Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Hurrah! A poster! A poster!

You may recall that at the end of May I tried to contribute to solve a mystery involving an unidentified poster briefly appearing in a scene of Orson Welles' The Magnificent Ambersons. Film historian David Bordwell was responsible for it.

After almost two months since then, I thought Mr. Bordwell had thrown in the towel. So I was really excited when a few days ago he published two consecutive blog entries (here and here) about a probable solution of the enigma. Apparently the poster advertises a theatre show called "The Cow Boy Girl", first performed in the early years of the 20th century. No one has been able to find a copy of the original poster, but some graphic and thematic analogies with other newly discovered posters seem to indicate that, until proven otherwise, the solution is more than plausible. Essential was the help from various film critics, correspondents and bloggers. What was left for a poor java programmer to do?

The last hope for tracing the much-sought poster, I thought, could come from the Martha Blakeney Hodges Special Collections and University Archives at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro, where some posters of the show are hosted. I asked them if I might have access to the material for a comparison. I haven't received an answer yet, but it doesn't matter anymore, since I've finally managed to find a copy of the poster! Apparently, there's nothing a savage googling can't do. The source is eHumanity, a "free portal for digital native-american cultural items".

Mr. Bordwell's conjectures were exact: the poster's title triumphantly announces the vaudeville play "The Cow-Boy Girl", again with the shield-like shape "7 Big Song Hits". The scene shows an elegant man thrashing an American Indian who apparently has stolen some "goods" from the gentleman's house (some clothes and a small mirror, I guess  what is your interpretation?). In the background, the titular girl is shooting with her pistol. At the bottom, the phrase "CAUGHT WITH THE GOODS". (By the way, Caught With The Goods happens to be also the title of no less than ten short films produced between 1908 and 1920  see the imdb database for more information. Perhaps a starting point for more research?)

Of course, discovering the original print would have been a nearly impossible task, hadn't I had a title to begin with. I hope you enjoy the sight (and not the racist message). And may Mr. Bordwell provide us with more sleepless nights like these!

For completeness' sake, here you can find another poster I've found of the same show not appearing on David Bordwell's blog. It depicts our friend the Cow-Boy Girl winning a race. This time the phrase is: "Hurrah! A Race! A Race! The Cow-Boy Girl Wins!"

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