LADY OF THE DUGOUT, THE (W.S. Van Dyke, 1918, USA, 60m, BW)
Director: W.S. Van Dyke
Writer: W.S. Van Dyke
Stars: Al J. Jennings, Frank Jennings, Corinne Grant
Duration: 60 mins.
Cast & Crew
W. S. Van Dyke
W. S. Van Dyke
Real life outlaw Al Jennings tells a "real" story about how he came to the aid of a woman who was abused by her alcoholic husband.
After a prologue in which former outlaws Al and Frank Jennings are introduced by the city editor of a Los Angeles newspaper to an English peer and the editor of a London journal, Al tells the story of their first film The Lady of the Dugout , which he says is a true story. Al and Frank enter a prairie dugout to beg for food, but when they discover that the woman and child who live there have not eaten in several days, they decide to visit a neighboring house to obtain food for them instead.
The next day, the brothers send a load of provisions to the woman, whose derelict husband spends all of their money on alcohol. Learning that the woman was swindled by a Texas banker, the outlaws rob the bank and then return to the little sod-roofed house "with the lady's money plus a little interest." Jealous of his wife's new friends, the husband leads a posse to the dugout and gives the order to shoot, even though she and his boy are inside. Frank and Al escape, but discovering later that her husband has been killed, they return to accompany her "back to the old home in Arkansas." Frank and the lady have fallen in love, but because of his status as a fugitive outlaw, he sadly leaves her.
The Lady of the Dugout (1918) is a silent Western.
The Lady of the Dugout has Temperance aspects, showing a father who is rotten to his family due to his addiction to liquor. This oddly contrasts with the celebration of boozing in Van Dyke's The Thin Man.
The Lady of the Dugout has elements in common with Van Dyke's later Hide-Out:
The hero is a crook on the lam, hiding out in the countryside.
The hero meets a delightful, and completely honest woman, who takes him into her modest country home.
The heroine is caregiver to a little boy, who is lively and who bonds with the visiting hero.
The two films have many differences: The Lady of the Dugout is a Western with a bank robber outlaw; Hide-Out is a modern-day story with a big-time racketeer.
Both films have comic scenes early on, in an eatery (The Lady of the Dugout) and a night club (Hide-Out).
The two bank robbery scenes have much in common. Much about the second scene is "bigger and better". But both are plotted and staged in similar ways:
The two banks have a horizontal row barrier than separates the teller from customers. The second bank's back-space is bigger and with more people.
In both, the outlaws herd the bank employees into the vault and close it, so they can't interfere with the getaway.
In both, a conversation between an outlaw and a lawman takes place in the street.
Both town streets are shot straight down the long street. The second street is wider, and maybe longer.
Other scenes come in pairs:
The kid is scared of his father twice, and hides behind his mother.
The outlaws get food for the Lady twice.
The father leaves twice to go into town.
The heroine leaves her parents, then much later returns to them.
All of these parallelisms help build up the story. The viewers can see the variation in detail, between earlier and later scenes.
Silent films liked to show yards full of lush foliage, from hedges and other plants. The Lady of the Dugout shows such foliage in the opening scenes at a Los Angeles hotel. And in the flashback showing the heroine's old home in Arkansas. It contrasts with the desolate scenery around the dugout.
The dugout is a crude home, dug into the ground.
Later when the heroes are trapped in it, they will dig a hole out the back of it, as an exit.
Excavations into the ground appear in other Van Dyke films:
The body buried in the underground lab in The Thin Man.
The earthquake in San Francisco.
Earthworks are prominent in the films of Allan Dwan.
When the heroes are casing out the first town, from far off in the distance, the buildings are shown through a tiny mask. This suggests looking through a telescope - though no such instrument is used. We get a pan along the town buildings, all seen through such a mask.
During the second robbery, we see elaborate reflections in a bar window on the street.
A long-take staging after the first robbery, has a confrontation in the street, followed by a character running towards the foreground to help an injured man.
Sitting and Rowling
The editors at the beginning are having fun, sitting and reading. Their clothes and props express masculinity: The American has some sort of cigar, and the English Peer has big riding boots.
Later, one of the outlaw gang relaxes by laying back and "rowling" the floor with his spurs. This too involves giant boots. He also has his eyes covered with a giant cowboy hat. The whole display / movement looks very glamorous and satisfying.
A Circular Camera Movement
Hide-Out (1934) has a circular camera movement. It is a nearly 360 degree pan around the living room of a farmhouse. The shot simply shows the set; it has no people in it. It is expository: after a half hour prologue in New York City, the film makes a drastic shift in locale to the country, and the film is showing this farm house. There is a comic aspect to this. The farmhouse is supposed to be a startling change of pace after all the Broadway nightclub scenes that have preceded it. The shot is intended to make the audience smile, at the colossal contrast. The house is very nice, and is not being ridiculed. It is simply a complete change of tone, and hence comic. The comic tone, and the expository nature of the scene, allows or enables the director to do something non-naturalistic with the camera. It is as if the director were winking at the audience, showing them something special. The audience can share in the direct viewpoint of a filmmaker, where he takes his camera and points something out to them. It is almost the visual equivalent of the director "narrating" something with his camera.
Earlier, the camera circles a bit around Robert Montgomery, when he is lying on a couch and calling up a woman for a date. He really looks smug in his sharp tuxedo. He is another "sharply dressed man lying down and enjoying himself", like the cowboy rowling his spurs in The Lady of the Dugout. Camera movement often follows the hero around, as he moves dynamically in both city and country.
THE LADY OF THE DUGOUT is a pretty silly little story because the Jennings' try to make themselves look like good guys, which they certainly were not. One really has to get over that and just sit back and try to enjoy the picture. I will say that technically speaking this here is one of the best Westerns I've seen from this era. Director W.S. Van Dyke does a really good job at keeping the action going at a great pace and he also manages to make the film look very professional. I think the biggest problem with the movie is that the title cards seem to preach way too much and I also think they say way too much. Quite often they'll tell us something like "the kid is sleeping" and then we'll get a shot of him sleeping. It will read "they were mad" and then we see a scene of them mad. There really wasn't any need for the cards and other times scenes just dragged on including one flashback where we see the woman's early days. Still, the film contains some great action scenes that make it worth viewing.
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