W.S. Van Dyke | The Lady of the Dugout
| Hide-Out | Personal Property
Classic Film and Television Home Page (with many articles on directors)
| 1910's Articles
W.S. Van Dyke
W.S. Van Dyke was a Hollywood film director.
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.
Links to Hide-Out
The Lady of the Dugout has elements in common with Van Dyke's later Hide-Out:
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.
- 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.
- Romance follows.
- The heroine is caregiver to a little boy, who is lively and who bonds with the visiting hero.
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:
Other scenes come in pairs:
- 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.
All of these parallelisms help build up the story. The viewers can see the variation in detail,
between earlier and later scenes.
- 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.
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:
Earthworks are prominent in the films of Allan Dwan.
- The body buried in the underground lab in The Thin Man.
- The earthquake in San Francisco.
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.
Throughout the film, Van Dyke often has long shots, to show the
spectacular sets and activities on screen. It is as if he is saying
"Wow! Look at all this." The shots are unusually long,
wide or high, and it seems fairly obvious to viewers that Van
Dyke is doing something a little bit unusual with his technique.
The shots of the night club dancers near the start are especially good.
They climax with balloons coming down. They also have sparkling light,
from a revolving mirror ball.
A Documentary Feel
Hide-Out often has a documentary quality. But it is not
the serious tone of a real documentary, or the grim thriller of
a crime semi-doc. Instead, the scenery shown on screen is entertaining,
and often comic. Whether Van Dyke is showing a dance number at
a Broadway nightclub, or people picking cherries in the country,
the scenes are light-hearted, and meant to amuse.
The hero menacingly pops a balloon with his cigarette, when he is threatening
the night club owners. A popping ballon is also dramatic in The Thin Man.
A Vertical Camera Movement
There is not a great deal of camera movement in W.S. Van Dyke's
comedy, Personal Property (1937). One exception is highly
atypical in film history: Jean Harlow is descending a staircase,
and Van Dyke pans straight down from her to Robert Taylor, who
is waiting below, directly underneath the staircase. (It looks
like a pan, but it might actually be a descending camera movement
on a crane or elevator.) This sort of vertical movement is unusual.
It emphasizes the spatial relationship between the two characters,
and adds an effect of comic whimsy to the scene.