See the moving picture


The Literal Deadline

The Fatal Hour

D.W. Griffith, Biograph, USA, 1908

Billed by Biograph as an “exceedingly thrilling . . . and stirring incident of the Chinese White Slave Traffic,” The Fatal Hour generates its excitement by crosscutting between two sequences. The first, excerpted in Shots 8, 11, and 13, focuses on the plight of the heroine, who’s been placed before a gun rigged to a clock and set to fire at 12 o’clock. The second sequence, excerpted in Shots 10 and 12, records the race of the police to the rescue in a horse-drawn carriage. As you can see in Shot 8, the heroine originally has only 20 minutes before the gun goes off: her rescuers, therefore, are facing a deadline. We switch to the rushing carriage and back again to the heroine who, in Shot 11, is now down to 5 minutes. (Note, too, that Griffith also brings the camera closer to the character, eliminating a good deal of distracting, no longer necessary visual detail.) The two lines of action converge in Shot 15, when the police come through the window in the nick of time—or, more precisely, at 11:59—and snatch the heroine from harm’s way just before the gun fires. (Here, Griffith pulls his camera back again, to accommodate the action and number of characters in the shot.)

Back to CHAPTER 8/Part 2