The First Auto

The First Auto

theatrical release poster
Directed by Roy Del Ruth
Produced by Darryl F. Zanuck
Written by Anthony Coldeway (scenario)[1]
Jack Jarmuth (titles)
Story by Darryl F. Zanuck
Starring Barney Oldfield
Patsy Ruth Miller
Music by Herman S. Heller[2]
Cinematography David Abel
Edited by Martin Wall Bolger (uncredited)
Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures[1]
Release dates
  • June 27, 1927 (1927-06-27) (NYC)
  • September 18, 1927 (1927-09-18) (US)


Running time
75 minutes[1]
Country United States
Language Silent (English intertitles) & 3 spoken words on Vitaphone soundtrack

The First Auto is a 1927 film about the transition from horses to cars and the rift it causes in one family. It stars Barney Oldfield and Patsy Ruth Miller.[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]


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:


Barney Oldfield and Henry Ford with the 999 race car.

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]


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 The First Auto at the American Film Institute Catalog
  2. 1 2 3 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. 1 2 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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