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

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.

Both films have comic scenes early on, in an eatery (The Lady of the Dugout) and a night club (Hide-Out).

Paired Scenes

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: All of these parallelisms help build up the story. The viewers can see the variation in detail, between earlier and later scenes.


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.

Unusual Shots

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.

Long Shots

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 Baloon

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.

Personal Property

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.