Each Monday, I continue to share Western movie reviews. For more of my movie reviews, click here to follow me on Letterboxd.


Week 190: The Battle at Elderbush Gulch (1913)


Admittedly, my knowledge of D.W. Griffith’s work is limited to viewings of The Birth of a Nation and Intolerance. Reading about his work in the Western genre recently, most of which he completed prior to those more famous films, I decided it was time to dig deeper.

This early effort reveals the pre-Birth Griffith, not moving the camera as much, not using close-ups as often. In fact, the few close-ups in this film are saved for a mother, her child, and some puppies. The camera barely moves if it does at all. There’s little use of irises and cross-cutting is even done to a minimum. No, this is a much more primitive Griffith but his film still contains power.

The wide shots make this short western astonishing more than one hundred years after its release. In some of them we see utter chaos, pioneers and Native Americans firing blanks in all directions, horses running this way and that, people falling, crashing into each other, and death all over the place (presumably the fake movie kind though it’s hard to believe shots like this can be done without real death). That’s the amazing part of The Battle at Elderbush Gulch: nothing in our modern cinema competes with this wild wide frames and all that happens within them. With today’s safety standards, I doubt such shots could be completed. Whatever this early Griffith might lack in camera work he makes up for in staging. This remains and often thrilling and worthwhile piece of filmmaking.

Watched on YouTube