We got it mainly to check out De Mille's last silent: The Godless Girl. The first half is a hoot. At a high school, someone is handing out invitations to a meeting of atheist students. The administration wants to clamp down on such godless shenanigans, but Student Body Pres & ardent Christian Biff Studly intervenes and says the students can handle it themselves. (Biff knows that the lovely Miss Spitcurl McBedroom Eyes is the leader of the atheists and he doesn't want her to get in trouble). Anyway, the godfearing Christians plan is, of course, to bring rotten eggs and vegetables to throw at the dirty atheists at the meeting. Just as Mr. Comic Relief is balking at swearing the oath to the Atheist Cause while resting his hand on a monkey, a general riot ensues. In the fracas, a young girl is killed and Biff, Comic and Spitcurl are sent to reform school on a juvie manslaughter charge.
The reform school is quite a nightmare cesspit of rules, labor and abusive guards. The male and female prisoner-students are kept on opposite sides of an electrified fence, and yes there is an awesome special effect. Things bog down a bit in the second half, although there are plenty of escapes, electrified things and dangerous looking fires. I won't ruin it all.
But one of the cool things is that the story is partly based on an actual story of atheist flyers being handed out at Hollywood High School. The godless girl was Queen Silver, the daughter of socialists.
"When she was seventeen, Queen organized a club called The Junior Atheist League. On June 2, 1927, the front page of the Los Angeles Examiner ran the headline, “School Atheist Clubs in City Laid to Soviets,” with the sub-heading: Minister, addressing P.T.A., tells how Russian propaganda perils youth of U.S.
The article began:
“Does the hand of the United Socialist Soviet of Russia reach across the ocean and aim to hold tightly within its grip the youth of this country? Is there a bond between the atheistic society known as The Junior Atheists - a thriving organization – and the Young Pioneers of Russia, embracing all boys and girls from one to seventeen years of age?”
On June 10th, 1927, the Los Angeles Times ran a front page story, reporting that:
“Leaflets inviting students to a meeting of the Junior Atheist League this afternoon were found scattered around the grounds of Hollywood High School. These state that the purpose is to combat the disgusting and evil influences of religion in public schools.”
There was another article the next day with the headline: ATHEIST MOVE ENDS IN FIASCO. It reported that:
“The meeting was held in a dingy office on Spring Street. A group of religious high school students confronted the Junior Atheist League leader, a girl lecturer, who owns, edits and publishes an atheistic magazine, demanding that she quit trying to shake the faith of a Christ-loving school.”
Another nice piece of trivia was that Lina Basquette (the actress who played the Godless Girl) got a fan letter from Adolf Hitler. Oh, and Basquette had been married to Sam Warner, who died when he was 40 (and she 20).
Anyway, another film on the DVD is The Crime of Carelessness, an Edison short that fictionalizes the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, in which 146 people, primarily women, died horribly. Strangely enough, Edison and the National Association of Manufacturers (who commissioned the film) focus the film's attention more on the carelessness of workers than on locked exit doors. After all, the Triangle factory had No Smoking signs in English, Italian and Yiddish! If careless workers smoke anyway, the employers can hardly be blamed for anything that happens.