Cast & Crew
Ruth Ann Baldwin
Judge Brand, one of the pioneers of the gold rush of '49, has become bored with the quiet of civilization and decides to recreate the old mining camp of Nugget Notch where he and his partners made their fortune. The judge dispatches his secretary, Tom Robbins, to reestablish the camp which Robbins accomplishes by hiring a bankrupt theatrical troupe to settle the town. Robbins falls in love with Ann Bobbett, the daughter of Pa Bobbett, the proprietor of the general store, but is rivaled for her affections by "Gentleman Jim" Rayner, a professional gambler. To dispose of his rival, Rayner arranges to drop Robbins over a steep cliff, and while climbing his way out, Robbins discovers gold. The discovery turns Nuggett Notch into a real boom town, and Rayner, seeing that he is defeated, holds up the camp, taking all the money as well as Ann with him. Robbins and the townspeople pursue the gambler, finally capturing him and rescuing Ann. Ann and Robbins are then married and settle down in the town of Nugget Notch to spend the rest of their days.
Ruth Ann Baldwin
'49-'17 (1917) is notable as a rare surviving example of a silent Western by a woman director. Remarkably, during the silent era the career of film directing was far more open to women than after the advent of sound. The fact that a woman director like Ruth Ann Baldwin could make an ordinary "B" Western--something that would become unthinkable in Hollywood twenty years later--is a good indication of how much the industry would change. Alice Guy-Blache and Lois Weber, the two most prominent women directors of the era, also headed their own studios. Mary Pickford, of course, was one of the owners of United Artists. Carl Laemmle's Universal Studios, in particular, became a center for woman directors, among them Lois Weber, Ida May Park, Cleo Madison and Ruth Ann Baldwin. As film historian Anthony Slide points out in his book The Silent Feminists (1996), one factor behind the gradual disappearance of woman directors was the increasing compartmentalization of roles within the industry. Whereas during the silent era it was relatively easy for an editor like Dorothy Arzner, a screenwriter like Frances Marion or a comedienne like Mabel Normand to switch to directing, such moves became increasingly difficult during the sound era. Another factor Slide mentions is the male domination of the professional guilds and unions formed in Hollywood in the 1930s.
Little is known about Ruth Ann Baldwin's life. Born in Connecticut, she worked as a newspaper journalist before signing up with Universal as a scenario writer in 1915; her projects included the popular serial The Black Box (1915). One indication of the professional respect she received was a mention of her in a 1916 issue of Photoplay: "She has long been regarded as one of the most capable of Universal's staff." Her brief but productive career as a director includes the films Retribution (1916), The Black Mantilla (1917), The Rented Man (1917), When Liz Lets Loose (1917), A Wife on Trial (1917) and '49-'17, the latter two starring her husband Leo Pierson. She later returned to scenario writing; it is not known what happened to her after 1921.
'49-'17 was moderately well received during its initial release. While it was never viewed as more than standard genre fare, reviewers in trade journals such as Motion Picture News and Moving Picture World considered it above average of its type and admired its fresh touches. Motography praised its photography and use of locations (the film was shot mainly around the San Diego area). The film is also noteworthy as one of the earliest surviving performances by Jean Hersholt (1886-1956), who appears here as the mustachioed, squinty-eyed villain "Gentleman Jim" Raynor; another early Western with Hersholt is the classic William S. Hart feature Hell's Hinges (1916). Joseph Girard (1871-1949), who plays Judge Brand, had a lengthy and prolific career as a character actor, appearing in over 200 films from the early 1910s to the early 1940s, including: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1916), Sergeant York (1941) and a large number of "B" Westerns.
Director: Ruth Ann Baldwin
Scenario: Ruth Ann Baldwin, adapted from the short story "The Old West Per Contract" by William Wallace Cook
Photography: Stephen S. Norton
Principal Cast: Joseph Girard (Judge Brand), Leo Pierson (Tom Robbins), Mattie Witting (Ma Bobbett), George Pearce (Pa Bobbett), Donna Drew (Peggy Bobbett), Jean Hersholt (Gentleman Jim Raynor), Harry Rattenbury (Col. Hungerford).
by James Steffen
The first Western to be directed by a woman.
The original title of this film was The Old West Per Contract.