Box Office Attractions Company into the Fox Film Company, he began distributing films created under the Box Office name under the Fox Film name, including this film. It was distributed under this new company until sometime in 1916.
Release And Reception
The film was released on an unknown date in August of 1914. When released, the film faced some cuts, mainly by The Chicago Board of Censorship, who cut out major scenes like the duel between St. Elmo and Murray Hammond, and a shot of Hammond's dead body after the duel has been finished. One scene that was also cut depicted St. Elmo having a drink with the Devil while standing next to Hammond's body in a coffin.
When released, St. Elmo got a mixed reception from film critics. While some reviews were positive, with one review declaring the film superior to previous stage adaptations of the St. Elmo book, and another that claims that the production value of the film makes up for some of its "artificiality", some of the reviews of the film were negative; Movie Pictorial called the film a "baffling mix-up", and an overwhelmingly negative review of the film by Variety claiming it would only be a success because of the popularity of the novel it was based on.
Nonetheless, despite the critical divide, the film was a major box office success, with many box office records broken. The film's financial success prompted one of the film's supposed directors, Bertram Bracken, to adapt another one of Augusta Jane Evans' novels, Beulah, the next year. That film was marketed as being a sequel to St. Elmo, even though it was not. In addition, nine years after the release of this adaptation of St. Elmo, Fox adapted the book to the screen again, with this new version also becoming a success.
Even with the book's massive popularity and the film's financial success, the film has fallen into obscurity as of now, with no copy known to exist. It is believed to be a part of the 90% of Balboa's films that are known to have been lost, and the Library of Congress is known to not have a copy of the film stored in their archives.
- Life's Shop Window, a silent film directed by J. Gordon Edwards, one of the directors believed to have directed this film.
- An excerpt of Motion Picture News containing a review and a rundown of the film. Retrieved 15 Sep '20
- Augusta Evans Wilson, 1835–1909 by William Perry Fidler. pp. 128-129. Retrieved 15 Sep '20
- An excerpt of Moving Picture World where the 1914 film adaptation of St. Elmo is mentioned. Retrieved 15 Sep '20
- The Big V: A History of the Vitagraph Company by Anthony Slide and Alan Grevinson. p. 195. Retrieved 15 Sep '20
- An LA Times article that briefly mentions the Balboa Amusement Producing Company studios. Retrieved 15 Sep '20
- The (archived) American Film Institute's page on St. Elmo that claims Bertram Bracken directed this film. Retrieved 15 Sep '20
- The Complete Index to Literary Sources in Film by Alan Goble. p. 504. Retrieved 15 Sep '20
- An excerpt of The Wheeling Intelligencer that mentions St. Elmo. Retrieved 15 Sep '20
- A Motion Picture News article that briefly mentions Balboa's partnership with William Fox. Retrieved 15 Sep '20
- Epics, Spectacles, and Blockbusters: A Hollywood History (Contemporary Approaches to Film and Media Series) by Sheldon Hall and Steve Neale. p. 24. Retrieved 15 Sep '20
- The Fox Film Corporation, 1915-1935: A History and Filmography by Aubrey Solomon. p. 19. Retrieved 15 Sep '20
- A Motion Picture News article on the creation of William Fox's new company. Retrieved 15 Sep '20
- An excerpt of Motography that mentions the "growing menace" of the Chicago censors and their cuts to various films. Retrieved 15 Sep '20
- A positive review of St. Elmo from Motion Picture News. Retrieved 15 Sep '20
- An excerpt of Moving Picture World that includes their review of the film. Retrieved 15 Sep '20
- A negative review of St. Elmo from Movie Pictorial. Retrieved 15 Sep '20
- A very negative review of the film in the Variety magazine. Retrieved 15 Sep '20
- An issue of The Photoplayers Weekly about the Balboa Amusement Producing Company. Retrieved 15 Sep '20
- Balboa Films: A History and Filmography of the Silent Film Studio by Jean-Jacques Jura and Rodney Norman Bardin II. p. 204. Retrieved 15 Sep '20
- The Library of Congress' page on St. Elmo. Retrieved 15 Sep '20