William Desmond Taylor | Rankings
Films: Tom Sawyer
| Johanna Enlists | Nurse Marjorie
| The Soul of Youth
Classic Film and Television Home Page (with many articles on directors)
| 1910's Articles
William Desmond Taylor
William Desmond Taylor was an American film director. He regularly worked with
screenwriter Julia Crawford Ivers, and it is hard to separate their contributions. Much of what this article
describes as Taylor's work, might actually be Ivers'.
This article does NOT discuss Taylor's still-unsolved murder. Instead, it deals with his films.
An important look at four Taylor films is by
Here are ratings for various films directed by William Desmond Taylor. Everything at least **1/2 is recommended.
- Tom Sawyer ***
- Johanna Enlists *1/2
- Huckleberry Finn *
- Nurse Marjorie **1/2
- The Soul of Youth ***1/2
Tom Sawyer (1917) is an adaptation of the novel by Mark Twain.
Tom Sawyer shows features in common with Taylor's later feature The Soul of Youth (SPOILERS):
Both films often show their heroes against landscapes with buildings and vegetation.
This often leads to interesting, visually beautiful compositions.
- Both star rambunctious teenage boys.
- Both boys get into ritualized fights with another boy - which they win.
- Both live in worlds controlled by older women: Aunt Polly's house in Tom Sawyer,
the orphanage in The Soul of Youth.
- Both films end with the hero reconciled to a mother figure: the resurrected Tom is given affection
by his previously stern Aunt Polly; the orphan in The Soul of Youth is accepted by an
previously narrow minded and rejecting adopted mother.
- Eating and kitchen scenes are common in both films, with women in charge of food.
- Both show pantries with shelves loaded with sweets, and both show young people sneaking donuts.
- Both show the hero dealing with institutions: school, church and sunday school in Tom Sawyer,
the orphanage and juvenile court in The Soul of Youth.
- There are comedy scenes in which the heroes are forced by women into dress-up clothes that look awfully unmanly:
Tom cleaned up for church, the hero of The Soul of Youth in new clothes when he
first moves in with the rich family.
- The hero often gets into trouble.
- Both heroes run around by themselves at night, getting into adventures.
- Both heroes run away from where they live: Tom Sawyer to the island,
the hero of The Soul of Youth to the streets.
- Both heroes wind up living with other teenagers, outside of society.
- Both heroes climb over fences, in bursts of hight spirits and energy.
- Both heroes are poised between respectability and raffishness: Tom has a respectable family,
but likes to run barefoot and have adventures; the hero of The Soul of Youth is a poor orphan
who eventually gets adopted by an upper middle class family.
- Both heroes develop close friendships with a street-wise low life who is definitely
at the bottom of the social class system: Tom with Huck Finn, the hero of The Soul of Youth
with a newsboy who lives on the streets. There might be a gay subtext to these relationships.
A number of exterior scenes feature architecture:
- A raised walkway over wetlands is near the shore. The heroes walk on it.
- We see the facade of the Sawyer house, with vines growing up it, and an upper balcony or porch.
The Taylor-Ivers films do creative things with titles, mixing action with writing.
In Tom Sawyer, we sometimes see Tom's thoughts superimposed as titles over his face.
Tom Sawyer opens with a tiny version of Tom telling his adventures to author Mark Twain.
Johanna Enlists (1918) is a comedy-drama, starring Mary Pickford as a young farm gal
looking for a guy. The film largely misfires.
The farm seems to be mainly run by the wife. The husband works hard, but the film stresses that he is a dolt.
At least the farmhouse, the main part of the farm we see, seems to be the wife's domain.
With their daughter Mary Pickford also working there, this becomes another Taylor institution run by women.
As in other Taylor films, we see:
- A man coming to the female institution to stay: the ill Lieutenant. And the troop of soldiers as a whole
is camping out in one of the farm's fields.
- Kitchen and food scenes, with the food provided by women.
Outdoor steps at the farmhouse are shown repeatedly. These anticipate the much bigger outdoor staircase in
The Soul of Youth.
The article on The Soul of Youth lists many elements Taylor shares with director
Allan Dwan. Johanna Enlists employs another Dwan motif:
showing characters through a window, seen from outside. In Johanna Enlists,
the young Lieutenant in shown looking down from a window, at events outdoors.
