February 27, 2021

First Movie Made in Prescott: The Cringer

There are no known surviving copies of the first movie filmed in Yavapai County. However, a nationwide search of movie reviews and newspaper accounts for “The Cringer” offers a reasonable, albeit general, recapitulation of the film and some of its background.

It all started in 1912 when the Lubin Motion Picture Company, based in Philadelphia, was interested in “the establishment of a large plant somewhere in Arizona,” the Weekly Journal-Miner reported. “Phoenix is making a strong bid for this establishment in the salt River Valley, but Yavapai County, with its great diversity of scenic attractions and its absolute clarity of atmosphere, stands a very good [chance] of landing the plant.” 

The film company was hosted by the Prescott Chamber of Commerce in general and its secretary, Malcolm Frasier, in particular. Frasier pointed out that the more temperate summer climate in Prescott would be much more tolerable than the scorching temperatures in Phoenix. He also showed them the diversity of available scenery: the Granite Dells (then known as Point of Rocks,) the ranch lands, even the pine forest. Frasier also made sure that he could guarantee true Indians would be available to act.

Frasier impressed the Lubin Company in more ways than one, and after spending four weeks of spring filming in Tucson, the troupe moved to Prescott with a view to permanency. 

The capture of the film company was an economic boom for Prescott. The paper declared that the studio was spending upwards of $7000 a month at local merchants—the equivalent of nearly $190,000 today!

Production of The Cringer started immediately. It would star, as most all Lubin films did, Romaine Fielding, who also was recognized as a production manager for the company. Costars for The Cringer are unknown, but two Prescott locals would end up scoring parts.

Almost unanimously, reviews of the “photoplay” (as they were often called then,) were positive and glowing. Many commented on the breath-taking scenery (no argument here!)

The Missoulian newspaper stated: “This is a story that will appeal to all. It has a dash and thrill from beginning to the close.”

A Mt. Carmel, PA newspaper wrote that the film was “replete with startling situations, full of thrilling action with plenty of cowboys, good fast riding and desperados.”

The film was also shown in Canada. A Saskatchewan newspaper wrote: “The Cringer is a picturesque photoplay of frontier life. The story is full of thrilling action and is capably acted by an excellent cast.”

The movie opens with Fielding playing a sheepherder who would come to be known as the cringer. He worked at “a sheep ranch with thousands of the wool producers grazing before the camera, and everybody sees the black sheep of the flock,” the Leavenworth (KS) Post described. The McPherson (KS) Daily Republican was convinced that it was “the largest sheep ranch in the world.” Although it’s unknown which ranch was filmed, it may have been that of NJ Ritter whose sheep ranch at that time started at Jerome Junction, (where transportation of the film crew would be convenient,) and spread into Lonesome Valley.

At some early point in the story, in a way no longer known, the sheep herder showed some kind of cowardice that was witnessed by a number of cowboys. “While attending a sick kid,” the Gettysburg Times related, “the cringer is attacked by some cowboys who want some fun.” That is, if one thinks bullying is fun. Indeed, the Daily Arkansas Gazette described it as “a sheep herder made desperate through abuse.”

The cringer’s desperation led him to live the life of a desperado, which brought the ire of the one and only critic of the film. He wrote: “After seeing The Cringer at the local picture show last Saturday evening, we have been wondering if the Kansas censorship board is doing its duty. The Cringer is a crime breeder from start to finish and we cannot understand how it slipped into Kansas, and especially into Lindsborg…”

Perhaps this reviewer was having a bad day. “The second film should also have been eliminated,” he quipped. “It was course and bordered on indecency” was all he had to say about that picture.

ALSO ENJOY: The "Shirley Temple of Silent Films" Was a Prescott Girl

The early life of child actress Virginia Lee Corbin (1910-1941) who was born in Prescott, AZ.

The Cringer’s fall from grace manifested itself in several scenes, although the chronological order is unknown.

“It shows a thrilling fire scene, thrilling riding by cowboys and other most thrilling scenes too numerous to mention,” the Pottsville (PA) Republican Herald was thrilled to note. “You don’t want to miss this.”

“It's a reel filled with incidents;” the Leavenworth Post reported, “a theft of a horse, a fire, a run by a fire department, [the] chase of the horse thief, daring horsemanship and fine acting.”

There was also a bank robbery; (more on that later.) Soon, a posse was on the cringer’s trail.

“The Cringer is a big dramatic [motion picture] and it is a thriller,” the Wilmington (SC) Morning Star described. “It tells what a young westerner does, and shows in vivid manner how he does it when taunted by cowboys for being a coward. He ‘does’ with his boots on and dies happy because he shows them he is not afraid.”

In 1912, the early days of motion pictures, people would attend a silent movie just to witness the technology. As a result, (and fortunately for us today,) many editors had no qualms in giving away the ending in their reviews. “He makes things lively,” the Gettysburg Times revealed, “but at last [the cringer] gives up to them.” 

