Ruth Fielding in Moving Pictures

March 23, 2007

While I’ve enjoyed the Ruth Fielding books I’ve been reading, I haven’t been hugely enthusiastic about them. That changes with Ruth Fielding in Moving Pictures. This is my favorite book in the series. I think it’s the one in which Ruth’s potential starts to be realized, and also, it’s a lot of fun.

This is the story of Ruth’s last year at her boarding school, Brierwood Hall, and Ruth and her friends are convincingly nostalgic and sad to leave. Also, they’re not guaranteed diplomas unless they get very good grades, so they all work hard. It’s a more realistic portrayal of school life than you see in most of these series.

But the really special thing about this book is that it’s all about the moving pictures of the title. One day soon before school starts, Ruth and the Cameron twins come across a film crew as they’re out berry-picking. A pretty young actress is posing on a tree branch overhanging a river. The director keeps telling her she doesn’t look scared enough, and finally she’s like, “You know, that’s really funny, because I am scared.” And then she falls into the river. The crew and the other actors just look on without making any effort to help, but Ruth, Tom and Helen rush to her assistance, and when they finally get her on dry land, they bring her back to the Red Mill to be nursed by Aunt Alvirah.

Tom seems to like the actress, Hazel Gray, very much, which doesn’t make Ruth so happy, but she makes friends with Hazel anyway. She also meets Mr. Hammond, the head of the studio Hazel works for, and he and Ruth like each other immediately. She confesses to him that she’s been wanting to try her hand at writing a moving picture scenario, and he advises her to try something short and simple, and to send it to him to read when she’s done.

Ruth doesn’t tell anyone about this, but immediately starts work on a scenario for a one-reel picture called “Curiosity”. By the time she’s finished writing it, the girls are back at school. She puts the scenario in an envelope and sends it off to Mr. Hammond. Then she goes to dinner, during which her dormitory is burned down. Yeah. And then it turns out that the headmistress’ husband forgot to renew the insurance on that particular building.

Everyone donates money for the rebuilding of the dormitory, but they can only give so much. And Ruth feels like they should come up with a way to let all the girls contribute something, because otherwise the poorer girls will feel bad that they weren’t able to donate as much money as the richer ones. When she gets her scenario back from Mr. Hammond with a check for $25 and a note that he’s going to start filming it immediately, Ruth comes up with an idea: she can write a scenario about boarding school life set at Brierwood Hall. The girls will all appear in it, and a portion of the profits will go towards the dormitory fund.

The rest of the plot is probably pretty obvious. I think it’s incredibly cool, though, that Ruth turns out to be good at writing movie scripts. She already has a bank account for money she was given as a reward for something or other in a previous book, but she opens up a new one with Mr. Hammond’s check, for money she’s earned by her own hard work. Isn’t that cute? In later books she forms her own production company, and her adventures are based around filming on location in various exciting places. When talking pictures come along, she writes those too. So she ends up combining creative and entrepreneurial talent in a career which was basically on the cutting edge of technology back then. I often think of Ruth Fielding as sort of a precursor to Nancy Drew, but she’s cooler than Nancy ever was.


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