USA, 15 min
Directed by: D.W. Griffith
Written by: Emmett C. Hall
Starring: Charles Hill Mailes, Charles West, Blanche Sweet, William Bechtel, Dorothy Bernard, Christy Cabanne
For His Son (1912) is one of D.W. Griffith's most unusual Biograph shorts. At first, I thought that he was aiming to produce an ironic farce: a distinguished physician (Charles Hill Mailes), in order to satisfy his leeching son's (Charles West) demands for cash, invents a carbonated drink laced with cocaine, and he calls it "Dopokoke." Well, I certainly laughed. But Griffith carries forth with a solemn face, ultimately punishing the "criminal selfishness" of the devoted father with extreme prejudice. Oddly enough, the story isn't even far-fetched: I was startled to learn that the original Coca-Cola formulation (for that is undoubtedly the beverage under trial here) did, in fact, contain substantial amounts of cocaine, but that was before the drug's health risks became widely known, and certainly before its sale was prohibited in the United States in 1914. Griffith's main motivation behind this film appears to be one of public service, in the same manner with which he condemned corporate greed in A Corner in Wheat (1909) and inadequate policies for the elderly in What Shall We Do with Our Old? (1911).
The one thing I found most interesting about For His Son is how ruthlessly Griffith condemns the physician. Financially crippled by his son's constant demands for money, the loyal father only then turns to commercial enterprise to provide for his family. But then, I suppose, vanity and selfishness soon intrude upon his fatherly devotion. The physician is later introduced by the banner "Blind to the effects of his greed," and is shown mugging directly into the camera, fists clenched and cigar in mouth: a classic Griffith image of corporate gluttony. Until this moment, I had fully expected the son to be branded the selfish villain, but instead he is portrayed as a victim, controlled and later destroyed by his cocaine addiction. Despite approaching the subject matter with a straight-faced obstinacy that simply demands ridicule, Griffith shows a strong command of the developing cinematic language. Particularly impressive is a series of cross-cuts designed, not to provoke suspense as in The Lonedale Operator (1911), but to emphasise the widespread scourge of the Copokoke beverage, as both main characters and nameless extras fall victim to its evils.