Made in 1912 The Musketeers of Pig Alley is the first film to portray gangs and gangsters. This is a genuinely short film by D.W. Griffith running seventeen minutes long. At last I found a film by the director that just gets to the main point of the story! (If you do not normally follow this blog I tend to find that Griffith’s films are way too drawn out and about an hour too long).
A gangster named Snapper Kid is the head of the Musketeer Gang. The gang is located in a poor neighborhood where they prey on the people. Living in the neighbor is the Musician and his wife The Little Lady (Lillian Gish). The Musician has been given the opportunity to make money and will be away for a few days leaving The Little Lady by herself.
When The Musician comes back, Snapper and his associates beat him and steal his money right in front of his apartment. The Musician vows to get his money back.
One night The Little Lady reluctantly goes to the Gangster’s Ball with her friend. The Little Lady meets a gangster who is a rival to the Musketeers. Snapper knows the gangster is up to no good when he sees him take The Little Lady to a private room. Snapper runs into the room and saves The Little Lady from the gangster’s evil intentions.
This intervention sparks revenge. The gangster and his crew go looking for the Musketeers. They have a shoot out in the alley near The Musician’s apartment. The Musician comes out in the middle of the fight and beats Snapper until he finds his money.
When the fighting dies down, the police arrive to arrest the men who are still alive. Snapper runs into the apartment looking for a place to hide. He runs into The Musician and The Little Lady’s apartment. He tells The Musician he was the one who saved his wife from the other gangster and begs for them to tell the police officer who has followed him that he was with them to whole time not out in the alley. Since he saved The Little Lady they agree to tell the police officer he was with them.
I liked the story of The Musketeers of Pig Alley. It looked like Snapper Kid was the true bad guy until the other gangster tried to drug The Little Lady. This story of a mean gangster who finds redemption would become popular several years later but for 1912 this story was something new.
There is no denying that Griffith was a genius director. Each frame of the film is innovative and beautifully created. You can feel the tension mounting between the rival gangs as Griffith cut back and forth between each member as they were walking towards the alley for their final shoot out. The whole time you are waiting and waiting for something to happen then it does and it is over before you can blink. That was genius it just leaves you stunned and amazed and leaves no time for your nerves and attention to break. Griffith wrote the screenplay with Anita Loos. Whenever I hear Anita Loos’s name I immediately think of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. I have to admit I was a little surprised to see Loos attached to a gangster film but after researching her a bit I found out she spent a little time in the underworld with her alcoholic father.
What makes the film even more stunning is the acting. There was no over the top silent film acting it was genuine and real. Lillian Gish, who was nineteen at the time, was perfect. She was not in it too much but what scenes she was in she just nailed them.
The Musketeers of Pig Alley is an all around greatly made silent film. Martin Scorsese lists this as a film that has influenced his filmmaking. Anyone studying film and wants to become a filmmaker The Musketeers of Pig Alley is a must see film.