I’m not a fan of civil war stories usually, so I went in not expecting much.
Gene Gauntier played a girl spy in several shorts for Kalem, so by the time that The Girl Spy Before Vicksburg was released, the audience already knew about this character. The only thing I found interesting in this story was that it was so different-- the spy is portrayed by a girl! I watched this with Dutch intertitles, because the only copy I could find was from EYE, a Dutch film preservation institute and museum located in Amsterdam. A review I read from January 14, 1911 in The Moving Picture World indicated that the English language inter-titles named her Nan. The Dutch inter-titles named her Anna, so this is what I will call her from here on out.
The girl spy is recruited to go undercover to destroy the Union army’s gunpowder wagon. She dresses up as a soldier, complete with a thin wig (where did all that hair go?) to the anxiety of her poor old mother who looks to be 50 years older than her. She then writes out a faked order to get behind enemy lines. She rather unceremoniously sneaks up behind the man sitting on the ammunition wagon and pats him on the back which makes him go limp, presumably unconscious. She drags him offscreen and pretends to be that man who was sitting on the wagon. When the coast is clear, she lights a stick of dynamite, runs for cover, and the wagon blows up. Interestingly enough, the review in The Moving Picture World points out that the only flaw in this is that back in the Civil war they did not use dynamite for such purposes.
“This is a good war story, but the producers have made one serious mistake. Dynamite was not used for such purposes as early as the Civil War. It was used during the Spanish War, but it did not come into use for blasting or other similar work until 1867. It will be seen that in this instance the explosive material is an anachronism which rather disturbs the unity of events.”
While she makes her retreat, the Union army notices the girl spy, and of course, a chase ensues. She jumps into a lake and stays under until the army has gone. She returns to report to the Confederate office, and finally, she comes back to console her grieving mother in an abrupt ending.
This film is OK, and the first starring film I have ever seen from Gene Gauntier. I liked that the picture is still clear enough to make out her features, and that the camera is zoomed in enough to allow this.
This will be where we leave our silent photoplay reviews! Beware of the Spoiler Monster!
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