This delightful film is the template for all the hero dog movies to follow, especially the Lassie films. Maybe it is an urban legend, but allegedly the surge in popularity of the name Rover for pet dogs began with this movie. When a baby is kidnapped, the family dog tracks down the kidnapper’s lair, returns to the family home to retrieve Dad, who deciphers the dog’s signals and follows him to rescue the child. The film was so popular, it played for years, and story has it that the original print wore out from so many copies being made, that the producers had to reshoot the movie three times to satisfy demand. Cecil Hepworth, whose company produced Rescued by Rover, was an innovative early British film-maker who was making movies into the 1920’s. He reveled in trick photography films (such as the first film version of Alice in Wonderland from 1903), but he also invented an early system for sound on film. Most of his later feature films are now lost, as his gamble to create a large studio fizzled financially in the 1920’s, and he was forced out of the film business. But his earliest films were wildly popular and still exist in many prints.
Rescued by Rover has the distinction of being generally cited as the first movie that paid established actors to play roles, as two professional actors were casted. The film is also studied as an important step in the development of film grammar. The action is propelled by parallel sequences of shots as the dog searches for the baby, retraces his exact steps in reverse to return home, then again retraces his steps with Dad in tow to rescue the Baby. It is only a few years after this that D.W. Griffith (whose directorial career began in 1908) amalgamated all that came before and became the “father of film grammar.”