Little Bits of History

Shooting Shooters

Posted in History by patriciahysell on October 31, 2013
D.W. Griffith

D.W. Griffith

October 31, 1912: The Musketeers of Pig Alley is released. The movie is credited with being the first gangster film. It is 17 minutes long and filmed at 16 frames per second or 16,320 frames. It was directed by D.W. Griffith and written by him and Anita Loos. The short starred Elmer Booth as the Musketeer gang leader and Lillian Gish as The Little Lady. Lionel Barrymore had a supporting role.

The silent movie is about a poor married couple living in New York City. The husband is a traveling musician and while on the road, he is robbed by a gangster. Later, he recognized his assailant during a shootout. He wants his money back. The movie was shot on location and is rumored to have used actual street gang members as extras during the filming. D.W. Griffith is credited not only with starting a new film genre but of using “follow focus” for the first time as well.

Gangster or crime films are any movies involving any aspect of crime or criminal justice. They can be dramas, thrillers, mysteries, or film noir with the quintessential form being the Mafia movie. There are subgenres such as crime comedies, legal dramas, and prison films.

Follow focus is “a piece of equipment that attaches to the focus ring of a manual lens via a set of rods.” It does not alter the functionality of the camera, rather it permits the cinematographer to be more precise and the resulting film to be clearer and of better quality.

D.W. Griffith was born in La Grange, Kentucky in 1875. He hoped to be a playwright without initial success. He moved to California in 1907 in pursuit of his dream. He again failed but was given a bit part in a film. He soon began directing his own movies, the first was The Adventures of Dollie – a 12 minute silent film. He went on to direct 534 films between 1908 and 1931. In 1912 alone, he put out 70 movies. His Birth of a Nation was the first feature length film in America. He survived the controversy surrounding the movie as well as the financial difficulties associated with feature length films. He made only two sound films, neither successful. He died in 1948 at the age of 73.

“I’m not bitter about Hollywood’s treatment of me, but of its treatment of Griffith, von Sternberg, Buster Keaton, and a hundred others.” – Orson Welles

“The movies are the only business where you can go out front and applaud yourself.” – Will Rogers

“Separate together in a bunch. [And don’t] stand around so much in little bundles!” – director Michael Curtiz to movie extras

“Hollywood is a place where people from Iowa mistake each other for movie stars.” – Fred Allen

This article first appeared at in 2009. Editor’s update: Anita Loos was born in Sisson, California in 1889. She was a screenwriter, playwright, and author. She is most famous for her comic novel, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. The book began as a series of short stories published in Harper’s Bazaar and were known as the “Lorelei” stories. They were satirical in nature and cast a jaundiced eye on the sexual escapades of the times with just vague hints of intimacy. They quadrupled the magazine’s circulation. Lorelei Lee was the heroine, a bold and sassy flapper who preferred the gifts her suitors bestowed upon her rather than the suitors themselves. The book was published in 1925 and it was soon followed by But Gentlemen Marry Brunettes which was published in 1927. While she wrote both fiction and non-fiction books, what she is most noted for are the many film credits to her name. She crafted movies from 1912 to 1956. She died in 1981 at the age of 92.

Also on this day: “I’m just a patsy” – In 1959, Lee Harvey Oswald in Moscow, vows to never return to the US.
Hot, Hot, Hot – In 1923, a heat wave began in Marble Bar, Australia.
95 Theses – In 1517 Martin Luther posted his Disputation on the church door.

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