Star Douglas MacLean's movies for producer Thomas Ince often were structured around paradoxes, as I outline in my Ince biography. In The Jail Bird, MacLean plays the title character, who accidentally escapes when the prison printer is discharged. Together they discover he has come into an inheritancewhich pitifully turns out to comprise $87, a rural newspaper, and a worthless plot of land.
Disillusioned, they claim oil has been found to sell the land to the unsuspecting townspeople, but feel remorse when two women try to invest. The quick-change of an heir with no estate, to huckster and economic failure, requires a final reversal to complete MacLean's roller coaster on the American dream: the well turns out to be a gusher.
To maintain the moral high ground, MacLean's contradictory hero slinks back behind bars, unobserved, to complete his time. The Jail Bird cost $59,810 to produce, and grossed $280,782. Screenwriter Julien Josephson had tried to sell the story to Selznick Pictures Corporation for $1000, despite the fact that his contract with Ince gave the producer sole ownership, and he then left the Ince studio after scripting fifteen films in the previous two years.
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