Algie the Miner
R: Edward Warren. D: Billy Quirk, Mary Foy. Supervision: Alice Guy. P: Solax Film Co. USA 1912
“A gay-themed Western seems as though it could only be a 21st-century creation. But 93 years prior to Brokeback Mountain (2005), a gay cowboy named Algernon Allmore was already pioneering that cultural frontier in Alice Guy-Blache’s comedy short Algie, the Miner (1912). Algernon (Billy Quirk) is an effete city boy who is required to go West and develop some virility before he can have the hand of his girlfriend in marriage. Technically, he is not a homosexual. This was 1912 and, even in the most forward-thinking film, some sexual orientations dared not speak their names. Instead, Algie’s character is defined as gay through certain visual indicators of behavior and dress: his tendency to give cowboys kisses on the lips rather than slaps on the back, his bright and flamboyant Western wear, and a penchant for lace hankies and lip rouge.
In one of the film’s more inventive uses of visual metaphor, Algie’s masculinity is represented by the size of his firearm. When he first arrives out West, he packs a dainty silver pistol, but as he becomes acclimated to the rugged terrain, he begins packing a more butch six-shooter. While Algie acquires the manliness required by his future father-in-law, a secondary character emerges as an unexpectedly compelling figure: Algie’s bunkmate Big Jim. When Algie tearfully nurses Jim through a terrible case of the d.t.’s, we detect some depth in their camaraderie. After Algie valiantly saves Jim from armed bandits, the burly prospector forms a curious attachment to the transplanted Easterner. And when Algie announces his departure from the West, to return to his bride, Big Jim assumes a posture of childlike sadness. It appears that Jim, not Algie, is the more romantically inclined. That a film could develop a relationship so complex, poignant and utterly unconventional in a scant ten minutes is a testament to the talents of director Alice Guy-Blache.”
Bret Wood (TCM)
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