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Shoes (1916 film)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Poster by Burton Rice for the film "Shoes", 1916.jpeg
Design by Burton Rice used for theatrical posters and trade journal inserts, 1916
Directed byLois Weber
Written byLois Weber (scenario)
Based onShort story by Stella Wynne Herron, derived from a book by Jane Addams
Produced byBluebird Photoplays
StarringMary MacLaren
CinematographyStephen S. Norton
Allen G. Siegler
King Gray
Distributed byUniversal Film Manufacturing Company
Release date
June 26, 1916
Running time
60 minutes (5 reels)
LanguagesSilent film
English intertitles

Shoes is a 1916 silent film drama directed by Lois Weber and starring Mary MacLaren. It was distributed by the Universal Film Manufacturing Company and produced by Bluebird Photoplays, a subsidiary of Universal based in New York City and with access to Universal's studio facilities in Fort Lee, New Jersey as well as in California.[1][2] Shoes was added to the National Film Registry in 2014.[3][4]

The film was held and restored by the EYE Film Institute Netherlands between 2008-2011.[5] It is available on DVD[6] and Blu-ray[6] with a score composed by Donald Sosin and Mimi Rabson and audio commentary by film historian Shelley Stamp.


Eva Mayer (Mary MacLaren) works in a five-and-dime store for five dollars a week.[7] That meager salary must solely support her family of two parents and three sisters because her father (Harry Griffith) prefers to lie in bed reading, smoking his pipe, and drinking pails of beer rather than looking for work. Eva desperately needs new shoes. The only pair she has are literally falling to pieces with soles that have large holes, so large in fact that she must insert pieces of cardboard inside her shoes to protect her feet. Finally, Eva decides to sleep with Charlie (William V. Mong), a local cabaret singer, in exchange for money. She buys new shoes but learns the same day that her father has finally secured a job, at least temporary work.


Film still showing (from left) "Cabaret" Charlie (Mong), Lil (Arnold), and Eva Mayer (MacLaren)
Film still showing (from left) "Cabaret" Charlie (Mong), Lil (Arnold), and Eva Mayer (MacLaren)
  • Mary MacLaren - Eva Mayer
  • Harry Griffith - Eva's father
  • Mattie Witting - Eva's mother (credited as Mrs. A. E. Witting)
  • Jessie Arnold - Lil, co-worker at store
  • William V. Mong - "Cabaret" Charlie
  • Lina Basquette - Eva's sister (uncredited)
  • Violet Schram - Eva's sister (uncredited)


In addition to directing the film, Lois Weber composed the production's scenario, adapting it from a short story written by American author and suffragist Stella Wynne Herron. That story, also titled "Shoes", was originally published—complete with illustrations by Hal J. Mowat—in the January 1, 1916 issue of Collier's magazine.[8] Herron, in turn, was inspired to write her dramatic tale about a poor young woman desperately needing shoes by Jane Addams' 1912 nonfiction book on prostitution, A New Conscience and an Ancient Evil. In fact, for the epigraph of her short story, Herron quotes directly from Addams' work: "When the shoes became too worn to endure a third soling and she possessed but 90 cents toward a new pair, she gave up the struggle; to use her own contemptuous phrase, she 'sold out for a new pair of shoes.'"

Weber in her screen adaptation followed closely Herron's narrative, with "dialogue from the story occasionally appearing verbatim in the film's intertitles."[9] Weber did, though, make some obvious as well as subtle changes to lengthen the short story to a one-hour film. The director, largely in keeping with Herron's original story, also introduces the central character in her film as "Eva Mayer" and to her family as "the Mayers". Yet, references to the characters in 1916 publications and in modern film references often cite Eva's surname as "Meyer".[8]

