|Index||9 reviews in total|
Most aspects of this short melodrama were made with skill. The acting
is generally quite good, the characters are interesting and believable,
and the plot is interesting even though a couple of details strain
credibility. It's probably one of the very earliest movies about gangs
or gangsters, and it portrays the "Musketeers" and their affairs in a
way that is more believable than any of the romanticized portrayals
that came into vogue later on.
The cast features some names well-known to silent film fans, with Dorothy Gish and many other familiar names. Even some of the small roles feature talented performers, so perhaps it is no surprise that the movie features a high standard of acting.
The story shows the interactions between the gang of "Musketeers" and some other persons who have the misfortune to live nearby. The story and the production make pretty good use of the possibilities, and aside from one or two overly convenient plot turns, they do so in a worthwhile way.
Quite a bit happens in just over 15 minutes, with constant action that is photographed and edited well enough that you largely forget that it was all done using the limited photographic options of its time. This is a good one to watch for anyone interested in very old films.
This prototypical gangster movie is justly one of the best-known of
Griffith's Biograph shorts, and may be his literal best. In it we see
the director at his most confident and his most precise, as well an
early opportunity to see Lillian Gish in a lead role.
The first half of the Musketeers of Pig Alley shows off some of Griffith's most finely crafted shot compositions. Working with several increasingly complex crowd scenes, he manages to keep each one unique, and continually draws our eyes to the most important part of the action, in spite of the degree of complexity. He daringly puts bits of business at the very edges of the frame a puff of smoke stylishly announces the arrival of Elmer Booth, and later the barman offers a backhander from off-screen. Griffith even works in a joke on his own sense of formal symmetry when, in one street scene Lillian meets her sister Dorothy coming the way. As the two women pass each other, they pause, throw each other a quick glance, then carry on.
In the second half, we see what is arguably the finest use of parallel editing in all of Griffith's Biograph career. As with shot composition, the action climax here is laced with symmetry. Rather than a nail-biting ride-to-the-rescue, this is a tense clash between two opposing forces. Griffith matches up shots of the two rivals gangs as they seek each other out, gradually building up the tension before releasing it in a lightning-fast gunfight. It looks incredibly simple, yet it's so effective. This is the ancestor of John Ford's Western shoot-outs, and Sergio Leone's Mexican standoffs.
The acting is top-notch throughout, and only a few sparse intertitles are used to help the plot along. Gish proves herself adept at the slow, subtle style that was by now the standard at Biograph. Elmer Booth, who had floated around Biograph for a number of years making little impression, at last hits his stride here with a role that is perfect for him. In one memorable close-up during the build up to the shoot-out, he acts brilliantly with his face, looking menacing but also conveying a hint of fear. He also gives a great comic turn in the final scene. Had he not died a few years later he could have been a kind of James Cagney of the silent era he has that same mean-faced gangster look.
If there is one weakness in The Musketeers of Pig Alley it is that Griffith sometimes actually seems to expect too much of his audience. There is a lot to take in, and some of the plot points are conveyed extremely subtly. Still, it has a terrific impact even on a first viewing, and remains one of the most ageless of all Griffith's pictures.
If you have ever wondered where Jimmy Cagney got some of his
mannerisms, watch this film.
Elmer Booth and Harry Carey, early in the movie, portray two New York gangsters so much in the same way Cagney would 20 years later that you almost don't need any other reason to watch "Musketeers."
Watch Carey, playing an un-named character, hitch up his pants. Just great!
This is available in a poor print at YouTube, but watching it there -- or trying to -- will either irritate you or, I hope, drive you to find a good copy to own.
I saw this many years ago in a Griffith retrospective in Los Angeles, and have been in awe of it ever since.
Like so much Mr. Griffith did, it just set the standard for great film-making.
