Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Two Oldest Gangster Films?

This summer ChiTownView is working on longer more professionaly produced original productions. In the interim we are uploading some older clips from stations we are closing or have been closed. Kind of like a summer vacation complete with reruns.

We are also posting public domain clips we've come across that strike our fancy. Last week I was researching the Italian Black Hand gangs of the early 20th century in preperation for an extended clip about the Taylor street area and it's pivitol place in Chicago crime history. In this poking around I came across a couple of films that are the first two “gangster” movies ever produced. While neither are Chicago related we do have a soft spot for New York where they are centered so we have uploaded these two gems.

The Black Hand, The 1st Gangster Film (1906)

The Black Hand were unaffiliated gangs of Italian criminals who preyed upon other newly arrived countrymen. They extorted money from successful immigrants by the use of kidnapping, murder and other forms of violence. They operated from New York to San Francisco in just about any city with a large Italian community.
Their heyday was between 1900-1920 when they shook down ordinary folks as well as the famous and the powerful. Opera great Enrico Caruso was victimized several times until he finally went to the police. In Chicago they went after “Big Jim” Colosimo the cities most connected mobster. His response was to import Johnny Torrio from New York who quickly ended that threat with an infamous triple murder. A story we told in a previous clip here's a link to it.
This film, from 1906, is the worlds first gangster and was lensed by Billy Bitzer who went on their to work with D.W. Griffith silent films most renowned director. For those who want to read more about the history of the New York Black Hands should check out this link. I found this film on and repost their extensive description here:
“"The Black Hand", True Story of a Recent Occurrence in the Italian Quarter of New York, is a short crime drama featuring cinematographer Billy Bitzer, a star of Silent Hall of Fame.

A gang by the name of Black Hand demands a big amount of money from a local businessman.  If the demands are not met it threatens his daughter. Then the gang kidnaps the girl anyway and sends one of its members to collect the ransom.

Directed by Wallace McCutcheon
Cinematography by Billy Bitzer
Starring Robert Vignola, Anthony O’Sullivan (gangsters)
Distributed by the Biograph Company
Release date March 29, 1906

The Musketeers of Pig Alley, Early D.W. Griffith / Gangster Film
We continue our exploration of early gangster films with this classic movie. It is referred to in many places as the first gangster film even by the Silent Hall of Fame. Which is odd since they have also brought back a 1906 film called The Black Hand which were extortion gangs that preyed on Italian immigrants in the late 19th & early 20th centuries. Below is the decription from where I downloaded from.

"The Musketeers of Pig Alley" is a short crime drama directed by D. W. Griffith. This film illustrates the work of actor Robert Harron and cinematographer Billy Bitzer, stars of Silent Hall of Fame.
"The Musketeers of Pig Alley" is the first gangster film in history. It has some excellent acting by a very strong cast and a lot of suspense. The film is also a predecessor of what would become known a quarter of a century later as "the film noir".
Lillian Gish plays The Little Lady, whose husband is a musician and has to leave town for work.  In his absence she has to rebuff the advances of a cocky character by the nickname of Snapper Kid (Elmer Booth), the gang leader of the Musketeers.
When her sick mother dies The Little Lady becomes grief-stricken. One day she is visited by a friend who takes her to a dance party to raise her spirits. The Little Lady is invited for a drink by some fellow, who puts a drug in her glass, but she is saved by Snapper Kid. As it turns out, the other guy is the rival gang's leader. The two bosses square off, but decide to settle the dispute outside.
Suspense builds up as the two rival gangs chase each other around Pig Alley. Will there be a winner, or will all perish or go to jail?

Directed by D.W. Griffith
Produced by the Biograph Company
Cinematography Billy Bitzer
Starring Elmer Booth, Lillian Gish, Robert Harron
Release date October 31, 1912

Copyright information for both films.
Creative Commons license: Public Domain Mark 1.0

You can see a slideshow of stills from this both these films and other interesting stuff on the website The Silent Hall of Fame is the only place actively working to bring back from oblivion the names and legacy of formerly illustrious silent movie stars, which have made a major contribution to the industry and the world but do not have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

They also fight for your right, the right of the public, to see silent masterpieces that have been kept in hidden vaults for far too long. Our website streams for free one such masterpiece that has not been seen in 85 years and is not available anywhere else.

Please visit their website to watch quality silent films absolutely free and to support the legacy of silent movie stars with your tax deductible contribution.

Silent Hall of Fame has started an online campaign to begin raising funds for the nomination of our first star for the Hollywood Walk of Fame. All contributions are tax deductible. Here is the web page:
Please spread the word about the campaign and Silent Hall of Fame and help your favorite silent star receive belated recognition and glory.

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