James W. Horne
|James Wesley Horne|
Who's Who in the Film World, 1914
December 14, 1881|
San Francisco, California
|Died||June 29, 1942
Los Angeles, California
|Cause of death||Stroke|
James Wesley Horne (December 14, 1881 – June 29, 1942) was an early American actor, screenwriter and film director. He 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.
During the silent-era Horne specialized in staging thrill scenes for features and serials. On the strength of Horne's work in The Cruise of the Jasper B, Buster Keaton hired him to direct his 1927 comedy College. From there he moved to the 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.
Horne also 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 left Roach in 1932 during an economic downturn that eliminated many jobs. He was hired by Universal Pictures where, for the next few years, he directed the studio's now-obscure two-reel comedies. When Universal suspended production, Horne worked briefly at Columbia Pictures and returned to Roach in 1935.
In 1937 Columbia, noting the popularity of serials, decided to enter the field. At first Columbia simply picked up the independent productions of the Weiss Brothers' "Adventure Serials" company, but by 1938 Columbia wanted to produce serials with its own actors, technicians, and facilities. Former serial specialist James Horne co-directed (with Ray Taylor) the first of Columbia's own serials, and it turned out to be one of the studio's best. The Spider's Web, starring Warren Hull as a masked crimefighter, was the most popular serial of 1938, surpassing 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.
This cemented Horne's position in Columbia's serial squad, and he directed cliffhangers exclusively (and without assistance) for the rest of his life. This job security seems to have prompted Horne to indulge his sense of humor, because most of his Columbia serials are tongue-in-cheek. Horne 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 ham it up with overly dramatic readings, and staging ridiculous fight scenes (the hero would take on six thugs simultaneously and win). Horne kept the action barely serious enough to satisfy action fans, and in fairness to Horne many of his cliffhanging perils are very effectively staged. But the overall tone of Horne's serials is mock-serious, with 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.