The Road to the Heart is an American silent short film, a dramedy directed by D. W. Griffith, and produced by the Biograph Company of New York City. Starring David Miles, Anita Hendrie and Herbert Yost, the production was filmed in two days in March 1909 at Biograph’s Manhattan studio. It was released in April of that same year and distributed to theaters on a “split reel,” which was a single reel that included more than one film. The other short film that accompanied this comedy was Trying to Get Arrested.
Several 1909 film industry publications provide basic plot summaries of this photoplay. The trade magazine The Moving Picture World is one that describes the story in its April 3 issue:
Film critic HA Downey in The Nickelodeon, another widely read trade magazine in 1909, provides a much more concise summary of Griffith’s screenplay in his May issue than is found in The Moving Picture World. Downey describes the film as “A verification of the theory that the way to the heart is through the stomach, as established in the case of Michael, who, disapproving of his daughter’s marriage, throws her out of the house, but gives in for the sake of a hearty meal.”
Another plot summary of this short film is found in the extensive 1985 publication Early Motion Pictures: The Paper Print Collection at the Library of Congress. The following was composed by Library of Congress staff after reviewing a roll of paper of small photographic prints preserved in the LC collection. These prints date from 1909 and were produced directly, frame by frame, from Biograph’s now lost 35mm master negative of The Road to the Heart :
The script for this short film is credited to director Griffith, who shot the picture at Biograph’s headquarters and main studio, which in 1909 were located inside a renovated brownstone mansion at 11 East 14th Street in New York City. Filming was completed in just two days-March 4 and 5, 1909-by Biograph’s director of photography, Arthur Marvin.
Compiling and verifying cast members in early Biograph productions such as The Road to the Heart is made more difficult by the fact that Biograph, as a matter of company policy, did not begin publicly crediting its artists or identifying them in film industry publications or newspaper advertisements until four years after the release of this short film. In its April 5, 1913 issue, the Chicago-based trade magazine Motography, in a story titled “Biograph Identities Revealed” announces that “at last” Biograph “is ready to unveil its players.” That news item also informs moviegoers that for the price of ten cents they can purchase a Biograph poster on which appeared the names and respective portraits of 26 of the company’s leading players.
The co-stars of this short film were among many of Biograph’s early players who acted anonymously and were not consistently credited in their on-screen appearances for the studio. Florence Lawrence, in the role of Michael’s daughter in this film, was known in 1909 to theatrical audiences only as the “Biograph Girl,” although a few years after the release of this comedy, she would be widely publicized as one of the leading actresses in the U.S. motion picture industry.
Launching and reception
With a film length of 618 feet and an original running time of between nine and ten minutes, The Road to the Heart was released and distributed by Biograph on a split reel with the 344-foot comedy Trying to Get Arrested. Few unbiased reviews or comments about the film can be found in 1909 trade publications or small town and village newspapers of that year. Most newspaper descriptions of the short film are contained in theater advertisements that circulated in various communities in the weeks and months following the film’s release.
In both the 1909 publications and more current references, the genre or production designation of The Road to the Heart varies. The production is cited as a drama or a “dramedy” in period release calendars and in Biograph advertisements for the film in trade journals; however, in theater posters and promotions for the short in available 1909 newspapers, The Road to the Heart is sometimes cited as a drama, but more often as a comedy. The 1985 reference cited above Early Motion Pictures: The Paper Print Collection at the Library of Congress, as well as the online source Internet Movie Database, also classify the film as a comedy.
In August 1909, the Grand Theatre in Brunswick, Georgia, touted the film in the local newspaper as “a very clever farce comedy that is sure to please.” The Electric Theatre in Conway, Arkansas, classified The Road to the Heart as “comic” in its film lineup, along with its companion split-reel comedy Trying to Get Arrested, which the theater erroneously labeled He Tries to Be Arrested . On the other hand, the Jewel Theatre in Astoria, Oregon, as well as Biograph promotions in trade publications, advertised the short as “Dramatic.” All of these varying descriptions and others have led to general uncertainties about the actual genre or type of the film, so much so that the online reference “List of Progressive Silent Films” in Silent Era simply classifies the short with question marks: “Drama? ” Given such uncertainties associated with the presence of both dramatic and comedic elements in the plot of this short, the production is perhaps best classified as a dramatic comedy .
A visual record of The Road to the Heart exists. The Library of Congress (LC) has a 241-foot reel of frame-by-frame printed paper images directly from the original 35mm master negative of the comedy. Submitted by Biograph to the U.S. government shortly before the film’s release, the reel is part of the original documentation required by federal authorities for film companies to obtain copyright protection for their productions.
While LC’s paper print record is not projectable, these paper copies can be transferred to modern polyester-based security film stock for screening. In fact, during the early 1800s and early 1960s, Kemp R. Niver and other LC staff members restored more than 3,000 early paper rolls of film footage from the library’s collection and transferred many to security stock. The UCLA Film and Television Archive, for example, has in its collection such a reproduction, but not one of The Road to the Heart. Instead, the archive has a copy of the first film directed by D. W. Griffith, The Short Adventures of Dollie. That projectable reproduction was created from a copy of the LC paper print of that 1908 film.
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