U …is for

Under the Crescent


Released in 1915, Under the Crescent—written by Nell Shipman, directed by Burton L. King, and produced by Carl Laemmle—depicted the sensational adventures of an American actress in Egypt. As its promotional materials and ads claimed, the six-part dramatic serial was based on the life of popular stage performer Ola Humphrey, who also starred in the serial.

The plot included considerable, if sometimes convoluted, foreign intrigue. An actress who is performing at an opera house in Cairo becomes the object of the infatuation of two men: Egyptian Prince Ibrahim Tousson and American Stanley Clyde. Totally smitten with the actress, the Prince ignores a vital directive from his cousin, the Khedive (viceroy of Egypt under Turkish rule), concerning a “Moslem uprising” and an impending fight to be mounted by the Ottoman Empire. Clyde, however, finds and reads the letter and rushes to share it with consul-general Sir Godfrey. But before Godfrey is able to act on the information, he is drugged by his Arab servant Mehemid Ali, who is actually a spy. Meanwhile, Tousson’s mother, disturbed by the rumors of her son’s infatuation, arranges a hasty marriage for him with his cousin, Princess Uarda. Fearful of losing his share of his mother’s estate, Tousson agrees to the wedding; but he creates a clever deception, by which the heavily-veiled bride he marries is actually the American actress.


Under the Crescent featured many exciting locales and exotic settings.


Thrown in jail because he knows the Moslem rulers’ secret plan, Clyde finds himself in a cell adjacent to Tousson’s former sweetheart Zohra, who in a fit of jealousy had accidentally caused Uarda’s death. Upon learning that Zohra is the mother of Tousson’s child and that both she and Clyde have been sentenced to death, the former actress, now “Princess Tousson,” pleads for their release. When that fails, she creates a ruse by which she outwits the Prince, purloins the Imperial order to massacre all Christians, leaves him a prisoner in his own house, and rescues Clyde and Zohra in a dramatic getaway that initiates a pattern of escape-and-chase scenes that continues throughout the serial.

After the Princess, Clyde, Zohra, and her baby (whom a frenzied mob at the mosque had intended to sacrifice) take refuge in a pyramid, Prince Tousson attempts once again to reclaim the official documents, without which the Christian massacre cannot occur. Given twenty-four hours by the Khedive to retrieve them, he and his spies track down the fugitives. As Clyde bravely tries to hold off the Prince’s men, the Princess hides in the coffin of an ancient queen but is betrayed by her own veil, which gets caught in the coffin lid and reveals her hiding place. The documents are ripped away from her and delivered to the Said Pasha, who decrees the death of the infidels. Meanwhile, with the Princess and Zohra once again in his power and Clyde again his prisoner, Tousson begins the journey back across the desert.

When a desert sandstorm suddenly erupts. Tousson seizes the opportunity to dispose of his unwelcome heir. The child is found by a band of Bedouins, who recognize the amulet around his neck as belonging to Zohra, who turns out to be the daughter of the band’s leader Rasaid. In accordance with the Moslem idea of honor, Rasaid decides to pursue and kill the daughter who has dishonored him. But discovering her in the Prince’s palace, driven mad by the loss of her infant, he spares her his vengeance (madness being sacred to Mohammedans) and redirects his wrath toward the Prince. Despite several frightening encounters involving trap doors and a leopard called the “Little Executioner,” both Clyde and the Princess escape, just in time, along with Zohra and her father.


In the desert, the fugitives are given harbor by Bedouins, who oppose the merciless Turks. But the Prince and his reinforcements (the troops of the Khedive) slay the Bedouins and kill Rasaid, a brutal murder for which Zohra vows revenge. After the fugitives become separated, the Princess is captured and taken before the Khedive, who threatens her with every imaginable kind of torture to make her betray the Christians.

The Princess Tousson faces mortal danger at her husband’s hands.

