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Tannhäuser: Three reels of approximately 3,000 feet, July 15, 1913
The story, set in medieval Germany, tells of chivalry, mythology and magic (with skillful in-camera tricks), love’s redemption, and tragedy.
Print source: British Film Institute, 40 minutes 09 seconds. (Note: Like many films from this era, the original print was tinted with various colors for different scenes. Thanks to the Library of Congress, the tint log from the original nitrate print was made available from which this copy was edited to imitate the rich colors audiences enjoyed in 1913.)
Directed by Lucius J. Henderson. Scenario (uncredited) based on the opera by Richard Wagner.
Cast: James Cruze (Tannhäuser), Marguerite Snow (Elisabeth), Florence LaBadie (Venus), William Russell (Wolfram), Burton Law. Music by Raymond A. Brubacher (thanhouser.org/people/Rayb.htm).
Though different in spelling and pronunciation, Thanhouser’s adaptation of “Tannhäuser” was probably inevitable. The opera, with original libretto and music by Wagner, based on traditional legends, was the first Wagner opera seen in the United States and enjoyed great popularity throughout the opera world. A subsequent non-musical English verse stage version was very popular in England and the U.S.
The story, set in medieval Germany (Thuringia), tells of chivalry, mythology and magic (with skillful in-camera tricks), love’s redemption, and tragedy.
The scantily-clad wood nymphs and the passion between Tannhäuser and Venus, tame relative to the demands of the story, are early examples of censor-testing cinematic expression. Although those freedoms were noted in the press, there is no record of any attempted censorship of Tannhäuser.
At the beginning of 1913, Thanhouser, now a Mutual Film Corporation company, leased facilities in Los Angeles and equipped them for full-service studio production with the intent of making movies for a new Mutual brand, Royal. The Royal brand did not happen, and Thanhouser ended up using the Los Angeles facility for films in its own schedule. Tannhäuser was produced in Los Angeles, as the treeless mountain landscape reveals.
This film is available on DVD from Thanhouser Film Company Preservation, Inc. at thanhouser.org.