Monday, October 3, 2016

FILMBAY 2000 Greatest Films of All-Time (1888-2014) by Year # 0043 - RESCUED BY ROVER (Cecil Hepworth, 1905, UK, 7m, BW)


(Cecil Hepworth, 1905, UK, 7m, BW)


RESCUED BY ROVER (Cecil Hepworth, 1905, UK, 7m, BW)

Directed by     Cecil Hepworth
Lewin Fitzhamon
Written by     Margaret Hepworth
Starring     Blair
May Clark
Barbara Hepworth
Cecil Hepworth
Margaret Hepworth
Sebastian Smith
Mabel Clark
Distributed by     American Mutoscope and Biograph Co.
Release dates
United Kingdom:
3 July 1905
United States:
19 August 1905
Country     United Kingdom
Language     Silent
Run Timw: 7 minutes

Rescued by Rover is a 1905 British short silent drama film, directed by Lewin Fitzhamon, about a dog who leads its master to his kidnapped baby, which was the first to feature the Hepworth's family dog Blair in a starring role; following the release, the dog became a household name and he is considered to be the first dog film star. The film, which according to Michael Brooke of BFI Screenonline, "marks a key stage in the medium's development from an amusing novelty to the seventh art," and, "possibly the only point in film history when British cinema unquestionably led the world," was an advance in filming techniques, editing, production and story telling.

Four hundred prints were sold, so many that the negatives wore out twice, requiring the film to be re-shot each time. Two professional actors were paid to appear, and the film is cited as the first film to have used paid actors. The style of shooting and editing would bridge the gap between the styles of directors Edwin Stanton Porter and D. W. Griffith, and prints have been preserved in both the United States and the United Kingdom.


The film opens with Rover, a collie playing with a child in front of a fireplace. Later that day, the baby is taken out in a pram by her nurse. The nurse refuses to aid a beggar woman, and is then distracted upon meeting a soldier. While talking to the soldier, she pays no attention to the baby, and the beggar woman approaches from behind and snatches the sleeping child.

In the next scene, the nurse confesses to the mother that the child has been lost. Rover, also sitting in the room, listens before jumping through the window and racing down the street, going around a corner and across a river. The dog makes its way to a slum and barges through each and every door; he finds the right one and enters. In an attic, the beggar woman is removing the clothing from the child; the dog enters and is driven off by the beggar.

The dog leaves the house and swims back across the river, down the street and into its master and mistress's home. In a study, the child's father is sitting; Rover enters and pleads with him to follow. They leave, with the man following the dog across the river in a boat to the slums. They enter the room where the child is hidden, and the father quickly takes the child from the beggar woman and leaves with the dog. Upon their return home, the child is placed in the arms of the mother, while Rover prances happily around them.


Rescued by Rover was predominantly a family affair – Cecil Hepworth's wife, Margaret, wrote the scenario and played the role of the mother on screen. Hepworth himself directed, painted the scenery and acted as the father. Their child was the baby on screen, and the part of Rover was played by the family dog, Blair. Two professional actors were paid to appear, Sebastian Smith as the soldier, and his wife[8] as the old woman who stole the baby. The two actors were paid half a guinea each; Hepworth would recall "We couldn't get them for less". The film is often cited as the first film to have used paid actors. Completing the cast was Mabel Clark, who had previously played Alice in Hepworth's version of Alice in Wonderland, as the child's nurse. Clark was also the cutting room assistant. The movie was so successful that Hepworth had to re-shoot the entire film twice. The first two negatives wore out in meeting the demand for prints.


Rescued by Rover is often considered to be the United Kingdom's first major fiction film. Some four hundred prints were sold at a price of £8 each, and they circulated for at least four or five years. The character of Rover the dog, played by Hepworth's family dog Blair, became a household name and is considered the world's first canine film star. This first appearance of a dog in a narrative based film caused the uncommon name of Rover to become popular for dogs.


Previous films by Hepworth and his company had been considered a continuation of the cinema of attractions. The first few years of the 20th century were a period in which many film-makers began placing a higher emphasis on portraying a narrative story, and lesser so more on the image and the ability to show something. The film is considered a step forward in both film grammar and structure. Contemporary audiences may find it rather hoary, although one scholar has noted the format would be familiar to fans of the dog character Lassie. It gave rise to a number of other chase films centred on animals, including Lewin Fitzhamon's later film Dumb Sagacity (1907). Rescued by Rover has parallels with D. W. Griffith's debut film The Adventures of Dollie (1908).

Rescued by Rover contains more than twenty shots; this is a considerable advance when compared with Hepworth's own How it Feels to be Run Over (1900), which contains a single shot. This not only made the film longer, but demonstrated that advances in film language could be made in editing as well as shooting. Additionally, the editing of Rescued by Rover is notable in its use of time contractions, which made Rover's journeys take considerably less time by portrayal than they would have in reality.

