The Flag: A Story Inspired by the Tradition of Betsy Ross (1927) Poster

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boblipton4 July 2002
This film is largely of technical interest. In the 1920s, two-strip Technicolor -- as opposed to the three-strip variety that became standard in the late 1930s -- was usually used for set pieces within a major movie: the endpieces of Keaton's SEVEN CHANCES, the triumphal march in BEN HUR and the masked ball in PHANTOM OF THE OPERA among the best known. Only a few features were made using two-strip technicolor, most successfully in Douglas Fairbanks Sr.'s THE BLACK PIRATE.

Because of the technical difficulties in shooting in technicolor -- high intensity lights were needed, as well as careful color choices -- the high costs of producing prints -- up to five times that of black and white -- and the fragility of the prints, a technicolor movie in this era was usually noteworthy because of its use of technicolor. That is one problem with this movie.

The other problem with this movie is that it is shot largely as a series of tableaux, little more than still shots of interesting scenes. Film enthusiasts will recognize the use of this technique in Griffith's BIRTH OF A NATION. Given the subject matter, the mythic characters used, the subject of the film and the technical problems described above, THE FLAG becomes little more than a museum piece, a film that is technically fascinating, but of little value as a movie.

This piece has been restored recently, with a new score by Vivek Maddala. Mr. Maddala has done three scores for silent pictures that have been shown on TCM. He uses a lot of atonal flourishes here and I feel the result here overwrought. This may be appropriate, given the other issues and, indeed, the purpose of the film, but there you go. The movie remains an interesting museum piece, but it will never make my list of all-time classics.
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Satisfying Little Film
Ron Oliver4 July 2002
An MGM Short Subject.

General George Washington asks Betsy Ross in 1776 to design & create THE FLAG to be used by the American forces.

MGM does a most commendable job with this little silent film, combining patriotism & romance. Matinee idol Francis X. Bushman has a properly noble bearing as Washington (his career was about to go on the skids for inadvertently angering Louis B. Mayer). Enid Bennett shows enthusiasm in her role as Miss Ross.

A subplot concerns Washington's judicious dealing with a young British couple (Alice Calhoun & Johnnie Walker) harboring in the Ross home. Notice the sensitive way in which the film handles the pregnancy of Miss Calhoun's character.

The early Technicolor is very appealing to the eye, especially in the scene where Miss Ross points to the twilight heavens to explain her inspiration for the new flag.

The film has been restored and given a splendid new score by Vivek Maddala.

Often overlooked or neglected today, the one and two-reel short subjects were useful to the Studios as important training grounds for new or burgeoning talents, both in front & behind the camera. The dynamics for creating a successful short subject was completely different from that of a feature length film, something akin to writing a topnotch short story rather than a novel. Economical to produce in terms of both budget & schedule and capable of portraying a wide range of material, short subjects were the perfect complement to the Studios' feature films.
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A Silent Patriotic Short - And the oldest film with Bushman I've Seen
theowinthrop17 January 2008
Warning: Spoilers
I saw this short in the last year around July 4th. It is the type of film that is best seen at the time of the more patriotic holidays (either Independence Day, Veteran's Day, Memorial Day, or even flag day - especially as Betsy Ross (Enid Bennett) is a central character. But to me my interest was finally seeing Francis X. Bushman in a silent film. Bushman (in his high point) was a major Hollywood star, but his highpoint was as the villain Messala in the silent classic BEN-HUR (that starred Ramon Navarro). I have seen parts of the chariot race sequence from that film, but nothing else. Otherwise Bushman was a supporting actor who I last saw as a foolish businessman dealing with Frank Gorshin's "The Riddler" on a two part BATMAN episode in the 1960s. So when I watched this I was actually finally seeing Bushman when his name meant something to the film going public. BEN-HUR was made roughly about the same time as this film.

It's a short subject - a reminder of emotional growth and change in our views of other nationalities. As such it actually has a better message than it's time of production would have allowed it - the 1920s (with the rise of anti-Semitism, race riots, the rise of the K.K.K. in the south and mid-west) was a leading period of bigotry in our history. It was in 1924 that the immigration quotas were finally set to prevent further influxes of Eastern and Southern immigrants (read Jews, Russians - supposedly Communists, and Italians - supposedly gangsters) into the country. These quotas were to have deadly effects on European Jews struggling to get away from the Nazis in the late 1930s. But they were very popular - even our labor leaders (like Gompers and William Green) were against unlimited "cheap" labor from Europe undercutting the incomes of American workers. This was also the period when Sacco and Vanzetti would become martyrs to American bigotry in a prejudiced filled criminal trial that people still debate.

Here though the story suggests we can forgive and forget. Bushman is George Washington, and he visits Ross to ask her to sew an official American flag. She is helped by a young female friend (Edith Brandon - played by Alice Calhoun). But Edith has a secret that her friend Betsy is aware of. She married Charles Brandon (Johnny Walker) who is a British soldier. Edith is pregnant and Charles is determined to return to Philadelphia and see his wife give birth.

