Thursday, April 19, 2018

World War I Film Lecture: "War on Three Fronts" (USA, 1916)

Researching World War I film can be a giant jigsaw puzzle. There is plenty of original footage but film scenes frequently have been edited and are now out of place. Also, when used for stock purposes or a TV documentary, the intertitles usually were cut, which makes it difficult to identify the cameraman and the original production company.


Frank Kleinschmidt getting ready for a motion picture flight above Belgrade with the Austrian airforce, 1915.  Picture courtesy Ruth Sarrett


Movie Lecture War on Three Fronts (USA, 1916)

One way to reconstruct a silent World War I movie is to consult the lecture that was used while the film was being shown on the screen. Frank E. Kleinschmidt's War on Three Fronts (USA, 1916) presents us with an interesting example. During our research for our book American Cinematographers in the Great War we were able to locate and identify many scenes from this extraordinary film because of the lecture that Kleinschmidt had deposited at the Library of Congress for copyright purposes. This lecture is dated October 23, 1916, and Kleinschmidt used it to present his war film while touring the film theaters on the West Coast. The lecture describes the original version of his war film, showing his experiences with the Austro-Hungarian army on the Eastern Front while covering the offensive in Russian Poland, as well as the attack on Belgrade, naval operations in the Adriatic Sea and fighting in the Alps against the Italian army.


Armored train at the Isonzo front, 1915. Publicity picture from Kleinschmidt's film when it was released by the Selznick Corporation in 1917. Courtesy National Archives


Two reels of the movie were donated in the 1980s to the UCLA Film Archives by film preservationist David Shepard. This footage is also described by Kevin Brownlow in his classic book The War, the West and the Wilderness. The opening title refers to the original Part 4 of War on Three Fronts. A comparison between this footage and the film lecture shows there were different movie versions. While on the lecture circuit, Kleinschmidt presented about 9,000 feet of film. When the Selznick Corporation distributed the movie nationwide in 1917 it was shortened and 3,000 feet were cut out. The UCLA print has no intertitles mentioning the Selznick Corporation, so this indicates this is a pre-1917 version of War on Three Fronts although not identical to the one that was used by Kleinschmidt to accompany the lecture.

Sound Re-release

Research by the authors in the Allen Collection and at the Library of Congress has produced additional footage from Kleinschmidt’s war picture. This consists of a batch of film segments that runs for about 35 minutes, sadly missing any credits, but surprisingly enough it has a sound track. The nitrate stock found in the film archives in Culpeper, Virginia, was dated 1932. The footage comes from a film called War Debts, which was produced by Kleinschmidt as a sound re-release of his original war film. The movie is narrated by Wilfred Lucas, a Canadian-born American stage actor who found success in film as an actor, director, and screenwriter.

By using the film lecture we could identify the different film versions of War on Three Fronts which also makes it possible to do a well-deserved reconstruction of this historic and fascinating World War I film.

You are free to read and download the 1916 film lecture of War on Three Fronts here. 

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