Edward L. Cahn's career arc was a reflection of two vastly sides of filmmaking divided by 40 years. Starting as a production assistant in the teens, he became one of Hollywood's top editors, working on some of the most celebrated movies of the late '20s and early '30s; he then turned to directing and spent 30 years making his name as a specialist in B-pictures and shorts. He did his best work during the final decade of his life and he was never busier than during that final decade.
Born in Brooklyn, NY, in 1898, Edward L. Cahn attended U.C.L.A. and entered the movie business in 1917 as an assistant director and editor, working for the celebrated actress Alla Nazimova in her capacity as a producer. He joined the editing department at Universal Pictures in the early '20s and by 1926 was the studio's top cutter. Among the highlights of his career in the cutting room, Cahn was the man charged with the last-minute re-editing of Lewis Milestone's All Quiet on the Western Front, Universal's most prestigious release of 1930; working on a train racing from California to New York, he had to excise the footage of Zazu Pitts as the mother of the hero and replace it with footage of Beryl Mercer in the same role, all in time for the scheduled opening of the film upon his arrival. By 1931, Cahn had moved up to the director's chair, and the following year he made the best A-feature of his career, Law and Order, a retelling of the gunfight at the OK Corral, starring Walter Huston and based on a script co-authored by John Huston. Cahn left Universal in 1932 and made the rounds of most of the major Hollywood studios over the next 20 years. He lingered longest at MGM, working in their short subject department for a decade and directing many of the later Our Gang comedies as well as entries in the Crime Does Not Pay and Pete Smith Specialty film series, and several patriotic shorts released during the war.