The Heart of Boston Blackie

March 23, 2016 at 9:38 PM (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Heart of Boston Blackie

This announcement from the July 21, 1923 issue of Camera! is puzzling, and just plain wrong on several levels.  Laura La Plante was the female lead in a Boston Blackie production from Universal in 1923, but it was most certainly not a serial.  And Miss La Plante did not play Mary.  And the film was not titled The Heart of Boston Blackie.  And it was not based on a story from The Red Book Magazine.  Oh, and it didn’t feature any of the actors mentioned as candidates for the role of Blackie.  So just what was this film that Camera! tried almost in vain to promote?

By late summer of 1923, newspapers and magazines ran a number of items about Laura La Plante’s upcoming appearance in Universal’s Boston Blackie film The Daughter of Crooked Alley, but by the time it was released to theaters on November 7, 1923 its title had been shortened to simply Crooked Alley.  This early item from Camera! makes it sound as though the film was based on a story in The Red Book, also titled “The Heart of Boston Blackie,” while most other press promoting the film claimed its source was Jack Boyle’s popular magazine tale “A Daughter of Crooked Alley.”  In actuality, no magazine ever published such a story by Boyle.  Crooked Alley’s scenario was adapted from an original story written expressly for the screen by Jack Boyle.  And though Laura La Plante was the film’s female lead, she played Noreen Tyrell (as Blackie’s Mary is noticeably absent from the film).  Finally, though Herbert Rawlinson did star in a Jack Boyle inspired drama — Stolen Secrets — in 1924, he never played Boston Blackie.  In Crooked Alley, that role went to actor Thomas Carrigan.

Though Camera! went far wide of the mark in announcing this production, today Crooked Alley is one of only two Boston Blackie movies from the silent era known to have survived in its entirety.  A print is held in the film archives of the University of California Los Angeles, and it was was screened at the 2002 UCLA Festival of Preservation.  Perhaps one day it will be made more widely available to modern day fans of Jack Boyle.

JBF  3/23/16


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The Forgotten Cinema of Jack Boyle

September 21, 2015 at 10:53 PM (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

In January 1924, a number of newspapers and magazines carried items similar to this announcement featured in the January 5, 1924 edition of MOTION PICTURE NEWS:

Filming has just begun on [The Virtuous Crook], which is a composite crook drama of two magazine stories.  Raymond L. Schrock made a screen adaptation from two stories, one by Jack Boyle and one by Richard Goodall.  Rex Taylor wrote the scenario from Schrock’s adaptation.

No mention was ever made of precisely which Boyle story Raymond Schrock drew his inspiration from, and no film reference works connect Boyle with any production titled The Virtuous Crook.  However, the February 23, 1924 issue of UNIVERSAL WEEKLY carried the following item:

The name of Herbert Rawlinson’s current Universal attraction has been changed from its working title of “Virtuous Crooks” to “Stolen Secrets.”  This picture was made from a story by Richard Goodall and was directed by Irving Cummings.

Why sole credit for the film’s source material was given to Richard Goodall after the production’s name change is unclear.  It’s possible that the scenario was rewritten, deleting the elements relating to Boyle’s story.  But no such overhaul of the production was reported in any of the film trade magazines of the time.  After January 1924, all mention of Boyle’s name was simply dropped from the items publicizing the production, leaving us with a mystery.  Is Stolen Secrets, in part, the work of Jack Boyle?

What can be said for certain is that Universal Pictures did release Stolen Secrets on March 10, 1924 (barely two months after the commencement of its production was announced).  It starred Herbert Rawlinson and Kathleen Myers, and THE AMERICAN FILM INSTITUTE CATALOG OF MOTION PICTURES provides this description of its plotHerbert Rawlinson:

Noted criminologist Niles Manning captures a gang of crooks by posing as a super criminal — a mysterious man called “the Eel” — when the mayor’s daughter, Cordelia, believing that he really is a
crook, enlists his assistance in ridding the city of its criminals.  Romance develops between Cordelia and Manning.

While the elements of crime and the underworld are certainly consistent with Boyle’s work, the story itself does not resemble any specific tale from his canon.  Still, given that the film’s story was reportedly written by a scenarioist from an adaptation that its producer constructed from unrelated stories by Boyle and Richard Goodall, a great many alterations could have been made between the source material and the final film.  Ultimately, it will probably never be known which of Boyle’s stories sparked Raymond Schrock to conceive The Virtuous Crook, but cinema historians should not let it be forgotten that Jack Boyle played a part in the genesis of the film.

JBF  9/21/15

Universal Weekly 1-5-24

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