Rare Surviving Film of Actor-Director Walter Edwards
IN THE SWITCH TOWER stars Walter Edwards (who also directed) as Bill Wharton, a middle-aged alcoholic who was once a leading engineer with a railroad. Wharton is estranged from his son Joel (Frank Borzage), who now works as an executive with the railroad, but Frank does send him money through Bill's longtime friend, Louis Hall (Robert Hall).
On evening, Bill has the misfortune of being in a bar when a fight breaks out leading to the death of one of the participants. Although innocent, Bill is sentenced to three years jail time on circumstantial evidence. While in prison, Louis delivers Bill the latest letter from his son who wants to reconcile with his father. A shamed Bill, not wanting his son to know of his latest situation, tells Louis to write his son telling him he is dead.
The three years pass and Bill is released and visits the Hall home, only to learn they are expecting the pending arrival of Joel and his bride! Bill hides off behind the bushes to catch a glimpse of the couple when they arrive. At the railroad, Joel sees an employee Alden (Lewis Durham) drinking on the job and fires him. Alden then plots revenge, planning to break into the switch tower and cause two of the company's trains to crash.
Star-director Walter Edwards entered motion pictures in 1912 at age 42 and cranked out an impressive 103 films as a director before his death in 1920 (he is also credited with acting in 69 films). A Gene Hackman type, he seems somewhat more impressive as an actor than as director, giving a thoughtful performance as a drunk who has shame and honor (there's an excellent sensitive bit when he hesitates before knocking at the Hall home, embarrassed to meet his old friend after his stint in jail). It's a very good performance. The direction is not bad either although using footage of Borzage at the office repeatedly that was obviously shot the same day for scenes over time (with the same extras in the background) was not a good decision.
The supporting cast does not have much to do although it's nice to see the young Frank Borzage (later a major film director) in his youth as an actor. Lewis Durham's villain alas is pretty much a stock silent movie bad guy with wild eyes and scowling grimaces. IMDb credits Gertrude Claire with appearing in the film; given Ms. Claire was past 60 she is undoubtedly playing Mrs. Hall since the only other two females in the film, Joel's bride and an extra at the offices, are young women.
IN THE SWITCH TOWER was released on a video by Blackhawk in the 1980's along with a shorter film, GRIT OF THE GIRL TELEGRAPHER. Produced and co-scripted by Thomas Ince, IN THE SWITCH TOWER is minimally a railroad saga but is more of a low-key melodrama on the effects of alcoholism.
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