Monday, January 13, 2020

Harry Schenck, Edward Warren and Alice Guy | Algie the Miner

conversion therapy
by Douglas Messerli

Harry Schenck, Edward Warren, and Alice Guy (directors) Algie the Miner / 1912

Finally in the 1912 film directed by Alice Guy, Harry Schenck, and Edward Warren (I’ve purposely inverted the usual male-first listings, since Guy was also the producer) we get a truly early gay film, staring the effeminate Billy Quirk, desperate to marry his wealthy girlfriend, Clarice Jackson—for god knows what reason—is told by his future father-in-law that if he can tough it up as a man in a certain period of time that he can marry his daughter (Mary Foy).

    That means “going west,” to learn from rough-neck cowboys how to become a masculine man. The results are quite hilarious as he begins by attempting to kiss the cowboys before they try to take control of him, particularly under the control of a hirsute, heavy-drinking man to whom Algie takes a liking, attempting to help him overcome his alcoholism. Gradually—and so, unfortunately American—Algie is taught how to use a gun, and, more importantly, how to become a miner of gold—the major source of wealth in those gold rush days.
      Before our eyes, the swishy Algie becomes “a man,” discovering with his newfound friend, a gold mine, while protecting him from others who attempt to intercept it.
      Quirk gradually turns the gay Algie into a figure suitable to Clarice’s father, who is able to return home, now forcing open the door to his future family’s home in the “cowboy” way, pushing down the frame and entering the house as a kind of boisterous hero. He has now clearly become a straight man—in the very worst sense.
      It’s a tragedy, celebrated by the family and the film, as after the earliest version of “Conversion Therapy,” cured evidently from his homosexuality and rich from his discovery of the goldmine,  now a quite brutal masculine, gun-toting, individual who no woman should truly desire.
      Algie has, before our very eyes, been transformed from a pansy into the kind of being no one should admire. Why he desires the socially aspiring Clarice is never explained, except perhaps to rid himself of his natural sexual desires or his dismissal in the world in which he lives.
      And in that sense we might almost feel how he has now lost in his attempt to become the man whom assuredly enters the Jackson home to claim his bride.
      Algie, we immediately recognize, has lost his soul, and will never again be the loving being he truly was, an engagingly gay figure who has, by the confines of the writers’ script, been emasculated in a way that they could never have imagined in 1912.
      This is one of the saddest stories I have ever heard, as the great writer Ford Madox Ford began his The Good Soldier. If the new miner, Algie has captured his undeserving lover, he has lost his own being. I’d love to have seen him kiss the cowboys continuously, and we can suspect that despite his marriage to Clarice, he might one day want to return to that activity.
      Algie the Miner suddenly transplants an interesting gay male into a world into which he should never have entered. The gold he was seeking was not in the glittering rocks, but in the hearts of the people with whom he lived.
      In the end, this is a film I cannot quite forgive.

Los Angeles, January 13, 2020
Reprinted from World Cinema Review (January 2020).

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