Suspense (1913) – Short Film

A house keeper quits, leaving a mother and her child alone in the house. As she leaves, a tramp starts poking around the house and tries to find a way inside. The mother calls the husband as the tramp breaks in to the house and begins to race home before the knife wielding tramp can find his wife and child.

The premise is simple and well executed. There are not unnecessarily long shots, something that seems to be common in these early films. The story telling is focused and even the shots themselves are unique in ways that drive home the focal point of the scene.

Some examples of this focus are in the overlays and splicing that takes place to either highlight a specific action on screen or to show the actions being taken simultaneously. The first is when the house keeper is leaving and peeks through the key hole, an feature of the home that plays a recurring role itself in the suspense.

Keyhole Sequence

Another clever way that the film was edited was through a “split screen” or splicing of shots together to be displayed at the same time. This can be seen when the wife and husband are on the phone. We can see their interaction with one another as well as what the tramp is doing. This gives the viewer a clear understanding of where each player is and builds the tension in a much stronger way than just cutting the shots of each person one after the next.

These shots and sequences really stand out, as many of the films preceding this and many that will be released in the years to follow, feel more like a play being filmed than an immersive experience that film can capture. Many films of the time, for example, have the camera set in one place and the story is simply being captured. Suspense has the “split screen”, a car chase, and shots from a balcony looking down on the villain. These are things that could be captured from a fixed camera with a wide view, but loses a tremendous amount of intensity and intimacy that a story like this needs.

Suspense (1913) – Car Chase Sequence
Top down shot

On top of everything already discussed, this film is directed, written by, and starring Lois Weber, making her the first female filmmaker. Weber did an excellent job with Suspense and created a film that stood out among contemporaries and holds up to this day.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Directed by: Lois Weber & Phillips Smalley

Written by: Lois Weber

Starring: Lois Weber, Val Paul, Sam Kaufman, & Douglas Gerrard.

Runtime: 10m

Genre: Drama, Thriller, Short

Distributed by: Universal Film Manufacturing Company

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