• Bible Films Blog

    Looking at film interpretations of the stories in the Bible - past, present and future, as well as preparation for a future work on Straub/Huillet's Moses und Aron and a few bits and pieces on biblical studies.

    Matt Page


    Wednesday, August 04, 2021

    Silent Bible Film Mystery - #06
    Pre-Griffith Judith Films

    As I've noted before, D.W.Griffith's Judith of Bethulia (released in 1914, though filmed in 1913) was not the first film based on the Book of Judith but the fourth or even fifth. Of the others two are definitely still in existence  Giuditta e Oloferne (1906/1908) [my review] and Gaumont's Judith et Holopherne (1909), directed by Louis Feuillade [my review]. But recently I've been investigating a Judith film, or perhaps two Judith films, from the UK released sometime between 1910 and 1912 going by the title Judith

    The Theo Frenkel Film
    The film more likely to have both existed and been about the biblical heroine is one directed by Dutch director Theo Frenkel (above right). It is listed along with several of Frenkel's other films on page 7 of Jon Solomon's "The Ancient World in the Cinema" (2001) and although the list of films is from 1911-1912 the index clarifies that Judith was 1912. Solomon kindly checked his notes for me but unsurprisingly, all these years later he was unable to determine his source. The IMDb repeats these details, however the BFI database has no entry.

    There's also a mention in "Anzeiger für die Altertumswissenschaft" Volumes 59-61, listing the film as:

    Judith, GB 1911, Regie Theo Frenkel [Regie translates as director].

    This evidence is also backed up by a list I was sent many years ago now by David Wilson, adding that the film was produced by Charles Urban's Natural Colour Kinematograph Co. Frenkel was also known briefly as Theo Bouwmeester during his British years, after his mother, indeed that's the name he is listed under in Brian McFarlane's " Encyclopedia of British Film". There's a good piece on Frenkel at eyefilm.nl though the only thing it mentions about this period is to confirm that he was indeed working for Urban at this point in time.

    Interestingly Tord Larsson, among other sources, mention another biblical film by Frenkel from this era, Fall of Babylon (1911), covering events in Daniel. Indeed it appears from IMDb that he directed numerous films with biblical sounding titles including: Samson and Delilah (1911), Ester: A Biblical Episode  (1911), Herod (1912), The Prodigal Son (1913), 

    Things are further complicated by the fact that Frenkel directed a later film which was also called Judith in 1923, only this was not a biblical adaptation. Whilst it certainly doesn't rule out the possibility that he made a biblical film called Judith in 1912, it does raise the possibility of error. Perhaps Frenkel's 1923 film was mis-dated at some point, or maybe his 1923 film was a remake and neither film was biblical. However, overall I'd say the possibility of this film existing and being about Judith of Bethulia looks fairly probable.

    The Brockliss Film
    The evidence for a British Judith film from 1910 comes down to a single line in an advert in the British Weekly trade publication "The Bioscope" on the 3rd March 1910. In the listings of film's available to exhibitors it simply lists "Judith ... Brockliss    700   B" as shown below.
    The 700 is 700ft (about 10-12 minutes depending on various factors) and the B is one of Bioscope's genres (my term not theirs) standing for "Biblical" which in itself is kind of remarkable as the Bioscope listed only 16 genres at the time. 

    These few details are so scant it's difficult to know how to interpret them, but the Brockliss in question is (the company founded by) J. Frank Brockliss, pictured, left, above. At this stage, Brockliss primarily seems to have been selling projectors - see the puff piece on him in the August 1912 edition of the Cinema News and Property Gazette. However, according to Jan-Jun 1912 copies of The Implet (produced by US company Imp Films) he was also an agent distributing (Imp's) films and it seems he imported films into the UK to sell to exhibitors. 

    Three possibilities come to mind. Firstly, this could (as I thought initially) be a film in its own right, probably British. I can't rule that out, but it seems unlikely to me given the available evidence. It's also possible, given what I've written above that this film was the same as Theo Frenkel's 1911/1912 film Judith. I can't be 100% certain that film even existed, and in any case, this is (at least) a year before Frenkel's film is usually dated. The fact that Brockliss imported films from overseas, rather than distributing home-grown talent also seems significant.

    For me, a third possibility seems most likely: that Brockliss was actually distributing the 1909 Gaumont film Judith et Holopherne. The Cinema News and Property Gazette article tells us that he already distributed Méliès' films in the UK and that he had other French producers signed up. Secondly at the end of March 1910 an almost full page advert for Gaumont's film appeared in The Bioscope and, in contrast to the French title it was simply going under the name Judith in the UK. While it looks like they were distributing the film themselves, that doesn't rule out Brockliss promoting the same film three weeks before on the 3rd of March. Perhaps they ultimately decided not to do business together. 

    The full page ad also gives Gaumont's release date was April 20th again this is the right kind of time-frame. It does raise the question as to how Brockliss was already showing it on the 10th March, but as the Bioscope was more of a trade publication, perhaps this was a pre-screening for exhibitors. The other minor problem with this theory is that Brockliss' 700 feet is considerably less than the Gaumont advert's 960ft, but given that lengths of cuts varied, this is not insurmountable.

    Whilst the BFI database/collections does have an entry for this title which notes Brockliss's involvement, it refers directly to the same Bioscope advert as I have and has no other details, so so it seems quite likely the database entry is based on the advert. It does, however, also list the Gaumont film under the title Judith rather than the fuller French title, confirming that this was the name it was known by in the UK. There's no entry in the IMDb for this film and I could find no other verification.


    So it's hard to be 100% confident that either film actually existed, but if you put a gun to my head I'd say the Frenkel one did, but Brockliss was just promoting the Gaumont film in the UK, quite possibly before either he or they decided to part company.

    As an aside, in the process of investigating all of this I also made a few discoveries. For example, I've known for a while that several early silent film periodicals are available to view via the Internet Archive (yet another reason to donate to them), and that you can search for key words in the scanned in versions, this tends to take a while for many files (some of which contain over a thousand pages. However, if you scroll down you can get a text file version of these files which are so much easier to search and then cross compare. Searching "Moving Picture World" (in the combined book of the first six months of 1910) yields a rave review of the Gaumont Judith film (p.552) by T. Ruth. There's also a run down of the plot of the Book of Judith for "lecturers and exhibitors who may not be in a position to readily refer to the Apocryphal books of the Bible" (pp. 699-701). 

    Larsson, Tord (2017) "The New Testament in Film" in Ilona Nord, Hanna Zipernovszky (ed.), Religious Education in a Mediatized World (Kohlhammer: Stuttgart). p.40.

    Jon Solomon The Ancient World in the Cinema (New Haven: Yale University Press, [1978] 2001).

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