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Tales of Christ
Remind Me

From the Manger to the Cross

Considered the most important silent film to deal with the life of Christ, From the Manger to the Cross (1912) was produced by the Kalem Company, a pioneering New York-based production company that enjoyed several successes during its brief history. The company was established in 1907 and, in 1916, was bought up by Vitagraph. Since Kalem had no indoor studios, most of its films were shot on location. Manger was filmed, appropriately enough, in Palestine, although the company had gone there originally to make a number of one-reelers with desert backgrounds, and filming the story of Christ was an afterthought.

The company's star actress and most prolific screenwriter, Gene Gauntier, known as the "Kalem Girl," wrote the scenario for Manger and played the Virgin Mary. Gauntier later claimed that she was recovering from sunstroke on the broiling locations when the idea for the film came to her. Many "facts" concerning the production seem to have sprung from legend; in Magill's Survey of Cinema Frank N. Magill writes that "there appears to be as much mythology associated with From the Manger to the Cross as is to be found in the book of Genesis." Among the legends is that the Church expressed "grave concern" over the fact that Gauntier, a divorced woman, had been cast as Mary, and that owners of the Kalem Company fired everyone involved in the production because they had never been informed that the group was filming a life of Christ. Magill expresses doubt about the veracity of both stories.

Among the known facts is that From the Manger to the Cross cost $35,000 to produce, and its profits eventually amounted to almost $1 million. Five actors were cast in the role of Christ. The first was a baby newly born to Australian parents living in Cairo, with a 2-year-old and an 8-year-old following in the role. Percy Dyer, then 13, played the adolescent Jesus. Stepping into the role of the adult Christ was Robert Henderson-Bland, an Englishman who, according to Magill, "believed during the production that he had become Christ." In two books on the subject, From the Manger to the Cross (1922) and Actor, Soldier, Poet (1939), Henderson-Bland writes from Christ's viewpoint. The actor/author distinguished himself as a soldier in World War I.

From the Manger to the Cross received excellent reviews at the time of its original release and was reissued by Vitagraph in 1917. Another reissue came in 1938, when the film was revised to include close-ups, a musical score and narration. The movie was named to the National Film Registry in 1998.

Producer: Frank J. Marion
Director: Sidney Olcott
Screenplay: Gene Gauntier
Cinematography: George K. Hollister
Art Direction: Henry Allen Farnham
Principal Cast: Robert Henderson-Bland (Jesus, the man), Percy Dyer (the Boy Christ), Gene Gauntier (the Virgin Mary), Alice Hollister (Mary Magdalene), Sidney Olcott (Blind Man), Samuel Morgan (Pilate), James D. Ainsley (John the Baptist), Robert G. Vignola (Judas), George Kellog (Herod).

by Roger Fristoe



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