biography | films | images | merchandise | movie clips
Cecil B. DeMille Innovations
Other then D.W.Griffith, DeMille became the best known and most successful director of his time. He had an excellent knack to change with and reflect the times.
Below is information devoted to Film Firsts and Film Accidents prove this point. Also, I have a separate page devoted to all the “bathroom” scenes that Demille incorporated in so many of his films. Go to “Bathroom as Shrine” to see how Demille used this private spot to excentuate the sexual content in his films.
Especially during the silent era, when the film industry was in its infancy, DeMille created many new ways to solve problems and to enhance the film experience. The following is a list of known DeMille innovations:
- First full length film (6 reels) Squaw Man, 1914
- First screen credits with Squaw Man: prior to this actors were not credited in films.
- First to use indoor lighting: In Warrens of VA he showed interior night scenes without blazing sunlight showing through the windows and doors.
- First to vary light intensity in scenes.
- First fight between women on the screen in “Carmen”, 1915.
- First domestic dealing with upper crust in their own environment, “The Cheat”, 1915.
- Created the film preview:
- Made stars: Bebe Daniels, Wanda Hawley, Agnes Ayres, Letrice Joy, Nita Naldi, Jacqueline Logan, Vera Reynolds, Jetta Goudal, Wallace Reid, Thomas Meighan, Sessue Hayakawa, Theodore Roberts, Jack Holt, Monte Blue, William Boyd, Rod La Rocque, Joel McCrea, Robert Preston and his most notable, Gloria Swanson.
- In Male and Female – revolutionary treatment of sex and its establishment of DeMille as a pace-setting director of the early post war years.
- First director to remake a picture and produce the same film three times successfully (Squaw Man 1914, 1918 and 1931).
- First to direct crowds.
- First electric speaker system.
- First to show that films could depict sex and violence if virtue triumphed at the end. DeMille always closed his pictures with the hymn rather then the orgy, and if the route to the divine was full of sensuous detours, the final victory was all the more meaningful.
- First to pan from downstairs to upstairs window in a single take. This was the forerunner of the camera boom.
Not really innovations, but the accidents that happened on film helped to show the need for care when filming dangerous stunts.
During the making of The Virginian, 1914 DeMille started his collection of accident films.This particular event involved a rattle snake which was supposed to be defanged but was found not to be. Someone on the set finally shot the snake which had coiled, ready to strike, before it had a chance to bite the poor innocent actor. The cameras were rolling and, from then on, DeMille saved these “accidents”.
The following are some of examples:
- The most tragic accident in a DeMille film was when one of his actors was killed. While filming The Captive, a group of soldiers were to fire into a door and then break it down. The door was supposed to be very strong and the guns were to have been loaded with blanks. By mistake someone had loaded one of the rifles with a live cartridge. When the gunshots rang out, one of DeMille’s regular cowboys sank to the ground and died, shot through the head. Since many guns had been going off simultaneously, it was never determined who was responsible. DeMille kept the widow of the man who was killed on the payroll for many years. DeMille once wondered “if her suffering was any greater than that of the man who carried with him to his own grave the memory of having taken another’s life so uselessly?”
- In the making of his film, “We can’t Have Everything”, the climax was to be the burning down of the studio of a fictional movie director which was patterned after DeMille himself. DeMille didn’t know how to economically film this event until, to his amazement, when returning from location, he was amazed to find his own studio on fire. Unwilling to allow the situation be a total loss he ordered his cameraman to set up the cameras. The damage to the studio was estimated at about $100,000 but DeMille said “We’ll get it back with the picture. One thing is destroyed so that something new may be created. We have fared well enough through the crisis.”