Casting the film's lead

Another scene with MacLaren as Eva
Another scene with MacLaren as Eva

According to news items in 1916 film publications, while Lois Weber was still working on the scenario for Shoes, she met 16-year-old Mary MacDonald in the early weeks of 1916, when the young chorus girl was with a group of other women looking for work as extras at Universal Studios in California.[10][11] Weber was reportedly "impressed by her style and peculiar type of beauty", so much so that the director gave Mary uncredited bit parts in two productions: John Needham's Double, which was released in April 1916, and Where Are My Children?, released in May.[10][12] Weber also kept her in mind as a possible choice for the role of Eva in Shoes.[12] A few weeks later, after Weber finally decided to cast the inexperienced screen performer for the starring role in Shoes, the director assigned MacDonald a new surname for promoting and crediting her work: MacLaren (spelled McLaren in the film's opening title card).[12] Many studio observers in the media in 1916 expressed amazement regarding the actress's meteoric rise to stardom. The Baltimore Sun newspaper attributed her "sudden fame" to the "whims of fortune".[13] Commenting too about such good fortune, the New York-based trade journal The Moving Picture World stated, "Mary MacLaren is a mighty lucky young lady to have Lois Weber sponsoring her future upon the screen...she is a full-fledged star in about the fastest time known to screen history."[12]

Set composition

Weber in filming Shoes utilized fully furnished interior sets at the studio rather than partially constructed "'corner sets'".[14] As was customary in her productions, Weber created authentic-looking settings for a dual purpose: to enhance the story's appearance on screen and to enhance the performances of her cast by immersing the actors in environments with "physical and psychological realism".[14] The trade journal The Moving Picture Weekly was one of the publications in 1916 that described the principal sets used on Shoes:

PLAY film, a cut version with English intertitles and French subtitles (48 minutes)

The production is made with all the skill and attention to detail which we have learned to expect from Lois Weber. The contents of a whole five and ten cent store was transported to the studio in order to film the store scenes. Real corned beef and cabbage were cooked on a real stove, with real fire in it, and the furniture which was used in the interior of the Meyer [sic] home was specially bought from just such people as the Myers [sic] were.[15]

Release and reception

THIS flower had not had a fair chance to bloom in the garden of life. The worm of poverty had entered the folded bud and spoiled it.

—Intertitle from Shoes

Released on June 26, 1916, the film became Universal's most-booked Bluebird production by regional distributors and theaters.[9] It also received that year widespread public acclaim, including positive reviews from critics in trade publications and in many newspapers across the country. Prior to the film's release, the New York-based trade journal Motion Picture News reported comments expressed by H. M. Hoffman, the general manager of Bluebird Photoplays, who predicted great success for his studio's new motion picture. "I am willing", he stated, "to stake "Bluebird's reputation and my own, upon the outcome of this release."[16] Hoffman further predicted, "It will be the most discussed and most profitable feature ever released during a program series."[16]

Reviews in 1916 appear to justify the Bluebird manager's confident expectations. In its July 3 edition that year, the San Francisco Chronicle describes the drama as "absorbing" and its cast "capable" and "well-balanced".[17] The newspaper underscores too the cultural significance of the film, calling it "one of the most important sociological plays presented on the screen."[17] Grace Kingsley, reviewing the film on behalf of the Los Angeles Times, heaped even greater praise on the release:

"Shoes" showing at the Alhambra is the greatest photoplay which Lois Weber has ever produced. All praise to its perfection of acting by Mary MacLaren and the others. All praise to the fact that every atom of its fine-drawn drama grows out of the hearts, the lives, and motives of real human beings. And more praise yet that a stark story of poverty, stripped of every cheap trick of appeal, is yet so sincere, so gripping, that it holds you as no such simple screen tale perhaps ever has gripped before.[18]

In Illinois, Louella Parsons, the film critic for The Chicago Herald, ranked Shoes as "one of the best moving pictures of 1916", a story that "loosens the heartstrings, stirs the pulse and makes one choke with emotion."[19] The co-editor of the widely read entertainment paperVariety had a more measured response to the drama. Writing under the pen name "Jolo", Joshua Lowe characterized the tragic story as "devoid of all theatricalism" and "far above the average of Bluebird releases."[20] Lowe noted in particular that Mary MacLaren "gave an exceptionally good portrayal of the hopeless creature."[20]

