Suspense (1913)    3 Stars


Director: Phillips Smalley, Lois Weber

Cast: Lois Weber, Val Paul, Douglas Gerrard

Synopsis: An isolated house in deserted area is too remote for a servant, who leaves a note, quietly exits the back door, and puts the key under the mat. Alone in the house is a mother and her infant…






Lois Weber was the first woman in America to direct a feature film – no mean accomplishment in an era when a woman’s place was still largely considered to be in the home. It’s only natural to assume that a woman would have to show inarguable talent behind the camera to be given the opportunity. It’s films like this that helped Weber to win the job. Weber was such an accomplished director that D. W. Griffith singled her out as one to watch.

In Suspense she also appears in front of the camera as the damsel in distress in a remote family home who is menaced by a sinister tramp when her maid walks out. Weber does a superb job of building the suspense with early and confident use of parallel editing. She also displays a similar confidence when it comes to shot composition and choice of angles. Suspense marks the first use of a triptych scene – in which three different pieces of action are shown on a split screen at the same time – in a film. Unlike most techniques employed for the first time, the triptych device works remarkably well with simultaneous pieces of action synchronised on the screen. Today, a director would use parallel editing, but the technique still works surprisingly well here.

(Reviewed 17th December 2005)