- INCE, Thomas
- (1882–1924)Thomas Harper Ince was one of the early inventors of the Western film. After a brief sojourn on the Broadway stage, Ince began a long career in the film industry with Biograph beginning in 1910. After moving to California the next year to direct Westerns for D. W. Griffith, Ince helped create what is today known as Hollywood.Ince is compared to his original mentor, D. W. Griffith, as an early film pioneer. But Griffith devoted himself much more to creating films from the basics up whereas Ince concerned himself more with the general matters of production. In reality, Ince directed few films but produced many, and his ultimate contribution to film lies in his role as producer. It is through Ince that the movement to the producer-director system of filmmaking began. As a maker of Western films, Ince attempted to authenticate his films through spectacle based on Wild West shows of the pre-film era. In 1911 he hired the Miller Brothers 101 Ranch Wild West show from Oklahoma for the two-reeler War on the Plains, which Motion Picture World considered the most authentic Western produced to that point. Custer’s Last Fight (1912) further authenticated Ince’s vision of reality by insisting that the actors and company were working cowboys who had experienced life on the vanished frontier. Essentially this film cinematically replicated the famous reenactment of Custer’s Last Stand from one of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West. In 1915 Ince, with Griffith and Mack Sennett, formed the Triangle Film Corporation, forerunner of United Artists. Because of his shared passion with Griffith for realism based upon location, Ince developed Inceville, his elaborate outdoor studio in the foothills around Hollywood, at the mouth of Santa Ynez Canyon—still a part of the untamed Western frontier.While early Ince films tended to be mere spectacle, in later films plot became superior to action. Today’s viewers are often baffled by the pre-code morality in films such as The Woman (1913), where bigamy and suicide are casually condoned. Ince’s women often undergo radical transformations from good to evil or evil to good, frequently as a result of molestation. Either way, the result is usually tragic. In The Woman, the widowed Anne Little (Leona Hutton) becomes a dance hall girl and marries a gambler but later discovers that her first husband is still alive. The gambler comes home to find her dead, holding a note asking forgiveness for the wrong she has caused him. Asimple dichotomy of good versus evil usually prevails, with the good inevitably being associated with the church and the evil with the saloon. Ince films tend to heavily promote prohibition. But it is as a pioneer in early film production rather than through his films that Thomas Ince is remembered. Simple but effective ways of moving the crew and cast from one shooting to the next, now taken for granted, were first developed by Ince. Scripts for his silent films show meticulous detail to facial expression, lighting, film tinting, positioning—all eventually becoming commonplace. But perhaps Thomas Ince’s greatest historical contribution to Westerns is his development of William S. Hartinto the greatest cowboy star and director of the silent era.In November 1924 Thomas Ince died under mysterious circumstances while attending a party—along with Marion Davies, Charlie Chaplin, and other celebrities—aboard William Randolph Hearst’s yacht off the Southern California coast. When the yacht returned to dock, Ince’s body was removed, with heart failure resulting from severe indigestion being ruled as the official cause of death. Hollywood rumors, however, have persisted through the years to the effect that Ince was shot after making a pass at Davies or after arguing with Chaplin for making a pass at Davies.See also HISTORICAL AUTHENTICITY.
Historical Dictionary of Westerns in Cinema. Paul Varner. 2012.