Al Christie (1881-1951) was a Canadian-born film director, producer, and screenwriter. He began working for the Nestor Film Company in 1909. Nestor was based in New Jersey, but in 1911 Christie moved to California to open a studio for Nestor on the west coast. This was the first movie studio in Hollywood. Al Christie founded Christie Film Company with his brother Charles Christie in 1916. The company was best known for producing Christie Comedies. Many of these productions were two-reel shorts, but the company also produced full-length features. Christie Film Company ceased production in 1933. One of the Christie Comedies produced by Al Christie was a silent film titled The Nervous Wreck (1926). It starred Harrison Ford, Phyllis Haver, Chester Conklin, and Mack Swain. The film depicts a hypochondriac who ventures to Arizona looking for a cure for his imaginary ills, with comic results.
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Cast member of The Nervous Wreck applying make-up during filming
Early film was orthochromatic, or blue-sensitive. Reds appeared black, light blue appeared white, and so on. Actors’ skin would appear dark gray or dirty, and facial features were less distinct. Flaws were magnified tenfold. Special makeup was needed to “normalize” appearances on screen. (Most actors were expected to apply it themselves.)
Mack Swain playing the character Jerome Underwood
Like many in silent films, Swain made his debut on the vaudeville circuit. His film career began in 1914 and ended upon his death in 1935.
Cast of The Nervous Wreck posing during a break in filming
Phyllis Haver as Sally Morgan in The Nervous Wreck
Large gestures such as that shown by actress Phyllis Haver were required in silent films to display emotions.
Harrison Ford, Clarence Burton, and Phyllis Haver in a scene from The Nervous Wreck
Women in early films were often shown as "damsels in distress" such as in this scene when Henry (Harrison Ford) defends Sally (Phyllis Haver) against unwanted advances.
Phyllis Haver as Sally takes advantage of a nearby kerchief to blow her nose in The Nervous Wreck
Comedy was largely slapstick in nature in silent films.
Vera Steadman and Harrison Ford perform a stunt in The Nervous Wreck
Early film actors typically performed their own stunts, despite any danger.