The story follows how Brandon comes and is hidden by Edith and Betsy. But General Washington notices some odd things at the Ross house, and gradually realizes someone is being hidden. Finally he confronts Betsy and the Brandons, but then he realizes why Brandon is there (it is not a spying mission but a family matter). Washington decides, after listening to Betsy's special pleading, to allow Brandon a special permit to remain with his wife until the baby is born.

The story sounds trite given this description, but it actually builds up from there. Bushman's performance is "overripe" by 2008 standards, but for 1927 it's quite restrained. It is rare to see Washington in a fury, and his confronting an unrepentant Brandon is a sight to see, but he does realize what is important here - and it is not the normal war matters. It helps that the film had early Technicolor (which the creation of the flag requires), as it adds some reality to a story we can't hear the dialog to (one wonders if whether the film would have been made as a talkie had it been shot in 1928 or 1929). And it's conclusion reaffirms national growth of character.

For in the conclusion the audience is reminded that in time the anti-British emotions of the American Revolution's period, and the British anti-French feelings in that same period, dissolved - and that in 1917-1918 the descendants of the three nations fought side by side against a common foe (Wilhelmine Germany). Our last image in the short is of a "Tommy" a "Sammie" and a French Poilu marching in step, rifles at the ready, to face that enemy until they gained final victory together. Perhaps too militaristic today, but for 1927 (with the bigotry I mentioned earlier) it was light years ahead of the time about international friendship.
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A fine short film of the era
artistathome30 October 2006
The Flag, movie short, was shown at the end of another movie on TCM yesterday... I was about to erase the movie Hairspray when the music by Vivek Mandala made me stop and check out the movie.

I found the film very enjoyable and the music was nice. The music was updated just enough...

I have no problems with this movie!! Shorts like this are important because it shows the thinking of the American people at the time in a way a school book CANNOT! This one way to reach kids and make them realize people are so different now.

The thinking and moires of the time (1927) when this film was made. This is history at its best. We may not agree with the attitudes of 1927, or 1776, but its important to realize we have come very far in some ways, and not in others.

I thought referring to childbirth as the Shadow of the Valley was really funny and shows the thinking of the time. Even in 1927, they are not admitting a woman has sex and can get pregnant. But my greandmother has told me in those days having a baby was a very serious thing and many women died in childbirth. With no antibiotics or ether yet, childbirth was quite frightening.

Even tho were were in a war with them it was obivious from the movie that most of the officers on both sides had no stomach for fighting their countrymen, the British obviously are now our friends, and why shouldn't they be? After all, the country was founded by the British. Europeans came later.

I liked the music and for the time it was made, the color was great. I would give this film a big thumbs up. It ought to be shown every July 4th...
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"...some day we will be united in a common cause".
classicsoncall4 July 2011
Warning: Spoilers
I couldn't think of a better way to usher in this year's Fourth of July than by making the effort to catch this film short on TCM early this morning. One's historical interest will be piqued by the two strip Technicolor process used to make the picture, if not the dubious circumstances surrounding the manufacture of the country's first flag. The legend is given some credence here when George Washington (Francis X. Bushman), refereeing proponents of Massachusetts and Virginia for their state flags to be selected, decides he will come up with something entirely new. His seamstress of choice, Betsy Ross (Enid Bennett), is inspired by a vision to go with a red, white and blue motif, with a unique star to represent each of the original colonies.

Considering it's sparse twenty minute time restriction, the short also manages to work in a sub-plot involving a British officer who decides to desert to be with his pregnant wife, a tenant who lives with Miss Ross. General Washington's handling of the situation is a humanistic one, leaving room for a compassionate resolution.

TCM's offering today was an obviously restored version, as the colors, particularly those of the first flag, were vibrant and strikingly well saturated. The story closes with a somewhat quizzical leap some one hundred forty years into the future, undoubtedly set to contrast anti-British feeling of the colonial period with the spirit of unity that forged America's alliance with England (and France) at the outbreak of the First World War.
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Satisfying short spotlights early use of Technicolor...
Doylenf19 September 2010
THE FLAG tells the simple story of how George Washington asked Betsy Ross to design a new flag for the young country. It also features a sub-plot involving a British officer who is spy, seeking shelter under Betsy Ross' roof. Washington's dilemma is whether to reveal the spy who is in love with one of Ross' boarders, or to let true love run its course.

That's about it for whatever story has been woven about the making of the first American flag. It's a short whose main attraction is the use of early two-strip Technicolor that appears more muted than the three-strip kind that came later. TCM is showing it with an appropriate musical score for the background.

