The Land Beyond the Sunset (1912)    3 Stars

 

The Land Beyond the Sunset (1912)
The Land Beyond the Sunset (1912)

Director: Harold M. Shaw

Cast: Martin Fuller, Mrs. William Bechtel, Walter Edwin

Synopsis: A young boy, opressed by his mother, goes on an outing in the country with a social welfare group where he dares to dream of a land where the cares of his ordinary life fade.

 

 

 

 

 

The Land Beyond the Sunset is an unexpectedly powerful and poignant short movie from Edison, a studio whose work in the early 20th Century is often overshadowed by that of Biograph who, of course, boasted a certain Mr. Griffith amongst their roster of directors. There’s evidence of Griffith’s influence in the way that The Land Beyond the Sunset, which was directed by Harold Shaw, uses melodrama to deliver a social message, and yet the melancholic tone achieved by Shaw is infinitely more effective than you will find in most of Griffith’s films thanks largely to a nicely understated performance by Martin Fuller.

Fuller plays Joe, an urchin who scratches out a living selling newspapers on the City streets. Most of what Joe earns is commandeered by his abusive grandmother to buy booze, but he manages to hide from her an invitation to a children’s trip to the country he was given while working. Rising early one morning, Joe joins the party and strikes up a relationship with a young female teacher who tells him and the other children the story of a young boy who was taken to a fantasy world by fairies. The contrast between the sordidness of his surroundings at home and the open spaces of the countryside prompt Joe to stay behind when the rest of the party returns to the bus, and while walking along the lakeside, he spies an empty boat…

The Land Beyond the Sunset focuses our attention on Joe from the opening shot, filming him against a black background before showing him unsuccessfully trying to sell newspapers on the streets, and convincingly shows both the impoverished state in which he lives and the lack of love he receives from his wretched Grandmother. Without forcing the point, the film illustrates exactly why Joe would find it so difficult to return to a life like this after his brief sojourn in the countryside, and his despair is powerfully reinforced by a shot of his Grandmother superimposed over the idyllic picnic scenes as the teacher reads her story to the children. As well as being achingly beautiful, the final shot which, it has to be said, is at least ten seconds too long, is really quite astounding, not only because of its poignant beauty, but because of its ambiguity at a time when cinematic narrative was still relatively unsophisticated.

(Reviewed 15th April 2015)

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