Owners of Blackhawk Films 16mm and 8mm prints of “A Tour of the Thomas Ince Studios” probably had no idea why the smiling gentleman, seen racing to the studio in one segment, keeps popping up throughout the film. His is not a familiar face to silent film fans, so why all the cameos?
Douglas MacLean was signed by Thomas H. Ince – “discovered” may be more accurate, especially if you were to ask Ince – in 1919, to star in features. The first was released late in 1919, and the next five were released in 1920. This was not an unusual practice for a studio, desiring to keep a new star up on screens around the country as a way to establish them.
The promotional film made by and about the Thomas H. Ince Studios was in production during 1920 and was released in theaters that same year. So, it’s no wonder that Douglas MacLean, Ince’s newest leading man whose first few films for Ince were hits, kept popping up throughout the assemblage of scenes that depict every aspect of production at the studio.
The film, whose correct title as listed in several trade magazine articles was “A Tour Through The World’s Greatest Motion Picture Studios”, also served as a trailer for two of MacLean’s then-in-production light comedy features. We first spy MacLean atop a ladder near the camera taking a large scene in a church. Douglas turns around and flashes that million-dollar smile at us then turns back. And why not? This scene is from his film Chickens.
MacLean has his own sequence in the middle of the film, where he races from his apartment by automobile down undeveloped roads, chased by a speed cop. The sequence is followed by a couple shots demonstrating how they used camera cars to take the shots of MacLean driving. But it’s clearly been concocted to put that charming face and persona on the screen for another few minutes.
We see Douglas and his leading lady taking another scene, exiting a house. Also from Chickens. Time for studio lunch break! We see MacLean and the cast and crew from Chickens having a picnic lunch out on location.
Now that you know his face, you’re drawn to it in the bottom right corner of the frame in the big wide shot of the studio swimming pool that we are shown at the end of everyone’s workday. But that’s not all, folks…
The tour film’s final scene, after everyone’s headed home, is of Ince himself in the studio screening room watching a sequence from a film being made at the studio. It’s The Home Stretch, starring — you guessed it — Douglas MacLean.
Chickens was released in February 1921, and is a lost film. The Home Stretch was released in April of that year, and survives in both 35mm nitrate and safety preservation elements preserved by the Library of Congress. There may be 8mm copies of it out there as Blackhawk Films sold it in that format for around a half dozen years, and in 16mm for just four months.
A Tour of the World’s Greatest Motion Picture Studios is an extra on the new Douglas MacLean Collection DVD from Undercrank Productions, seen in a 2K scan made from a B&W/tinted nitrate 35mm print preserved by the Library of Congress. The DVD is available on Amazon, the TCM Shop, DeepDiscount and other online retailers (click here to order). I’ll also have copies for sale at shows I’m playing in 2020.