Mrs. Mayer (Mattie Witting) comforting her daughter (MacLaren)
Mrs. Mayer (Mattie Witting) comforting her daughter (MacLaren)

Beyond recognizing and describing the broader cultural significance of the film, some newspapers in 1916 urged their readers, especially parents, to see the photoplay for simply the benefit of their own households. The Chicago Defender, one of the leading African-American newspapers in the United States, was among those periodicals promoting that benefit: "There is a lesson in this feature for every father and mother who have made themselves responsible for the welfare of a daughter—it expounds the greatest problem ever essayed in moving pictures and does it deftly, clearly and with gripping interest."[21]

Praise for the film, however, was not universal in the media in 1916. Peter Milne, the reviewer for Motion Picture News, insisted that Weber had exceeded acceptable limits for realism in depicting Eva's "trials and hardships".[22] "Miss Weber", he observes in his June 24 assessment of the film, "has gone a step too far in showing a closeup of the girl extracting splinters from the sole of her foot", as well as "showing the girl scraping mud from her feet with a pair of scissors."[22] Milne then adds, "There is such a thing as being too realistic."[22] Julian Johnson, writing for the leading movie-fan magazine Photoplay, summarized Weber's "remarkable play" as being "big in thought and treatment—marred by melodramatic crudities."[23]

Parody of Shoes, 1932

In 1932—sixteen years after the release of Shoes—Universal Studios produced a parody of Weber's film, converting it to a sound comedy short by re-editing original footage from the 1916 drama and using voiceovers by a "great wisecracker" to amuse theater audiences.[24][25] The sound "novelty", titled The Unshod Maiden, was directed by Albert DeMond, who also wrote the satirical narration for the 10-minute film.[26] In its positive review of the short in March 1932, The Film Daily alludes to neither Weber nor Shoes, but the trade paper's synopsis of the comedy's plot clearly shows that it mirrors the storyline of the 1916 feature:

[The short] concerns Mary, a pathetic little shop girl, who, because she is obliged to turn over her meagre earnings to her unworthy family, hasn't the price of a pair of shoes. And she needs shoes! Another clerk in the store introduces her to a smooth villain, and the last scene shows Mary arriving home tearful but with a brand new pair of 12-button shoes.[27]

In the weeks prior to the official release of The Unshod Maiden, screenings of the comedy were presented by Universal at private gatherings and in select theaters. Motion Picture Herald, another popular film-industry publication in 1932, reports on DeMond's parody in its February 20 issue and refers directly to the original footage and to the star of Shoes but mentions nothing about Weber:

Universal's Unshod Maiden created a furore [sic] when shown to a private audience of local critics and newspapermen recently, which indicates that Universal may have a gold mine in this contemplated series of short subjects burlesquing old-time films. This offering was taken from Mary McLaren's [sic] famous picture "Shoes" with scenes of that picture used all the way through, while a wit describes the action as it would be presented on the screen today...A series of 52 such subjects are planned for this year with Al De Mond as producer and editor.[26]


