#168) The Musketeers of Pig Alley (1912)

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#168) The Musketeers of Pig Alley (1912)

OR “Lower West Side Story”

Directed by D.W. Griffith

Written by Griffith and Anita Loos

Class of 2016

The Plot: A musician and his wife (Walter Miller & Lillian Gish) live in a poor apartment in New York near “Pig Alley” in Greenwich Village. Gangster “The Snapper Kid” (Elmer Booth) mugs the musician right outside his front door. The musician vows to get the money back, inadvertently getting him and his wife mixed up in the Snapper Kid’s turf war with a rival gang. Sounds exciting, right? Well I’ve got some bad news…

Why It Matters: The NFR calls it “the first gangster film” and hails its employment of “several innovative camera techniques”. And it’s not just them; this is all anyone has to say about this film.

But Does It Really?: I try to give silent movies the benefit of the doubt while viewing them, but I could not get into this film. There’s so little to latch on to with this one, despite the impressive pedigree of D.W. Griffith. It’s a breakthrough in genre and technological innovations, sure, but man is it slow. And it’s only 15 minutes! We’ve got other films from D.W. Griffith and other gangster films, so it’s the NFR’s defense that is keeping this thing afloat. This is a “D-” on the preservation-worthy scale: Not exceptional, but still passing.

Everybody Gets One: Elmer Booth’s film career was just getting started when he died in a car crash at the age of 32. D.W. Griffith was especially distraught by Booth’s death, and delivered the eulogy at his funeral. Elmer was survived by his younger sister, legendary film editor Margaret Booth.

Wow, That’s Dated: Common usage of the phrase “musketeers”, women’s hats the size of a tractor tire.

Other notes

  • This is one of those movies where I understand each individual word in the title, but the name as a whole takes some getting used to.
  • For those of you not versed in cinematography terms (like me), this film’s main innovation was the camera technique “follow focus”. This is the practice of focusing only on one part of a shot rather than the entire frame. It has since become the standard.
  • Seeing as this is Greenwich Village, couldn’t the musician find work with the Blue Man Group?
  • This is my first Lillian Gish film on the blog. Mercifully, this is far from her only representation on the NFR.
  • Speaking of, that’s Lillian’s sister Dorothy featured prominently in one of the crowd scenes.
  • One cut in this film makes it seem that the door to their apartment leads straight into the bar. Another successful design from Escher Architect!
  • Can we PLEASE have dialogue intertitles? I am begging you!
  • Everyone dressed liked Buster Keaton back then.
  • Nice of the cops to show up instantly during the fight.

Legacy

  • Follow focus. That’s the main one. I guess someone had to invent it.
  • Martin Scorsese loves this film and is single-handedly keeping its memory alive. Scorsese, of course, would make his own film about the gangs of New York called…um….

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