Thoughts On: “The Musketeers of Pig Alley” (1912)

This post was written especially for the Classic Movie Blog Association’s 2019 spring blogathon, Femme/Homme Fatales of Film Noir. A warm welcome to any new readers–feel free to have a look around Silent-ology!

The first intertitle of The Musketeers of Pig Alley (1912) starts with four words: “New York’s Other Side.” Director D.W. Griffith wouldn’t have realized it at the time, but these words were ushering in the new genre of the “crime drama”–as well as its offspring, the gangster picture and film noir.

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The 18-minute Biograph short wasn’t the first to depict crime, of course (a number of early films did, such as A Desperate Encounter Between Burglars And Police, 1905), but it’s the best and earliest surviving prototype of a gangster film. All the familiar notes are there: the introduction to the “dark underbelly” of a city, the charismatic crime leaders, the tough dames, and the crowded, rundown neighborhoods. The hardboiled gang members slinking through deserted alleyways and Lillian Gish’s character giving Elmer Booth a disdainful slap all have their echoes in film noir. Continue reading

The Villains of D.W. Griffith Films

It’s pretty common knowledge that director D.W. Griffith, one of the Biggest of all the Big Names of the silent era, was a huge influence on fellow filmmakers. Not only in the technical skills department (contrary to popular myth, he didn’t invent closeups, crosscutting, etc., but he did utilize them wonderfully well), but also in regards to storytelling and popular movie tropes–such as character archetypes.

Pure hearted heroes, damsels in distress, coldhearted landlords, strict fathers, brash young sons, gentle mothers, heroic soldiers, faithful servants, cowardly soldiers, noble American Indians, ruthless gangsters–you name ’em, out of the 500 (!) or so films Griffith directed from the 1900s to the early 1930s, he included ’em all.

Directing Henry B. Walthall in Death’s Marathon (1913).

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