Uncle Josh at the Moving Picture Show (1902)
Director: Edwin S. Porter
Cast: Charles Manley
Synopsis: A country rube thinks what he sees on the movie screen is real.
Although Edwin S. Porter’s Uncle Josh at the Moving Picture Show is an unashamed — and inferior — rip-off of a successful British film from 1901 called The Countryman and the Cinematograph, the character of Josh is actually a variant of Uncle Josh Weatherby, a vaudeville character played for years by Cal Stewart. Josh is played here for the third time on-screen by Charles Manley, a veteran stage actor who was on stage at the Ford’s Theatre on the night that Abraham Lincoln was assassinated.
The film’s humour derives from Josh’s comical over-reactions to a number of short films during his first experience of moving pictures. The first film Josh sees after glancing curiously around at his surroundings is of a Parisian can-can dancer whom he finds so exciting that he feels compelled to jump from his box to get a closer look. However, the following film of a train hurtling towards the screen quickly has Josh diving back into his box as he fears being mown down. Finally, Josh gets so jealous — or outraged — by the site of a comely young wench being romanced by a handsome young buck that he ends up tearing down the screen, behind which an enraged projectionist expresses his anger by engaging Josh in a wrestling match.
Although it fails to equal the quality of what survives of Robert W. Paul’s original version, the Edison studio’s Uncle Josh at the Moving Picture Show is a fairly comical picture which satirises the alleged reactions of moviegoers at the earliest cinema screenings in the 1890s. Reports of audiences dashing from the theatre in a panic at the sight of a train approaching the screen as it entered a station are now considered to be apocryphal, but it’s entirely possible that these stories originated from the reactions of the characters in this film and The Countryman and the Cinematograph.
(Reviewed 14th September 2014)