In linking these shots together, Hepworth attempted to avoid the confusion of earlier multi-shot films such as Edwin S. Porter's The Great Train Robbery (1903). Three shots are used to set up the plot, that of the baby being stolen by a beggar woman. Nearly all of the following shots show Rover tracking down the child. When the dog returns home, the shots' settings are repeated in reverse as the dog travels them; they are shown again in the original order, for a third time, when the dog brings the father. A fourth repetition is, rather radically for its time, spared by showing the kidnapper's return to her room followed by a shot of the reunited family.

With its form and structure in consideration, Rescued by Rover shows a growing understanding among directors of how stories can be told on film; that is, the belief that the audience does not need to see the family return to their home, but will instead assume this occurred while the beggar woman was returning to her hovel. While the duration of the shot does not correspond with the time necessary for the father and the family dog to travel back, it also does not affect the sense of realistic on-screen representation. Also, cinematographic improvements that modern viewers would find relatively minor were noted in their day. In the attic scenes, for instance, Hepworth's use of arc lights was celebrated for being an early use of harsh lighting conditions to create ambiance and indicate a dangerous setting.Prints have been saved both in the Library of Congress film archive, and the National Film and Television Archive of the British Film Institute.


This 1905 film from Cecil Hepworth’s studio was a massive hit in its day, and it is quite well made for the period. The camera is static and positioned directly in front of the action for most scenes, but on one occasion at least it chooses a slightly oblique angle which stands out amongst what now looks like purely routine and unimaginative camera positioning.

The storyline is one that would be repeated frequently over the next 50 years or so: a child in peril saved by a faithful family dog. The dog here is played by Blair, the Hepworth family pet, and he’s a handsome creature. The character he plays is incredibly bright as well, knowing exactly to which part of town the family’s baby has been taken. The film plays on the middle-classes fear of the lower classes: the villain is an alcoholic down-and-out woman living in an attic. It all looks very simplistic today, but it’s a good example of how early filmmakers were slowly coming to grips with the tools at their disposal.

Lassie and all of her legendary cinematic canine companions owe a debt of gratitude to a filmmaker named Cecil Hepworth and a collie named Blair. In 1905, Hepworth made one of the first true narratives to come out of British cinema - “Rescued by Rover.” The film’s plot is simple enough -- Baby (played by Hepworth’s daughter) is kidnapped by a beggar while out for a stroll with her nurse. When the news is broken to the rest of the family (father played by Hepworth himself, mother played by Hepworth’s wife), loyal Rover (played by Hepworth’s dog Blair) makes it his mission to save the baby, traveling across streams and through London slums in the process. Because of Rover’s determination, the baby is saved and the family is happily reunited.

Yes, the plot is simple, but this film was the first of its kind. This tale of man’s best friend predates and, indeed, makes possible the antics of Rin Tin Tin, Lassie and the hundreds of doggie stars to follow them. Blair’s shining moment in this film would also pave the way for animals stars like Vitagraph’s Jean and Keystone’s Teddy. In fact, Teddy would go on to star in a film parodying the melodrama tropes of being tied to the train tracks and rushing to find help, starring none other than Gloria Swanson as the damsel in distress.

But the idea to make the family pet the hero wasn’t the only innovation Hepworth introduced to film. In fact, Hepworth was one of cinema’s earliest pioneers, and had been experimenting with the medium since at least the late 1890’s. “How it Feels to be Run Over,” made five years before “Rover,” was innovative and experimental by putting the audience (through the lens of the camera) in the shoes of an unfortunate pedestrian.

It doesn’t feature any experimental camera work or trick photography, instead it is innovative in its storytelling. Although it’s a short film, only about six and a half minutes long, it features a lot of clever, coherent editing and cutting to help keep the story moving. The flow from scene to scene is logical and helps keep the narrative understandable, while the clever cuts that shorten Rover’s journey help keep the momentum going and keep the audience riveted. D.W. Griffith would go one to perfect the race to the rescue, but keep in mind, Hepworth achieved this technique in 1905. That’s two years before Griffith appeared in his first film and three years before he began directing.

A simple story of a baby being rescued by a dog, shot on a budget of seven pounds thirteen shillings and sixpence with a cast largely made up of the producer's family hardly sounds as though it ranks amongst the most important films ever made, but Rescued By Rover marks possibly the only point in film history when British cinema unquestionably led the world. It marks a key stage in the medium's development from an amusing novelty to the "seventh art", able to hold its own alongside literature, theatre, painting, music and other more traditional forms. By 1905, most films consisted of multiple shots, but their narratives were still conceived on an essentially "theatrical" model, in that they consisted of a series of self-contained "acts". By contrast, Rescued By Rover's director Lewin Fitzhamon regarded individual shots as small pieces of a larger jigsaw making up the whole film, a much more "cinematic" treatment.

While a simple shot of a dog running down a street might seem banal if watched in isolation, we know from what has already been shown that it's going to rescue a kidnapped baby girl, and by cutting on action (i.e. when the dog leaves one frame it enters the next) he not only creates fast-paced narrative continuity but also builds a complex 'character' out of what is essentially an animal performing a series of simple tricks for the camera, filmed one at a time. Fitzhamon also structured, framed and occasionally panned his shots to emphasise movement, creating a sense of pace and excitement that was unprecedented for the time.

