Michael Strogoff, or the Courier of the Czar

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This five reel film based on the Jules Verne novel was produced at the Betzwood studio for the Popular Plays and Players film company, a new venture by some of Lubin’s New York theatrical friends. The idea was to star popular stage personalities in filmed versions of famous, and hopefully popular, plays. Michael Strogoff starred Jacob Adler, the famous  Yiddish theater star often referred to as the Lion of the Yiddish Theater.  The film introduces him with brief cameos of the actor portraying some of the roles for which he was famous.

Unfortunately, by the time this film was rescued and transferred to safety film stock some years ago, it had suffered severe nitrate decomposition. Most of the film is unwatchable. One of the most memorable scenes has survived, however–a shot of Adler and two women being poled on a raft through a river of fire. For this film, Lubin’s pyrotechnicians outdid themselves and actually set fire to the Schuylkill River. The shots of the raft on the river were intercut with footage apparently taken at a huge fire in Florida which was presented in the film, somewhat tenuously, as the burning of Moscow.

Unable to break his theatrical habits, Adler spoke only Yiddish while on camera at Betzwood and frequently faced the camera and proclaimed his lines, exasperating the director, his fellow cast members, and ultimately critics who saw the film. The film was not a great success and Popular Plays and Players produced only one other film at Betzwood, The Ragged Earl, which is now lost.

Jacob Adler was the father of the famous Stella Adler, who founded the well-known Stella Adler School of Acting still in operation in New York.  The footage of Jacob Adler at the start of Michael Strogoff is thought to be the only extant footage of the actor in character.

Lubin Manufacturing Company for Popular Plays and Players, 1914. Directed by Lloyd B. Carleton. Starring Jacob Adler, Peter Lang, Daniel Makarenko, Eleanor Barry, and Ormi Hawley.

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