Probably you're only chance to see FRANCIS X. BUSHMAN (of "Ben-Hur" fame) in color, as George Washington.
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OK for what it is
preppy-328 November 2008
Short (20 minutes) silent film that gives us the (purportedly) true story of how Betsy Ross (Enid Bennett) came to design and sew the American flag. George Washington (Francis X. Bushman) asks her to design it and she sees some vision in the sunset of a red, white and blue flag. Seriously! There's also a subplot with a friend of hers named Edith Brandon (Alice Calhoun) who's staying with her and her husband Charles (Johnnie Walker) who's deserted the Army to be with her.

From other comments her I guess this takes GREAT liberties with actual historical events. I'm no expert on that so I can't say. As a movie it's OK. The acting is a little overdone (especially Calhoun) and the story is pretty trite even at 20 minutes. Also this was shot in early two strip Technicolor. The colors are sometimes very muted (the night time scenes look like black and white) or other times just leap out at you (Bushman's red coat literally jumps off the TV at you). So the flickering colors and slight storyline make this kind of a chore. Historically though it is interesting in terms of movies. I give it a 7.
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Pretty Good
Michael_Elliott26 February 2008
Flag, The (1927)

** 1/2 (out of 4)

2-strip Technicolor short from MGM has George Washington (Francis X Bushman) trying to talk Betsy Ross (Enid Bennett) into creating a flag for the country. This was one of several historical shorts MGM made during this period but I believe most of them are now lost. There's nothing overly special about the film but the use of 2-strip Technicolor makes it of interest for film buffs of the silent era. Bushman is pretty good in his role as is Bennett; both of whom have connections to MGM's epic Ben Hur. Bushman of course had a large part in the film but Bennett met and married the director during the making of the film.
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United under a common cause
Jim Tritten5 July 2002
Interesting color short that is more about General George Washington catching a British officer who has crossed the battle lines to see his wife. She is a guest of Betsy Ross. I thought there would have been more about the flag and who was for or against it. Washington paroles the British officer thus setting the stage for common military action later in World War I.
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Well crafted but a bit stuffy and historically inaccurate throughout
MartinHafer21 July 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Please note the ENTIRE title of this short film. It says "A Story Inspired by the Tradition of Betsy Ross" and this important because it is highly doubtful that Betsy Ross made the first "official" US flag. This story was first told well after Miss Ross' death and there is no supporting evidence that she was responsible for it. I am an American History teacher, so this story is one of many that "get my goat" because it spreads myths instead of good history. Now the people who made this film actually acknowledge that it isn't proved, since they say "TRADITION of Betsy Ross"--but how many in the audience really noticed the nuance and thought the film was basically true? Plus, in addition to the idea that she created the first flag, the movie also creates a ridiculous story about her having a British soldier creep into her home to see this British girlfriend--please!!! This film might provide some entertainment, but it is both stuffy and completely fabricated. The only reason you may want to see it is that the two-color Technicolor is interesting to see, plus the version shown on Turner Classic Movies looks more vibrant and realistic than most of the other films I've seen using the same type film. At times, the film didn't just look orange-red and blue-green, but you could actually see hints of other colors.
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Historical Hooey
wes-connors28 September 2008
This "story inspired by the tradition of Betsy Ross" is historical fiction. Accordingly, white-wigged Francis X. Bushman (as George Washington) requests seamstress Enid Bennett (as Betsy Ross) to design "The Flag" for the impending United States of America, because the Revolutionary forces fly a confusing assortment of banners. While Mr. Bushman commands the Rebel forces, Ms. Bennett is housing forlorn Alice Calhoun (as Edith Brandon), who has a husband fighting for the opposing Royalists. Noble warrior Johnny Walker (as Charles Brandon) and Bushman's Washington fight a bloodless Revolutionary War like perfect gentlemen. The "enemies" seem to know they will, someday, be World War I allies.

Hollywood hooey most notable for Ray Rennahan's Technicolor photography, and Bushman's appearance.

**** The Flag (10/1/27) Arthur Maude ~ Francis X. Bushman, Enid Bennett, Johnnie Walker
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Francis X. Bushman: I Know Where The Flagpole Is!
dmh727 September 2004
Francis X. Bushman is one of those actors who doesn't so much act as he pose dramatically. An example closer to contemporary is Charlton Heston, who - quite the innovator - adds exposing his teeth to his spectrum of talents. I suppose this makes Francis a good choice to act the part of an icon who looks like he has a flagpole secreted up his southern Potomac. It's as though he were expecting to have his portrait painted at any moment.

There are some nice (if laughable) parts to this film: especially the moment in which nature so conveniently aids in Betsy's description of the soon-to-be-released flag design. And the color - although quite faint - has a certain degree of pastel charm, especially when it is the blush upon the pretty cheek of the British soldier's wife. And it is quite funny to see George Washington act the detective and find the hiding place of this soldier by noting that the flag moved! The ensuing speech by Betsy is quite hilarious in its use of metaphor, although unintentionally so.

All in all, quite entertaining if you're drunk, and are looking about for some old-fashioned patriotic drivel to laugh at.
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