The First Auto

The First Auto is a 1927 film about the transition from horses to cars and the rift it causes in one family. It stars Charles Emmett Mack and Patsy Ruth Miller, with Barney Oldfield having a guest role in the movie.[3] While mainly a silent film, it does have a Vitaphone sound-on-disc soundtrack with a synchronized musical score and sound effects, as well as three spoken words and some laughter.[4][2]

The First Auto
theatrical release poster
Directed byRoy Del Ruth
Produced byDarryl F. Zanuck
Written byAnthony Coldeway (scenario)[1]
Jack Jarmuth (titles)
Story byDarryl F. Zanuck
StarringBarney Oldfield
Patsy Ruth Miller
Music byHerman S. Heller[2]
CinematographyDavid Abel
Edited byMartin Wall Bolger (uncredited)
Distributed byWarner Bros. Pictures[1]
Release date
  • June 27, 1927 (1927-06-27) (NYC)
  • September 18, 1927 (1927-09-18) (US)
Running time
75 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
LanguageSilent (English intertitles) & 3 spoken words on Vitaphone soundtrack


In 1895, champion horse racer and livery stable owner Hank Armstrong (Russell Simpson) is greatly disturbed by the advent of the "horseless carriage" in Maple City. He mocks Elmer Hays, a car manufacturer, when he states in a public lecture that the days of the horse are numbered and that a car will one day go 30 miles an hour. However, Armstrong's efforts are in vain. He quarrels with his friends when they start purchasing the machines and is only stopped from horsewhipping his own car-mad son Bob (Charles Emmett Mack) by the timely appearance of Bob's girlfriend Rose Robbins (Patsy Ruth Miller).

Bob leaves to find a job in nearby Detroit. There, he is present when famed driver Barney Oldfield (playing himself) breaks the speed record, driving a mile in a minute. Meanwhile, Hank goes bankrupt and has to sell off all his possessions to satisfy his creditors.

One day in 1905, Bob returns without telling his father to compete in the first car race in the county. A jealous rival for Rose's affections convinces Hank to tamper with a car on display so that it will explode. When Bob sends Rose to bring his father to the race, Hank is horrified to discover he has sabotaged his son's car. They hurry to the track, but are too late. Bob's car crashes and burns. Hank is convinced he has killed Bob and burns down his livery stable, but Rose brings word that Bob is expected to live. Relieved, Hank gives up his hopeless resistance and joins his son in his car manufacturing company.


Cast notes:

  • Most of the cast of The First Auto were established actors who had either made many films already, or would go on to make many more. Charles Emmett Mack, however, was a relative newcomer who had only been making films since 1921. He would only appear in two more after this one, before dying in a car accident.[2]


To ensure authenticity and provide a measure of safety in the racing scenes for The First Auto, race car driver Barney Oldfield was hired as a technical coordinator. Oldfield, the first to reach a speed of 60 mph (97 km/h), in 1903, also was given a small role in the film.[5]

Mack was killed in an accident while driving to work, prior to the end of filming. According to Robert Osborne of Turner Classic Movies, his car was struck broadside by a wagon on a country road. His co-star Patsy Ruth Miller had turned down a ride with him that day because she was not needed for filming until later. The last scene shows Hank at a car race, while Bob and Rose are away (off-screen) at a horse show.[5]


The New York Times reviewer, Mordaunt Hall characterized The First Auto as "... packed with sentiment, but it is nevertheless a good entertainment." He noted that Oldfield was driving a famous race car, Henry Ford's 999.[6]

See also


  1. The First Auto at the American Film Institute Catalog
  2. Miller, Frank "The First Auto (1927)" (article)
  3. "The First Auto". Retrieved: April 1, 2014.
  4. Drew, William M. (1989) Speaking of Silents: First Ladies of the Screen. New York: The Vestal Press. pp. 151–152, 281. ISBN 978-0-91157-281-0.
  5. Miller, Frank. ""The First Auto (1927)". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved: April 1, 2014.
  6. Hall, Mourdant. "First Auto (1927)." The New York Times, July 3, 1927.

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