In Dwan films such characters are often talking to people outside - but in Johanna Enlists
the Lieutenant is merely looking.
Nurse Marjorie (1920) is an enjoyable romantic comedy set in England.
It is based on the 1906 stage play by the talented Israel Zangwill.
The film is full of political satire and comedy, like Zangwill's novella The Big Bow Mystery (1891).
Other well-known plays about romance between a woman and a Member of Parliament include
What Every Woman Knows (1908) by J. M. Barrie and The Winslow Boy (1946) by Terence Rattigan.
Like Robert Siodmak and Lamont Johnson to come,
Taylor liked to show institutions run by women.
In Nurse Marjorie, these include the nursing home, and the fish-and-chips shop.
While these places employ some men, they actually seem to be run by women:
Both of these men seem like decent human beings, and they work hard at their jobs.
But neither is actually running anything - women are doing that.
- There is a male doctor in the nursing home. But he seems comically clueless about anything other than his medical work (at which he is good).
- The husband works at the counter in the fish emporium, but clearly his wife is actually running the shop.
Both institutions include another Taylor favorite subject: the serving of food.
And the fish emporium takes us to that Taylor stronghold, a kitchen run by women.
Both the hero and the little boy are men who come to stay in a female-run institution
(the nursing home). This too is a Taylor tradition.
Fantasy Episodes: Mental Imagery
Two scenes show the hero's mental imagery. SPOILERS:
- The hero jealously imagines the heroine nursing a handsome man.
- Various pictures in the hero's house come to life, transforming into the heroine.
The Soul of Youth
The Soul of Youth (1920) is a film about a young orphan. It takes a wide ranging look at
social problems that confronted such teenagers.
Links to Allan Dwan
The Soul of Youth has a surprising number of links, to the subjects found in
Allan Dwan films. I am unable to explain this: an influence from
one of these directors to another? Common aspects of the zeitgeist? Who knows?
Some of the resemblances involve architecture:
Other resemblances involve subject matter:
- The hero climbs down from an upper story of the orphanage, making his escape.
Such vertical climbs were common in Dwan's Douglas Fairbanks films, and subsequent Dwan works.
As in Dwan, the climb is filmed with a vertical camera movement: a logical approach.
- A related subject: Dwan likes exteriors with more than one level.
A scene in The Soul of Youth shows the orphans watching a fight, while on a
huge outdoor staircase at the orphanage.
- The hero hides out under a grating in the sidewalk, while being chased by police.
Dwan films have a number of secret passages or compartments.
- Dwan likes dormitories with rows of beds; there is one in the orphanage in
The Soul of Youth.
- Dwan likes water works; the orphanage in The Soul of Youth has a major bathtub episode,
and we also see the communal wash stand.
The Soul of Youth has a Prologue, something that also appears in some Dwan films, including some of the Fairbanks.
- Dwan likes conflict between government parties; The Soul of Youth deals with a political contest for mayor,
featuring a crook versus a reform party.
- Dwan characters are often falsely accused and suffer social ostracism; The Soul of Youth
has its hero unfairly labeled the "worst boy in the orphanage". However, Dwan's characters are usually
falsely accused of some specific crime, while the hero of The Soul of Youth is simply
viewed as being of bad character.
- Dwan likes characters on the move, from one locale to another; The Soul of Youth has
its hero run away from the orphanage to the city.
- Dwan likes characters wrestling on ground; The Soul of Youth has a big fight
at the orphanage between the hero and another orphan.
- Dwan likes the enjoyment of food; food and feeding is a major theme throughout The Soul of Youth.
The hero hides underground from the police, under the sidewalk grating.
Later, the rich teenager will emerge up a ramp from an underground railway platform, and be
menaced by the bad guys. The two scenes seem parallel, and echoes of each other.
The Taylor-Iverson films do creative things with titles, mixing filmed action with writing.
In The Soul of Youth, the title cards sometimes burst into live action, in corners of the cards not
covered by writing.
Fantasy Episodes: Mental Imagery
Two scenes show the hero's mental imagery:
- The hero has a fear of Rastus being drowned: a scary shot.
- The hero's happy fantasy of deserts is shown by his day dream of a sweet shop.