According to the Meridian (CT) Journal, after being shot by the pursuing posse, the cringer “dies murmuring the words ‘I was not afraid.’” (THE END.)

By the time of the Prescott premier of The Cringer on December 3, the Lubin troupe had already pulled-up stakes and moved to Castle Hot Springs to winter. Despite this, the showings at the Wigwam were wildly popular. While many theaters in other towns featured The Cringer for one night only, Prescott completely sold-out two nights and a matinee. Folks were thrilled to see their town, and a few of its citizens, on the latest in technology on the silver screen.

Playing no small part as the soon-to-be burgled bank clerk was Malcolm Frasier—the same Chamber of Commerce secretary that initially wooed the film company to the town. The Journal-Miner’s review furnished Frasier with a rough ribbing, but it also offers the fullest description of any part of the movie to survive to this day:

“In one scene [Frasier] is shown counting the huge bales of paper money behind the cashier’s wicket. If it had been real money he probably would have fainted. Be that as it may, he is in the act of counting the aforementioned dinero when a real, honest to goodness bad man…walks in the door and jerks a young cannon from his clothes. Aiming this miniature gatling gun at Fraser, the bad man orders him to hand over the bail of kale. 

“Before doing so, Frasier – the rascal – presses a button that connects the office of the Prescott Protective Association, but Harry Heap is asleep at the switch and Frasier is left at the mercy of the man with the gun. After waiting one last despairing moment for the charge of the light brigade, Fraser realizes that the Prescott Protective Association is drunk again, and hands over the money with a sigh. Anyway it isn’t his money, so why should he care? 

“The bad man, however, isn't satisfied with the money and he forces the despairing Fraser to pack the coin outdoors and to the rear door of the Del Monte CafĂ©…where his horse is hitched. He then grabs the coin, mounts and flees toward the Yavapai Club… But to return to Frasier, [he] stands alone in the wide, wide alley watching the disappearing outlaw packing away the results of a hard day’s work at the mint. 

“Frasier staggers—(we have seen him stagger. It's one of the best things he does)—to the door of the bank. Throwing up his hands, a grown escaped from his lips and his face assumes a woe-begone expression…and he sinks to the sidewalk in a heap. Here, mercifully the scene changes and we see Frasier no more.”

Harry Heap’s portrayal of a chronic drunk “asleep at the switch” had no ill-effect on his standing in the community. In less than six years, he was elected mayor!


Tourist Tip:

The Western Heritage Center, located in the old Sam Hill Hardware on historic Whiskey Row has an exhibit on the film history of Yavapai County. Included are stories, posters, the phone booth that appeared in Junior Bonner and a monitor playing 100 year old silent films that feature Prescott back then. Check their website for operating hours: www.visitwhc.org.



Drew's book is now available!

Available in paperback and Kindle!


Paperback: $21.99

Kindle ebook $12.99 

CLICK HERE for Amazon (PB or Kindle)


Also available at:

Western Heritage Center, 156.5 Montezuma (Whiskey Row)


And everywhere Prescott history books are sold!


#PrescottAZHistory publishes a new article on Sundays. Follow the blog in one of the following social media to be sure you get the latest article!

Want more Prescott history? Join the "Celebrating Historic Prescott" group.
(Daily pics and featured articles.)
Drew Desmond is on Facebook (For the latest article and posts about Drew's writing.)

(Daily pic featured at 7 am and featured articles.)

(For the latest article.)

Follow PrescottAZHistory on Instagram


Weekly Journal-Miner, 4/24/1912; Pg. 8, Col. 6.

Weekly Journal-Miner, 7/24/1912; Pg. 4, Col. 6.

Missoulian, 11/12/1912; Pg. 10, Col. 7.

Mt. Carmel (PA) Item, 10/30/1912; Pg. 1, Col. 1.

Leader-Post (Saskatchewan, Canada), 2/4/1913; Pg. 7, Col. 6.

St. Joseph (MO) News Press, 10/18/1912; Pg. 4, Col. 7.

Leavenworth (KS) Post, 11/25/1912; Pg. 4, Col. 4.

McPherson (KS) Daily Republican, 4/18/1913; Pg. 1, Col. 1.

Weekly Journal-Miner, 12/4/1912; Pg. 7, Col. 4.

Gettysburg (PA) Times, 1/10/1913; Pg. 1, Col. 1.

Daily Arkansas Gazette, 10/20/1912; Pg. 40, Col. 5.

Daily Arkansas Gazette, 10/21/1912; Pg. 6, Col. 4.

Lindsborg (KS) News Record, 4/25/1913; Pg. 8, Col. 4.

Republican Herald (Pottsville, PA), 10/28/1912; Pg. 1, Col. 1.

Wilmington (SC) Morning Star, 10/31/1912; Pg. 6, Col. 3.

The Journal (Meriden, CT), 10/30/1912; Pg. 2, Col. 2.

Arizona Republican, 11/28/1912; Pg. 12, Col. 5.

Weekly Journal-Miner, 12/4/1912; Pg. 5, Col. 3.

No comments:

Post a Comment