Just as she is about to kill herself to avoid his brutality, he dies of heart failure; and she is arrested for his murder. In the final episode, Zohra, who has assumed a disguise in order to work in the employ of Tousson’s household, slowly poisons him with a secret potion that she adds to his wine. Meanwhile, the cabinet, which has passed judgment on the Princess’s case, is informed that the heir to the Egyptian throne has been taken prisoner.


The serial was based on the life of actress Ola Humphrey, who also starred in the production.

Realizing the danger of an empty throne, the cabinet proclaims Tousson to be king. But just as the documents of accession are given to him, the poison begins to take effect. By then, Clyde has escaped from the Khedive’s soldiers, reached the British camp, and notified the officers of the threatened massacre of the Christians by the Turks. The British soldiers assemble their artillery and thunder away to help the Christians.

As the Princess awaits execution, the newly-crowned king drops dead from the poison. Standing in front of the grave that has been dug for her, she removes her veil and reveals herself to be Tousson’s wife, now officially the country’s queen. Her first act is to command the release of the Christians, after which she is immediately denounced as a traitor and a Christian spy by the Qadi (the judge who renders decisions according to Islamic law) and rushed by Tousson’s supporters who want to kill her. Fortunately, the English soldiers, with Clyde at the helm, arrive at the castle and, with their superior weaponry, mow down the infidels. Clyde leads the Princess to safety, where she collapses in his arms.

Apart from its exotic “Old Egypt” locale and its strong anti-Moslem bias, Under the Crescent was not an exceptional serial. It did, however, mark the cinematic film highpoint of the career of its star, Ola Humphrey, a popular stage actress and sister of silent film actor and director Thomas Orral Humphrey (cast in the serial as spy Meheimit Ali). She subsequently appeared in only two more films, Missing (1918) and Coax Me (1919), both of them forgettable.


Apart from her stage work, Humphrey is best remembered today for her brief marriage to the wealthy Egyptian diplomat Ibrahim Hassan, which purportedly served as the basis for the serial. That marriage was brief; unhappy with Egypt’s cultural restrictions, “Princess Hassan”—the name by which Humphrey became known in society circles—soon sought a divorce from her husband, which he denied, in part to prevent the large settlement she demanded for relinquishing her title. But before that issue was resolved, the Prince died, and she became his lawful widow and inherited his large fortune. Director Burton L. King fared much better in the industry; a former actor, he went on to direct and produce films well into the 1930s, spanning both silent and sound eras. And the serial’s Canadian-born screenwriter Nell Shipman, an actress, author, writer, producer, director, and animal trainer who had earned the title of “The First Lady of Canadian Cinema,” enjoyed a long Hollywood film career as well. After moving with her then-husband Ernest Shipman to the United States, she began appearing in films for Universal, Selig, and Vitagraph and later also directed and produced. Preferring to work independently, however, she founded two producing companies that usually based their plots on her stories and novels and included some of the animals from her own zoo.

Under the Crescent, which is thought to be lost, remains of interest to film buffs because of its unusual subject, exotic characters, and wild animals.




Survival Status: Presumed lost.

Director: Burton L. King

Release Date: June 1, 1915

Release Company: Universal Film Manufacturing Company

Cast: Ola Humphrey (The American Actress, Princess Tousson), Edward Sloman (Prince Ibrahim Tousson), William C. Dowlan (Stanley Clyde), Carmen Phillips (Princess Uarda), Helen Wright (Princess Tousson, Prince Tousson’s Mother), Edna Maison (Princess Zohra), William Quinn (Said Pasha, the Khedive), Henry Canfield (Sir Godfrey, General Counsel), Orral Humphrey (Meheimit Ali, the Spy).

Episodes: (two reels each) 1. The Purple Iris. 2. The Cage of the Golden Bears. 3. In the Shadow of the Pyramids. 4. For the Honor of a Woman. 5. In the Name of the King. 6. The Crown of Death.