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 David Bordwell. Recommended!


Here are ratings for various films directed by William Desmond Taylor. Everything at least **1/2 is recommended.

Feature films:

Tom Sawyer

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.


A number of exterior scenes feature architecture:


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.

Fantasy Episodes

Tom Sawyer opens with a tiny version of Tom telling his adventures to author Mark Twain.

Johanna Enlists

Johanna Enlists (1918) is a comedy-drama, starring Mary Pickford as a young farm gal looking for a guy. The film largely misfires.

Woman-Run Institutions

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:


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

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.

Woman-Run Institutions

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.

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 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 Soul of Youth has a Prologue, something that also appears in some Dwan films, including some of the Fairbanks.


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: