The Lonedale Operator (1911)

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This simple and very effective melodramatic short film was a landmark in its day; in fact, today it is still a fine example of intercutting from one scene to another to build up to an exciting climax. In 1911, director D.W. Griffith was changing the face of filmmaking by his skilled use of this technique. The Lonedale Operator is also an example of excellent storytelling. In a few charming scenes we are introduced to the girl (Blanche Sweet) and her sweetheart, a railroad engineer (Francis J. Grandon). The girl's father is the operator at the Lonedale station, and when he becomes sick his daughter takes over for him. Because of a big payroll shipment, the girl finds herself in charge of a large suitcase full of money. A pair of hobos see the lone girl as easy prey and attempt to break into the station. In a panic, the girl telegraphs for help but the operator on the other end is dozing. When the word finally gets out, her engineer sweetheart takes his train to her rescue. In a series of short cuts, we see the panicked girl, the hobos breaking through the door, the train rushing along, and the scenery flying by. By the time the engineer arrives, the girl is holding off the would-be bandits with what appears to be a gun, but which is really a small monkey wrench. It's worth noting that Sweet was an inspired choice for this role: She's not fluttery and fragile, like many of Griffith's favorite actresses. Instead, she creates the strong presence of a young girl who is able to take care of herself.