movie films 1914-1918

As an opening topic for this section, I have listed the films advertised in Cambridge (UK) from the beginning of 1914. Based on this sample, the majority of films were of recent US production; some were British and occasionally another European country. Sometimes films older than a year were shown, but as these shorts (usually one reel lasting ten minutes) were being produced in large numbers each year by the start of 1914, there was little need for cinemas to resort to older material.

Of the many films that we can find listed at cinemas for these years, virtually none have survived. This is for several reasons, but not least the inherently unstable chemical nature of the film.




Two web sites which put together some of the fragments which survive are:


One observation in relation to the outbreak of war that can be made on looking through the listings of films shown in Cambridge in 1914 is that after August the number and variety of films appears to reduce considerably. Before August the Playhouse in Mill Road was showing around twenty or more different films each month. Most of these were films made by the major US companies such as Vitagraph, Keystone, Edison and Essanay, but there were some from Europe and in particular from the British companies Folly Films, Selsior and London Film.


After August 1914 the evidence from newspaper advertising is that the number of films on offer fell significantly. In particular, the availability of films from the USA diminished, leaving British films as a staple fare. There is the curious case of the Austrian film of William Tell being shown in November of 1914. Perhaps this was because of the them of the film.


By December 1914 there are examples of films being produced as on the theme of war playing on popular fears. In England's Menace the daughter of the Prime Minister's secretary exposes a butler as a spy and foils a foreign invasion. In Two Little Britons a Foreign Secretary's children unmask a teacher as a spy.


As regards other entertainment alongside films, this seems to have continued after the outbreak of war. Dorothy Cameron, the singer, performs a programme of patriotic songs in November. However, there is as yet no evidence of musical acts as direct recruiting agents.