  1. ^ "Shoes (1916)", catalog, American Film Institute (AFI), Los Angeles California. Retrieved November 8, 2020.
  2. ^ "Shoes", Progressive Silent Film List by Carl Bennett, Silent Era Company. Retrieved November 8, 2020.
  3. ^ "Complete National Film Registry Listing | Film Registry | National Film Preservation Board | Programs at the Library of Congress | Library of Congress". Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. Retrieved 2020-05-11.
  4. ^ "Cinematic Treasures Named to National Film Registry", Library of Congress (LOC), Washington, D.C. Retrieved May 5, 2020.
  5. ^ The Library of Congress American Silent Feature Film Survival Catalog:Shoes
  6. ^ a b "Milestone Films".
  7. ^ In a prologue included in a national broadcast of Shoes by Turner Classic Movies (TCM) on November 4, 2020, the 2010 restoration of the film by the EYE Film Institute was described. The following statement was included as well in that prologue: "In 2016, the film's original script was discovered by NBC/Universal. Milestone's new digital version [of the film] follows this script." In that most up-to-date restoration of the film and in the shorter, earlier cut of it available in this article, the given spelling of the main character's name is "Eva Mayer".
  8. ^ a b Herron, Stella Wynne (1888). "Shoes". Collier's. 56: 8–9, 25 – via Internet Archive.
  9. ^ a b Byrne, Robert. "Shoes", San Francisco Silent Film Festival, 2011. Retrieved November 8, 2020.
  10. ^ a b Pepper, Peter. "The Strange Case of Mary MacLaren", The Moving Picture Weekly (New York, N.Y.), June 24, 1916, pp. 9, 34. Internet Archive. Retrieved November 12, 2020.
  11. ^ Young, Jordan R. "Mary MacLaren", Let Me Entertain You: Conversations with Show People. Beverly Hills, California: Moonstone Press, 1988, p. 123.
  12. ^ a b c d "Mary MacLaren, New Star in Bluebird", The Moving Picture World (New York, N.Y.), June 10, 1916, p. 1906. Internet Archive. Retrieved November 10, 2020.
  13. ^ "Mary MacLaren Is One Of Lois Weber's Finds", The Sun (Baltimore, Maryland), July 2, 1916, p. 3A. ProQuest.
  14. ^ a b Brody, Richard. "'A Real Director Should Be Absolute': Lois Weber’s Prescient Thoughts on Filmmaking a Century Ago", The New Yorker, March 14, 2019. Retrieved November 8, 2020.
  15. ^ "Shoes", The Moving Picture Weekly, June 24, 1916, p. 34. Internet Archive. Retrieved November 9, 2020.
  16. ^ a b "Bluebirds to Fly Over Summer Amusement Birds of Passage", Motion Picture News, June 10, 1916, p. 3589. Internet Archive. Retrieved November 8, 2020.
  17. ^ a b "'Shoes' Feature At Tivoli Theater", San Francisco Chronicle, July 3, 1916, p. 8. ProQuest Historical Newspapers (Ann Arbor, Michigan); subscription access through the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Library.
  18. ^ "Lois Weber Photoplay Has Moving Appeal", Los Angeles Times, July 19, 1916, part II, p. 3. ProQuest.
  19. ^ "Shoes", review, The Moving Picture Weekly, June 24, 1916, p. 12. Internet Archive. Retrieved November 8, 2020.
  20. ^ a b "Jolo" (Joshua Lowe). "Shoes", review, Variety (New York, N.Y.), June 16, 1916, p. 24. Internet Archive. Retrieved November 8, 2020.
  21. ^ "Shoes”, The Chicago Defender, August 5, 1916, p. 10. ProQuest.
  22. ^ a b c Milne, Peter. "Screen Examinations/'Shoes'", Motion Picture News (New York, N.Y.), June 24, 1916, p. 3927. Internet Archive. Retrieved November 8, 2020.
  23. ^ Johnson, Julian. "The Shadow Stage", article of reviews, Photoplay (Chicago), December 1916, p. 121. Internet Archive. Retrieved November 14, 2020.
  24. ^ "Universal—One Reel / "The Unshod Maiden—Novelty (10 min.) April 18", Harrison's Report (New York, N.Y.), May 21, 1932, Part II (blue supplement). Internet Archive. Retrieved November 8, 2020.
  25. ^ "Short Subjects of the Month / Unshod Maiden", Photoplay (Chicago, Illinois), May 1932, p. 84. Internet Archive. Retrieved November 8, 2020.
  26. ^ a b "Unshod Maiden", Motion Picture Herald, February 20, 1932, p. 8. Internet Archive. Retrieved November 8, 2020.
  27. ^ "Reviews of Sound Shorts / 'The Unshod Maiden'", review, The Film Daily, March 20, 1932, p. 9. Internet Archive. Retrieved November 8, 2020.

Further reading

External links

This page was last edited on 24 November 2020, at 02:56
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