USA, 1915 (MIFF 1996, Retrospecta)
Director: Maurice Tourneur
Based on the famous O. Henry short story Alias Jimmy Valentine takes every familiar element of crime drama-robbery safe-cracking, prison hidden identities, gang solidarity and moral reformation-and handles them with suspense and wit. The film concerns a one time bank robber who is forced to reveal his identity in order to rescue a small child trapped in a bank vault. Director Maurice Tourneurs (1876-1961) Alias Jimmy Valentine was released in New York in February 1915 a week before D W Griffith's Birth of A Nation. The film represents a stylistic pole opposite to Griffith s rapid cutting and relatively shallow staging. Tourneur extends the grammar of cinema claiming his own unique style and a mastery of space (note the extra ordinary overhead shots of the bank robbery) unrivalled in early film.
Tourneur-father of RKO journeyman Jacques -had been a book illustrator and sculptor's assistant, in Rodin's studio, before embarking on a career in film and emigrating to the US. Reviews at the time were good ("Remarkably realistic," said Motion Picture News, "especially the scenes inside New York's Sing Sing prison.") and the director went on to a busy career.
Sadly, a great deal of Toumeur's work has been lost. Alias Jimmy Valentine survives through a single print saved by Australia's own Film & Sound Archives which was repatriated to the American Film Institute in 1989. Now fully restored, with cleverly used colour tints reproduced from the original, this major rediscovery is once again screened after more than three-quarters of a century in obscurity.