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Life of an American Fireman (1903)

Not Rated | | Short, Action | January 1903 (USA)
A fireman rushes into a carriage to rescue a woman from a house fire. Breaks the window glasses and he goes down with the woman. After dangerous and uncertain moments, the fireman save the woman' s son, too.


George S. Fleming (uncredited), Edwin S. Porter (uncredited)
1 win. See more awards »




Cast overview:
Edwin S. Porter ... Policeman
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Porter's sequential continuity editing links several shots to form a narrative of firemen responding to a house fire. They leave the station with their horse drawn pumper, arrive on the scene, and effect the safe rescue of a woman from the burning house. But wait, she tells them of her child yet asleep in the burning bedroom . . . Written by Thomas McWilliams <tgm@netcom.com>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Short | Action


Not Rated

Did You Know?


One of the 50 films in the 3-disk boxed DVD set called "More Treasures from American Film Archives, 1894-1931" (2004), compiled by the National Film Preservation Foundation from 5 American film archives. This film is preserved by the Museum of Modern Art, has a running time of 6 minutes and an added piano and vocal music score. See more »


Featured in An Edison Album (2013) See more »

User Reviews

Still a question about the editing
31 March 2010 | by edalweberSee all my reviews

Kenneth MacGowan in his book "Behind The Screen" discusses this film at length. He was familiar both with the controversial print and the paper print in the Library of Congress.He didn't think that the evidence of the paper print was conclusive.At the time, a movie could be copyrighted only as a collection of still photos, which is why the paper prints were made.For that purpose, it didn't matter whether they were in the final edited form,or even if there was more footage than in the released version.MacGowan thought that a hastily assembled negative was used to make the paper print,with all of the footage shot from one angle together.Porter therefore had more time for final editing without delaying the copyright process.

The question is, if the existing copy was reedited, who did it and why? Certainly not during the silent era? by the time such editing became more common, this picture was an obsolete relict of a primitive era.And if reedited then, where are the title cards? They weren't in use in 1903 when the picture was made,but came into general use a few years later. So why "modernize" the movie in one way, but not another? It seems strange that they were not added.

MacGowan admits that there is certainly a question about the complex editing, but points out that Porter took exactly the shots he needed for it.And as to why he never used it again, there are two factors. It may have been too advanced and confusing for the audiences of 1903,just as later audiences found the more complex editing of Griffith's "Intolerance" even more confusing.And there is evidence that Edison disapproved of Porter's editing.Edison involved himself in every aspect of his companies' operation, insisting on personally approving each piece of music that went on his records,for example.Which didn't help sales, as he didn't have very good taste.Edison's word was law, and Porter would have bowed to it without complaint. In addition, the Edison Catalogue of that time specifically stated that after the woman was carried out of the room by the fireman, there was a dissolve to the outside of the building,the woman pleads for the fireman to rescue the child, and he returns up the ladder.The copyright version shows the fireman carrying out the mother and returning immediately to rescue the child in one continuous shot with no dissolve to the outside.Since the catalogue is so specific on this point it would certainly seem that there was inter cutting not shown in the copyright print.

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Release Date:

January 1903 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

The Life of an American Fireman See more »

Filming Locations:

East Orange, New Jersey, USA See more »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs


(2004 National Film Preservation Foundation print)

Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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