The Museum of Modern Art in New York is in the middle of the second part of their essential series of films made by the Fox Film Corporation between 1920 and 1933. Born in Hungary in 1879 but raised in New York, William Fox (born Wilhelm Fuchs) bought his first Nickelodeon in 1904 and spent ten years as an exhibitor and distributor before setting up the Fox Film Corporation production company in 1915 in Fort Lee, New Jersey. The studio eventually moved to Hollywood and for twenty years—before merging with Twentieth Century Pictures to form 20th Century Fox in 1935—was, as MoMA says, “home to the most dazzling lineup of directorial talent in the studio era. As silent film transitioned into sound, Fox’s roster of directors included Frank Borzage, Allan Dwan, John Ford, Howard Hawks, William K. Howard, Henry King, William Cameron Menzies, F. W. Murnau, Alfred Santell, Raoul Walsh, and many others.” This second part of the series (the first ran over three weeks last summer) includes nine films by Ford, five by Walsh and two by Borzage.
As MoMA curator Dave Kehr pointed out to me, Fox always used the director’s name to index their still photos, so a still from Street Angel would be marked BOR-8 (for Borzage's eighth film at Fox), followed by the number of the still. The Black Watch is FORD-27 (for his 27th film at Fox) and so on. As Kehr says, “I believe this is unique to Fox Film and reflects the importance that the studio placed on directors.”
That any of these films survive at all is a miracle because a 1937 vault fire at Fox’s New Jersey storage facility destroyed all of their negatives and most of the positive prints. (Luckily the Los Angeles studio had many nitrate work prints and reference copies which the Museum of Modern Art has rescued and restored over the years). I always find it even more remarkable that the even more ephemeral publicity material for these early films have survived. I’ve managed to find posters or other memorabilia for almost all of the films in the current series, which are presented below in chronological order. Hopefully these will further whet your appetite to see these extraordinary films.
William Fox Presents More Restorations and Rediscoveries from the Fox Film Corporation runs through March 26.
Posters courtesy of Heritage Auctions, IMDb and various other sources.