I'm not going to go into the story because, in the IMDb plot summary, there is a thorough explanation of this tale provided by "American Mindscope and Biograph Co." It covers everything in this short, silent D.W. Griffth movie. I hadn't a silent film in a while, at least since watching most of Buster Keaton's and Harold Lloyd's comedies, so I had forgotten what a pretty woman Lillian Gish was in her youth. What confuses me, though, is that younger sister Dorothy is listed in the opening credits, not Lillian. What's the deal with that? Since Dorothy would have been about 14 at this time, it had to be Lillian in the lead role, as listed here by IMDb. At any rate, Lillian and the faces of the gangsters are really fun to watch. We get closeups of "The Snapper" and his really wild-looking sidekick, played by Harry Carey. Famous actor Lionel Barrymore also has a short role in year but, frankly, I didn't recognize him. By the way, I think Dorothy was one of the people in the crowd early on her brushes up against her sister, who then gives her a look. It was almost like an inside joke. Overall, this a bit confusing in parts because things happened pretty fast. I enjoyed the faces in here more than the story. A gave it a second look, trying to spot Dorothy and to understand the plot better. Afterward, however, I found this IMDb summary to be most helpful.
In what may be the first mob film DW Griffith establishes some of the
genre nuances that remain staples to this day. The Musketeers of Pig
Alley is a tense action filled study in nostalge de la boule, father of
The Roaring Twenties grandfather of Mean Streets.
A struggling musician on New York's Lower East Side goes on tour and and a local thug tries moving in on wife who in return rebuffs him. He robs the husband upon return but also gets her out of a jam at great cost. In the interim a gang war breaks out.
Musketeers presents inner city life in graphic terms of overcrowding and squalor. Griffith does a fine job of balancing the two major story lines that intersect and further helped along by the innocent beauty of Lillian Gish and charismatic evil of Elmer Booth for casting Cagney. There's a well done suspense building montage into a gunfight (including a jarring close-up of Booth) along with a series of other moments that must have given pause to the folks out in the country to visit the Big Apple. Pig Alley is an an American pioneer.
Musketeers of Pig Alley, The (1912)
*** (out of 4)
D.W. Griffith film, which is considered to be the first gangster movie ever made. Griffith does a nice job showing off poor people back in the day and seeing NYC in 1912 is another added bonus. The performance by Dorothy Gish is very good and the supporting players are nice as well. The shootout in the alley remains exciting to this day.
Highly entertaining early film.
Also check out Regeneration (1915).
This is available through Kino, Image and Grapevine.
Early crime film directed by D.W. Griffith. Hyped in the subtitle as
"Unparallel drama inspired and played on the streets of the American
city - Bold - Truthful"! Lillian Gish lives with her musician husband
Walter Miller near Pig Alley, an area frequented by gangsters. The head
Musketeer is Elmer Booth. Gangster Booth tries to put the make on Ms.
Gish, and mugs Mr. Miller as he returns home with his hard-earned pay.
Stumbling into a gang shootout, Miller recognizes Musketeer Booth as
his mugger. What will he do?
Here, in "The Musketeers of Pig Alley", Gish and Miller are better than when they are threatened by the temptress in "The Mothering Heart" (1913). The acting is more natural, and you really sympathize with the couple. Booth is an endearing "Little Caesar". The shootout is lively, and the thugs creeping along the alley walls into close-ups is quite memorable. The ending is played more for humor; it's not bad, but it breaks the mood of the movie.
****** The Musketeers of Pig Alley (10/31/12) D.W. Griffith ~ Lillian Gish, Walter Miller, Elmer Booth
Possibly , this short 17min. film is first film-noir in history of cinema.There are living in poverty woman (almost fatal) and criminal who's not so bad how seems at first sight.And of cause dark criminal atmosphere of Pig Alley made in film-noir style too.One exception is happy end.But in this case happy end is more unexpected than tragic final.And therefore more interesting even for modern viewer.Excellent Griffith's staff do them job quick and accurate.They all (director,cinematographer,actors...) are good and professional.Nevertheless "The Musketeers of Pig Alley" not for the fans of crime genre.For study of roots(much killings,mystery and shock)better watch Louis Feuillade genius serials(Fantomas,Les Vampires,Judax).
It's very odd. I just read through the two summaries and found they weren't exactly like the movie I saw. It is very possible there are multiple versions out there (that's true of MANY of Chaplin's shorts)--film distributors and theaters often chopped the films apart in those days. Perhaps those who saw it and wrote summaries saw versions with more or different inter-title cards, as there was really nothing about two rival gangs in the film I saw. Instead, a gang terrorizes a neighborhood and steals the money a man has saved. Later the man who was robbed sees the gang members in a dance hall. He and what appear to be his friends (not a rival gang) follow the gang and they all have a shootout--and the cops come to save the day. Now that I think about it, whose friends would just happen to have guns?
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