The film was so successful, with over 400 copies ordered, that the Hepworth Manufacturing Company had to make two shot-by-shot remakes to compensate for the first two negatives wearing out. Its style and canine subject matter were both highly influential, with Hepworth himself producing Dumb Sagacity (1907) and The Dog Outwits the Kidnappers (1908) and fellow pioneer James Williamson being one of many who jumped on this bandwagon with titles like The £100 Reward (1908). More importantly, it appears to have influenced the great American pioneer D.W.Griffith, who would build on its innovations over the next few years, notably by introducing parallel cutting to present multiple plot strands in the same time frame. Aside from this, the film language established by Rescued By Rover is still largely the one in use today.

To say this film was popular would be an understatement. At a time when many films were still one and two minutes long, and featuring brief scenes that had more of a documentary quality to them than narrative, Hepworth gave audiences a fully formed, engaging and fast-paced narrative. The film was so popular that it had to be remade two times to keep up with demand and replace worn out negatives.

Additional Information


Cinema initially existed not as a popular commercial medium but as a scientific and 
educational novelty. The cinematic apparatus itself and its mere ability to reproduce 
movement constituted the attraction, rather than any particular film. In many countries, 
moving picture machines were first seen at world's fairs and scientific expositions: the 
Edison Company had planned to debut its Kinetoscope at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair 
although it failed to assemble the machines in time, and moving picture machines were 
featured in several areas of the 1900 Universal Exposition in Paris. 

Fairly rapidly, cinema exhibition was integrated into pre-existing venues of 'popular 
culture' and 'refined culture', although the establishment of venues specifically for the 
exhibition of films did not come until 1905 in the United States and a little later 
elsewhere. In the United States, films were shown in the popular vaudeville houses, 
which by the turn of the century catered to a reasonably well-to-do audience willing to 
pay 25 cents for an afternoon or evening's entertainment. Travelling showmen, who 
lectured on educational topics, toured with their own projectors and showed films in local 
churches and opera houses, charging audiences in large metropolitan areas the same $2 
that it cost to see a Broadway show. Cheaper and more popular venues included tent 
shows, set up at fairs and carnivals, and temporarily rented store-fronts, the forerunners of 
the famous nickelodeons. Early film audiences in the United States, therefore, tended to 
be quite heterogeneous, and dominated by no one class. 

Early exhibition in Britain, as in most European countries, followed a similar pattern to 
the United States, with primary exhibition venues being fairgrounds, music halls, and 
disused shops. Travelling showmen played a crucial role in establishing the popularity of 
the new medium, making films an important attraction at fairgrounds. Given that fairs and 
music halls attracted primarily working-class patrons, early film audiences in Britain, as 
well as on the Continent, had a more homogeneous class base than in the United States. 

Wherever films were shown, and whoever saw them, the exhibitor during this period 
often had as much control over the films' meanings as did the producers themselves. Until 
the advent of multi-shot films and interties’, arrived 1903-4, the producers supplied the 
individual units but the exhibitor put together the programme, and single-shot films 
permitted decision-making about the projection order and the inclusion of other material 
such as lantern slide images and title cards. Some machines facilitated this process by 
combining moving picture projection with a stereopticon, or lantern slide projector, 
allowing the exhibitor to make a smooth transition between film and slides. In New York 
City, the Eden Musee put together a special show on the Spanish-American War, using 
lantern slides and twenty or more films from different producers. While still primarily an 
exhibitor, Cecil Hepworth suggested interspersing lantern slides with films and 'stringing 
the pictures together into little sets or episodes' with commentary linking the material 
together. When improvements in the projector permitted showing films that lasted more 
than fifty seconds, exhibitors began splicing twelve or more films together to form 
programs on particular subjects. Not only could exhibitors manipulate the visual 
aspects of their programs, they also added sound of various kinds, for, contrary to 
popular opinion, the silent cinema was never silent. At the very least, music, from the full 
orchestra to solo piano, accompanied all films shown in the vaudeville houses. Travelling 
exhibitors lectured over the films and lantern slides they projected, the spoken word 
capable of imposing a very different meaning on the image from the one that the producer 
may have intended. Many exhibitors even added sound effects ~ horses' hooves, revolver 
shots, and so forth-and spoken dialogue delivered by actors standing behind the screen. 

By the end of its first decade of existence, the cinema had established itself as an 
interesting novelty, one distraction among many in the increasingly frenetic pace of 
twentieth-century life. Yet the fledgling medium was still very much dependent upon 
pre-existing media for its formal conventions and story-telling devices, upon somewhat 
outmoded individually-driven production methods, and upon pre-existing exhibition 
venues such as vaudeville and fairs. In its next decade, however, the cinema took major steps 
toward becoming the mass medium of the twentieth century, complete with its own 
formal conventions, industry structure, and exhibition venues. 

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