The Husband And Wife Duo Rediscovered Once More
In the summer of 2017, Christopher Bird, a director, and film collector found a collection of films belonging to a friend that was stored in the most unusual of places, a garden bin. “Diplomatic Henry” (1915) was amongst those films and is a short comedic film directed, produced, and acted by a husband and wife duo known as Mr. and Mrs. Sidney Drew. Up until that summer, the film was thought to have been lost forever. Thankfully, due to the nature of nitrate films and their ability to withstand years of degrading, “Diplomatic Henry” was mostly, in tact.
This is due largely to the fact that many motion pictures during this time were being produced using nitrate film which has a preservation quality to it that has brought us many more "rediscoveries". Unfortunately, the film itself can not be restored until further, more modern, actions are taken to ensure its quality.
Finding A Lost Treasure
In order to gain a better understanding of the film, we must also take a look at the plot. Taken from a summary from the film's IMDb page, we know that the film is about a husband named Henry Newlywed who is very diplomatic. When he hears that his wealthy Aunt Becky is coming to town and that she expects him to be married to a particular kind of woman, he writes back to her in a "diplomatic" way. His wife sees that letter and intercepts it, replacing it with her own letter. "His wife gets hold of the letter, and, highly indignant, she adds a postscript stoutly maintaining she is an expert housekeeper; then replaces it in Henry's coat pocket. That night Henry finds a model household when he returns, and his wife is excruciatingly particular". This leads to Henry walking on eggshells in his own home. When the Aunt arrives, she and the wife talk about the note and plan a ridiculous prank on Henry to teach him a lesson on diplomacy.
In a book titled "Motography" discussing motion pictures released in December of 1915, just one month after the film "Diplomatic Henry", we see a summary confirming the one provided by IMDb. See below.
Pictured above is the original title card for the film.
Pictured below is the transition title card for the film found here:
Hardly Any Evidence
Incredibly, in 1915 when this film is said to be produced, there is minimal reporting of "Diplomatic Henry" ever being shown to audiences. The date of this film has been confirmed by the copyright of the film in a Catalog of Copyright Entries by the Library of Congress in 1915, as well as a few books or articles in the months after the film is released.
This lack of reporting is alarming considering that Mr. and Mrs. Sidney Drew were well respected and loved public figures whose films were widely accepted by all audiences. Nearly every film they have worked on has been reported on in an extensive manner in various newspapers both before and after the release. There seems to be only one article found discussing the film in 1915 and the direct audience response. In a book titled "The Motion Picture World" found through the Google Scholar search, it states "We had the Drews in "Diplomatic Henry" and it was a big laugh, wholesome, and a genuine comedy. Upon further research, this was the only article I have found discussing a reaction to the film.
Why did "Diplomatic Henry" not receive the same amount of publicity as the other Sidney Drew films?
Perhaps due to a slight tinge of feminist ideologies.
Mr. And Mrs. Sidney Drew have revolutionized comedy with their unique approach that was not common during this era of silent films. According to a Smithsonian article discussing the discovery of this film, the Drews opted for a more serious take on marital life without the use of slapstick. The slapstick comedy, made popular by iconic figures such as Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, was all the rage during this era. A serious take on comedy could have easily flopped, but it received the opposite effect on the public. The husband and wife duo would work together as both writers and directors to create films that would captivate both women and men who were married or single. During this time, women directors, writers, producers were so rare and so few could make it past the judgment and misogyny that was the film industry years ago.
Unsurprisingly, Mrs. Sidney Drew did just that with such ease and warm acceptance from her audiences. In fact, most of her films could be construed as having feminist motives or undertones. According to Christopher Bird who discovered the film, "Not only does it have a slightly feminist slant, but this film was possibly co-written and directed by its leading lady at a time when women didn’t even have the vote". Much of the films made with her husband were about marriage which does seem like a traditional trope but based on the plots we can see that it is always the women who end up on top in these films. There is also something matriarchal about the way in which some of their films were created such as the way in which the aunt was held to such high regard and respected by the man.
To further prove that point, the Smithsonian also adds that in this particular film, the women end up the victors. "This time around, Mr. Drew tries to impress his aunt by implying that his new wife’s homemaking skills are not up to her standards. Instead of battling one another, the women instead team up to teach Drew a lesson he won’t forget."
To have a film like this or like the others created by the fantastic duo be widely accepted and loved by audiences is shocking to think based on the way in which most other films were so misogynistic.
This film can change the way in which we view history and how we viewed women filmmakers at the time. They held much more power than originally thought and this film could prove that.
The Feminist Undertones Created by Mrs. Sidney Drew
What about social media?
In recent years, many films have been rediscovered including, but not limited to, a now-iconic scene from a short silent clip known as “Something Good - Negro Kiss”. These rediscoveries are affecting the way we look back at film history and the ways in which we understand filmmaking as a whole. This film depicts an African American man and woman sharing the first known film recording of black people sharing a kiss. This piece has opened up discussions about the history of film and inspires many filmmakers to dive deeper into their art.
Unfortunately, the restoration of “Diplomatic Henry” is still in progress and only a handful of people have seen the film live at the Pordenone Silent Film Festival. Therefore, the effect that Something Good - Negro Kiss had on the public through social media and digital consumption is not extended to “Diplomatic Henry” until the restoration can be completed and digitized.
According to the official Pordenone Silent Film website, reported by Dino Everett, the film is not in bad condition due to the years that have passed but it was actually just mistreated over 100 years ago. According to his opinion, " They were heavily spliced, with extensive edge damage". He insinuates that due to not having the proper equipment, the film editors were forced to improvise. "This sometimes meant making splices without any device that could ensure precision. In the case of Diplomatic Henry, this meant scraping two entire frames and sticking them together. This may have ensured a very durable join, but it, unfortunately, ruined two full frames at every splice point". He goes on to say that these will have to be replaced. There is still a long restoration process ahead of them.
It’s true that the film has been found, but it is also true that it is still “lost” for now. Until restoration can be completed and the film made digital, it is unlikely that anyone, outside of the few initial viewers, will see the film and enjoy all that it has to offer to the filmmaking and film-watching community.