Charles Ray

Film Review

THE GANGSTERS AND THE GIRL

Release Date: 7 August 1914

Studio: Kay-Bee Pictures

Director: Scott Sidney

Starring: Charles Ray, Elizabeth (Betty) Burbridge, Arthur L. Jarrett

Writers: J. G. Hawks, Richard V. Spencer

Synopsis

Molly Ashley (Burbridge) receives a letter from her father that says that if she can raise $300, his lawyer thinks that he can get him out of jail. She hopes that her gangster friends can help her get the money.

As Molly is reading her letter, a female pickpocket steals a watch from a drunk. He realizes his loss and with some policemen chases after her. The pickpocket slips the watch into Molly’s pocket and runs away. Molly is looking confusedly at the watch when the drunk and the policemen come up and accuse her of the theft. She is arrested, is convicted, and sentenced to a year in jail.

On her way to jail, Molly is snatched from the police by her friend, gang leader Jim Tracy (Jarrett). Jim tells her that she must stay in their hideout or else she will be arrested and sent to jail. She sorrowfully agrees.

Detective John Stone (Ray) joins the gang undercover to gain evidence against them. Molly tells him why she is hiding with the gang. They fall in love. When she discovers his badge on his coat she does not reveal him.

The gang robs a house to get money for the jailed father. The police see them and a shoot out occurs. Only a few gang members, including Tracy, Stone, and the Girl escape. Stone goes along to gather more evidence.

Jim accuses Molly of informing to the police. She denies it, but he attacks her, and John defends her. The men fight and to save John, Molly shoots JIm. Molly is exonerated. Months later, John sends her a letter that he is coming to visit her during his vacation. They will find happiness together.

Discussion

This film is a typical example of the films produced in the early days of movie making. Within its short running time (about 15 min), the plot consists of a series of loosely connected, equally weighted incidents, each lasting only a few minutes. Character motivation and emotional expression are tenuous and inadequately portrayed.

Acting had improved steadily during the early years of film, although some cast members express their ideas and emotions through exaggerated facial expressions and body movements. The acting of Charles Ray, young and wholesome, is fairly naturalistic. Ray was destined for stardom during the later teens and early twenties. Alma Rubens, who was Douglas Fairbanks’ leading lady in several 1916 films, has a small, uncredited role.

Until the emergence of feature films (each running about an hour), short films, (standardized in length to about 15 minutes, or a single 1000 ft reel of film), were the main product of the film industry. Since much of the adult population attended the movies frequently, a theater operator had to change the film program frequently, every day or every other day. The turnover rate had two effects on film production: a large number of films were necessary to meet the demand and the quality of individual pictures was generally deemphasized. The audience came so frequently and watched so many films that their quality had little effect on box office returns.

The large number of short films produced in a year is illustrated by the output of Kay-Bee Pictures, the production company of The Gangsters and the Girl. In 1914, Kay-Bee produced 54 shorts. During its entire existence,1912-1917, the studio produced 253 films.

Kay-Bee Pictures was a subsidiary of the New York Picture Company, itself one of the numerous subsidiary production units of the Mutual Film Corp. Mutual Film Corp had been formed in 1912 by producer H. E. Aitken. Aitken organized a film distribution system. Aitken controlled about 50 distribution offices across the US and Canada that handled the product of numerous, relatively small, film companies that made short films. Theater owners came to the distribution centers and exchanged previously viewed films for newly released ones. The exchanges ensured that theaters had a steady supply of films.

During 1914-1916, although the feature film increased in importance, many theaters continued their programs of short films. By 1917, feature-length films dominated, and the film industry consolidated into a few production companies that made a lower number of much longer films. Short film production decreased greatly, and producers ceased using film exchanges as a means of film distribution.

The director, Scott Sidney began directing in 1914. During that year, Sidney directed 25 shorts, of which The Gangsters and the Girl was the 14th. Sidney specialized in shorts; of his 120 credits only 10 are feature films. His most notable films are three of these features: the first version of Tarzan of the Apes (1918) and a sequel The Adventures of Tarzan (1921) and the first film version of the hit play Charley’s Aunt (1925).

Still a youngster, (age 17), Elizabeth Burbridge began her film career as an actress, 1912-1916. She appeared in 74 shorts. As feature films became dominant, she switched to screen writing, 1917-1952. Most of Burbridge’s 129 writing credits are scenarios and/or scripts for low budget westerns. In the thirties she wrote stories for Gene Autry at Republic. In the early fifties her final scripts were for episodes of TV western series, The Cisco Kid (1950-1951, starring Duncan Renaldo) and The Gene Autry Show (1950-1952).

References

The Transformation of Cinema, 1907 - 1915. Eileen Bowser. History of the American Cinema, Volume 2 1907-1915. University of California Press. 1990