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Rescued by Rover (1905)

British Film Institute

Main image of Rescued by Rover (1905)
DirectorLewin Fitzhamon
Production CompanyHepworth Manufacturing Company

Cast: May Clark (Nursemaid), Blair (Rover), Cecil M.Hepworth (Father), Mrs Hepworth (Mother), Barbara Hepworth (baby), Sebastian Smith (soldier), Mrs Sebastian Smith (beggar woman)

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A baby is kidnapped by an old beggar woman, but the faithful family dog Rover comes to its rescue.

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A simple story of a baby being rescued by a dog, shot on a budget of seven pounds thirteen shillings and sixpence with a cast largely made up of the producer's family hardly sounds as though it ranks amongst the most important films ever made, but Rescued By Rover marks possibly the only point in film history when British cinema unquestionably led the world. It marks a key stage in the medium's development from an amusing novelty to the "seventh art", able to hold its own alongside literature, theatre, painting, music and other more traditional forms.

By 1905, most films consisted of multiple shots, but their narratives were still conceived on an essentially "theatrical" model, in that they consisted of a series of self-contained "acts". By contrast, Rescued By Rover's director Lewin Fitzhamon regarded individual shots as small pieces of a larger jigsaw making up the whole film, a much more "cinematic" treatment.

While a simple shot of a dog running down a street might seem banal if watched in isolation, we know from what has already been shown that it's going to rescue a kidnapped baby girl, and by cutting on action (i.e. when the dog leaves one frame it enters the next) he not only creates fast-paced narrative continuity but also builds a complex 'character' out of what is essentially an animal performing a series of simple tricks for the camera, filmed one at a time. Fitzhamon also structured, framed and occasionally panned his shots to emphasise movement, creating a sense of pace and excitement that was unprecedented for the time.

The film was so successful, with over 400 copies ordered, that the Hepworth Manufacturing Company had to make two shot-by-shot remakes to compensate for the first two negatives wearing out. Its style and canine subject matter were both highly influential, with Hepworth himself producing Dumb Sagacity (1907) and The Dog Outwits the Kidnappers (1908) and fellow pioneer James Williamson being one of many who jumped on this bandwagon with titles like The £100 Reward (1908).

More importantly, it appears to have influenced the great American pioneer D.W.Griffith, who would build on its innovations over the next few years, notably by introducing parallel cutting to present multiple plot strands in the same time frame. Aside from this, the film language established by Rescued By Rover is still largely the one in use today.

Michael Brooke

*This film is included in the BFI DVD compilation 'Early Cinema: Primitives and Pioneers'.

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Video Clips
Complete film (6:21)
Production stills
Baby's Toilet (1905)
Dog Outwits the Kidnappers, The (1908)
£100 Reward (1908)
Fitzhamon, Lewin (1869-1961)
Hepworth, Cecil (1874-1953)
British Pioneers
Social Realism