William Desmond Taylor | Tom Sawyer
| 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.
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
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.
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.