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James W. Horne

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

James Wesley Horne
Horne in Who's Who in the Film World, 1914
Born(1881-12-14)December 14, 1881
DiedJune 29, 1942(1942-06-29) (aged 60)
Resting placeForest Lawn Memorial Park (Glendale)
Years active1915-1942
SpouseCleo Ridgely (1916-1942) (his death) (2 children)[1]

James Wesley Horne (December 14, 1881 – June 29, 1942) was an American actor, screenwriter, and film director.

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Silent era

James Horne began his career as an actor under director Sidney Olcott at Kalem Studios in 1913 and directed his first film for the company two years later. He then specialized in multi-chapter serials. Kalem discontinued operations in 1917 when it was sold to the Vitagraph company. Horne remained in the serial field, signing with Universal Pictures late that year.[2] Horne specialized in staging thrill scenes for features and serials. On the strength of Horne's work in Cruise of the Jasper B, Buster Keaton hired him to direct Keaton's 1927 comedy College.

Comedy career

Horne's collaboration with Keaton now established him as a comedy director. He signed with the all-comedy Hal Roach studio, where he worked with Roach's leading stars, Laurel and Hardy, Charley Chase, and Our Gang. Horne's Laurel and Hardy comedies Big Business (credited to "J. Wesley Horne") and Way Out West are acclaimed as classics.

When talking pictures arrived, Horne displayed an aptitude for directing Roach's foreign-language versions; the American version might be staged by James Parrott, for example, but the international version would be entrusted to Horne.

Horne's nephew George Stevens, who worked at the studio as a cameraman, later directed short films, and from the late 1930s became a top Hollywood feature filmmaker.

Horne left Roach in 1932 during an economic downturn that eliminated many jobs. He returned to Universal and directed the studio's now-obscure two-reel comedies for the next two years. When Universal closed its comedy unit, Horne worked briefly at Columbia Pictures[3] and went back to Roach in 1935.

Return to serials

In 1937 Columbia, noting the popularity of serials, decided to enter the field. At first the studio found it easier to release the independent productions of the Weiss Bros. "Adventure Serials," but by 1938 Columbia wanted to produce serials with its own actors, technicians, and facilities. Former serial specialist James Horne co-directed The Spider's Web, starring Warren Hull as a masked crimefighter. Today it is regarded as Columbia's best serial; when first released, it was the most popular serial of 1938. It surpassed such well-received serials as Buck Rogers and Dick Tracy Returns by a wide margin, according to a tally published in The Motion Picture Herald and The Film Daily.[4]

James W. Horne
Photoplay (Dec. 1915)

This solidified Horne's position in Columbia's serial squad, and he directed Columbia cliffhangers exclusively for the rest of his life. His first two Columbia serials, directed in partnership with action specialist Ray Taylor, were straightforward adventure stories. When Taylor rejoined Universal, Horne was assigned to producer Larry Darmour, who left Horne in complete charge of Columbia serials.

Horne, now able to experiment with the usual serial format, freely indulged his sense of humor. He had his actors play their roles straight for the first three chapters; these would be the sample episodes used to sell the serial to exhibitors. Then, starting with Chapter 4, Horne would stray farther and farther from the straight melodramatic path, encouraging his actors to exaggerate with overly dramatic readings, and staging larger-than-life fight scenes.

James Horne's reputation as a serial director was sealed with the 1970 rediscovery of Holt of the Secret Service. This 1941 serial had just entered the public domain and thus was among the first Columbia serials in decades to be available for reappraisal. Latter-day serial fans and authors marveled at Horne's devil-may-care style, with tongue-in-cheek dialogue, quietly comic incongruities in the background, and six-against-one brawls photographed slightly faster than normal. As author Alan G. Barbour observed, "[Horne's serials] set serial fans' funny bones in motion with their ludicrous sight gags and ridiculous situations (i.e., gangsters playing jacks, hanging out their laundry, wearing silly party hats, etc.)."[5] Film historian William K. Everson defended Horne's approach: "Serial purists understandably resented this and have never liked Horne's serials. Yet he was too good a director, too much a past master of silent and sound comedy not to know precisely what he was doing... Playing them for comedy didn't make them better, but it did keep them lively, distinctive, and different."[6] Horne did keep the thrill scenes serious enough to satisfy action fans, and many of his cliffhanging perils are staged very effectively. But the overall tone of Horne's serials is mock-serious, with Knox Manning's urgent narration recapping the action (the 1960s Batman TV series copied Horne's style). The Green Archer, which Horne co-wrote as well as directed, is probably the most satirically enjoyable of Horne's serials.

The death of Horne's producer Larry Darmour in March 1942 presaged the end of Columbia's irreverent serials. Horne himself died three months later on June 29, 1942, of a cerebral hemorrhage following a stroke. He was interred in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California.

Horne was featured briefly in the 2018 Laurel and Hardy biopic Stan & Ollie, depicted directing Way Out West, portrayed by Joseph Balderrama.

Selected filmography



  • The Invisible Power (1914) - Piano Player
  • The Pitfall (1915) - Jack Green - Westcott's Secretary
  • Stingaree (1915, Serial) - Oswald
  • Beau Hunks (1931) - Chief of the Riff-Raff


  1. ^ "Photoplay: The Aristocrat of Motion Picture Magazines". 1917.
  2. ^ Motion Picture News, Jan. 12, 1918, p. 288.
  3. ^ Okuda, Ted; Watz, Edward (1986). The Columbia comedy shorts : two-reel Hollywood film comedies, 1933-1958. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland. ISBN 0-89950-181-8. OCLC 13218219. page 20
  4. ^ Martin Quigley, The Film Daily, Jan. 2, 1940, Quigley Publishing, Inc., p. 2.
  5. ^ Alan G. Barbour, Cliffhanger, Citadel Press, 1977, p. 233.
  6. ^ William K. Everson, introducing Alan G. Barbour's Days of Thrills and Adventure, Macmillan, 1970, p. xix.
  7. ^ Christopher Workman and Troy Howarth, Tome of Terror: Horror Films of the Silent Era, Midnight Marquee Press, 2016, p. 263. ISBN 978-1936168-68-2.

External links

This page was last edited on 15 March 2023, at 00:10
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