The Sunday Intertitle: Jimmy Jazz

We’re back on ALIAS JIMMY VALENTINE (1915). There are later versions too — I would like to see them. A 1920 version stars Bert Lytell, a specialist in reformed cracksmen (he also played the Lone Wolf and Boston Blackie — but I have only seen him as Lord Windermere, care of Lubitsch). Eugene Pallette supports him. A 1928 job stars William Haines and Lionel Barrymore: colour me intrigued. THE AFFAIRS OF JIMMY VALENTINE appeared in 1942 with a reconfigured plot in which JV seems like a supporting character (Roman Bohnen plays him!). Bernard “Mad” Vorhaus directed this so I’d love to see it. There are others: the character’s fragile claim on the world’s mental real estate seems to have finally decayed in 1985 when some kind of no-named teleplay was extruded.

Detective Doyle — played by the ersatz/anticipatory Robert Cummings (centre, scowling) — is on the case. This iteration of the Butcher of Strasbourg seems rather stagey, indulging in a bit of fist-into-palm overemphasis, but the good thing about this is we don’t need an intertitle to translate it. The universal language: belligerence!

I feel like I sort of know the O. Henry story, and Doyle is like Jimmy’s Javert. We’ll see if I’m right.

Maurice goes macro for a BIG CLUE CLOSEUP. An incriminating cufflink.

The ambitious ECU is followed by some equally daring punctuation:

Psychic linkage via montage, as Jimmy (Robert Warwick) notices his missing link and indulges in some dramatic gesticulation of his own, setting his untethered shirtsleeve a-flapping. The crosscutting is pretty intense, and it’s based around an IDEA, two characters thinking about the same thing. And Eisenstein is still in short pants. This is way more sophisticated, in my view, than Griffith’s imperilled virgin/roughriding rescuer schema, and it now seems incomprehensible that David Wark G has been elevated to the status of sole master of this era of filmmaking. All BIRTH OF A NATION has over this one is sheer bulk.

Doyle has immediately tracked Jimmy to his lair and Tourneur repeats a set-up from earlier (economical, and I suppose acceptable since we want to instantly recognise the setting) with the ‘tec’s breath visible in the cold air. I guess we’re shooting this in New York and/or New Jersey. Yes, IMDb specifies the Peerless Studio in Fort Lee and also locations at Sing Sing, and I think it’s likely this is an NYC alleyway, though it’s possible the Garden State sported a few handy slums back in the day.

The same condensation of time that allows Doyle to reach Jimmy’s in nothing flat has allowed Jimmy to exit, but he’s left another clue:

I’m sure David Bordwell would agree that one positive effect of genres is the way they push certain kinds of innovation. The musical incited all sorts of formal experiments, while thrillers have a notable impact on film narration, structure, use of POV.

I guess the significance of this clue is not so much Jimmy’s dainty taste in ashtrays, but the fact that his butt is still smoking. I have seen Robert Warwick near-nude in NIGHT LIFE OF THE GODS and can attest that his butt is indeed smoking.

Proof that it’s 1915: the false Robert Cummings favours his chums in the audience with a thoughtful glance. It’s subtle, but it’s there. It’s not a full-fledged Keystone-type EXPLICATORY MIME, but it’s the kind of audience awareness I’d associate far more with barnstorming melodrama than with the legitimate theatre.

Cummings/Doyle rushes to the window and peers out, but apparently sees nothing. If this were a later, still more sophisticated film, I would expect Tourneur to grace us with a POV shot displaying the precise form of nothing Doyle witnesses. But apparently that’s asking too much in 1915. You know the kind of thing I mean: in FARGO, burying the loot in the snow, Steve Buscemi looks left: endless vista of blank snowscape; looks right: another, precisely mirroring vista of blank snowscape. This is jokily pedantic since we can see his surroundings already, but it is CORRECT FILM FORM nevertheless.

Cut to an unidentified young man receiving a coded message from a gum-chewing kid. The code is easily broken, I feel. But who is this fellow?

TUNE IN NEXT TIME to find out — and watch along (or ahead) via the YouTube:

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5 Responses to “The Sunday Intertitle: Jimmy Jazz”

  1. Tony Williams Says:

    I finally caught up with LORNA DOONE last night and re-read your coverage, the last ending with “TO BE CONCLUDED”. Will you or was it a cliffhanger?

  2. bensondonald Says:

    Jimmy Valentine is seen (not heard) in a fleeting scene in the opening of “O. Henry’s Full House”, as is the Cisco Kid (who, despite John Steinbeck’s narration and countless Hollywood adaptations, was NOT a good guy. He was an SOB).

    It’s a Fox 1952 feature, with five different director/screenwriter teams doing five different stories. More interesting than good.

  3. Tony Williams Says:

    DC, Thanks for the link. I must have forgotten it since I wanted to see the film first. Also, O.Henry was not like the genial image Thomas Mitchell portrayed in THE O.HENRY PLAYHOUSE that ran on BBC TV in the 50s?

  4. The most interesting episode of the Full House feature, for me, was Negulesco’s experimental handling, which seemed well outside the Overton window of accepted Hollywood style at the time — maybe the most striking thing he ever did.

    Jimmy Valentines should be seen and not heard.

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