New Colonial Theatre, N.J. Click to enlarge.
William S. Hart was the big attraction for the week of July 28, 1924, at the New Colonial Theatre in Beach Haven, N.J. The teater was playing "Singer Jim McKee," which it billed as "a drama
alive with action." Little did anyone know it would contribute to the death of Hart's film career. It was, after all, "possibly [the] worst film the cowboy star ever made," according to biographer Ronald L. Davis (2003:180).
He wrote the scenario (story) himself. The plot was incoherent, Davis writes, and Hart was too old to woo a damsel 30 years younger believably. It would prove to be his penultimate picture.
Released March 3, 1924, with a New York premiere on March 23 (not sure how that worked), "Singer Jim McKee" would still have been in its first run in New Jersey in July. The New Colonial
Theatre was just two years old, having replaced an earlier, smaller Colonial Theatre in a different location when it opened its doors July 4, 1922.
"Singer Jim McKee" was on the ticket for Saturday night at the New Colonial (August 2, 1924). A different picture played every night, two showings each, Sundays dark. Earlier in the week,
audiences caught Buster Keaton in his first feature-length comedy, "Three Ages" (Metro Pictures 1923).
About "Singer Jim McKee."
From Koszarski (1980:131):
Produced by the William S. Hart Company; presented by Adolph Zukor and Jesse Lasky; distributed by Paramount; New York premiere March 23, 1924; released March 3, 1924; ©February 1, 1924; seven reels (7098 feet, later 6900 feet).
Directed by Clifford S. Smith; screenplay by J.G. Hawks from a story by William S. Hart; photographed by Dwight Warren and Arthur Reeves; edited by William Shea.
Print sources: LC; MoMA.
CAST: William S. Hart (Singer Jim McKee); Phyllis Haver (Mary Holden); Gordon Russell (Buck Holden); Edward Coxen (Hamlin Glass, Jr.); William Dyer (Hamlin Glass, Sr.); Bertholde Sprotte (Dan Gleason); Patsy Ruth Miller (Betty Gleason); George Siegmann ("Brute" Bernstein); Baby Turner (Mary, as a baby).
SYNOPSIS: High up in the mountains, "Singer Jim" and his pal Buck are disconsolate because their mine turns out to be worthless. In an old cabin they find the disguise of a notorious bandit, and in desperation to obtain money for his motherless daughter, Buck holds up a stage coach and Jim helps him. The posse trails them. Jim, with the baby, makes a getaway, but Buck is killed by the sheriff. Years later, the girl has grown to womanhood, but at a dance she is shamed by her clothes not being like the others. Jim again figures on taking a chance and robs a stage coach. Giving the money to the girl Mary, she goes to a bank and by the numbers of the bills the money is identified. The banker's son holds her and attempts to attack her. She phones for aid, and with the help of the sheriff Jim arrives in time, but he is caught, accused of the old murder of his pal by the bank president, who was the ex-sheriff, and is sent to prison. After serving his term, Jim, sore on humanity, goes back to the hills. Mary in the meantime learns the truth, and, realizing she loves Jim, goes into the hills and finds him. [Moving Picture World, April 12, 1924]
REVIEWS: Hart [is] a far better actor than author — his latest story [is] a sickly sentimental and soft affair that gives [the] star too much mushing and too little action. ... [This] may please his loyal following ... but those who want the fightin' Bill Hart of old won't think much of this kind of business. Singer Jim McKee, while it gives the star unlimited opportunities for heroics and acts of sacrifice, is overburdened with sentiment. Hart plays around with baby booties, caresses his partner after the latter knocks him down, fondles a parrot, a calf and what-not, besides any number of loving scenes. ... His saddle and horse are sadly neglected. Naturally there is a romantic ending with Bill marrying his adopted child, though according to the lapse in time, he must be much more than twice as old as she is. [Wid's, March 30, 1924]
A typical Bill Hart vehicle, giving our hero a chance to emote over his Pinto pony, to fight a mob single-handed and to prove to one woman that he is one of Nature's noblemen. This is not unlike the last Hart effort, Wild Bill Hickok, in spots. Reminiscent is the moment when Bill — clad in a white shirt — stands up before a firing crowd and manages to stay in one piece. [Photoplay, June 1924]
LW3458: pdf of original program book purchased 2018 by Leon Worden. Download individual pages here