Edith Hardy uses charity funds for Wall Street investments in hopes of buying some new gowns. She loses all the money and borrows from wealthy oriental Tori. When her husband gives her the amount she borrowed, Tori won't take it back, branding her shoulder with a Japanese sign of his ownership. She shoots him. Her husband takes the blame. In court Edith reveals all to an angry mob. Written by
Ed Stephan <email@example.com>
I think modern audiences tend to be too harsh on some of our earliest films.
We tend to forget that directors, actors, and others were in the process of creating a new art form. As a result, we should look at these films within their own parameters. And as an example of what directors were just learning to do, "The Cheat" is one of the best films of its year. People who rent or view films from this time period should realize that, almost without exception, dramas are going to be Victorian in their plots. They should also expect that the acting will be "acting" (couldn't italicize this word), broad pantomime, and histrionic.
Yes, "The Cheat" is melodramatically Victorian and most of the acting is broad, but it distinguishes itself with some innovation and some subtlety. (I'm assuming that DeMille's use of expressionistic lighting was innovative; he did, indeed, receive flak from the money-men for such techniques.) Here, we see DeMille uses silhouettes and low-key lighting not only to create mood but also to relay certain plot points. The subtlety comes to us from Sessue Hayakawa. His technique contrasts greatly with the other actors and as a result, he stands out. You can't take your eyes off of him. He's still most of the time and his acting could be called zen-acting, much like "the method," which became popular in the 50s. He exudes charisma as the villain, and you certainly see why he was the first Asian star of American films, or one of its first big stars of any background for that matter. (Have there been other Asian box office draws besides Jackie Chan?) I certainly became a fan after seeing this movie on TCM. I immediately ordered the DVD, which contains a fine print, and searched for other silent films he was in. The only one I've been able to find so far is "The Secret Game" from 1917. "The Tong Man" (1919) is supposed to be available, but I've yet to find anyone with it in stock.
In summary, this film is worth catching for Sessue Hayakawa.
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