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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Child stars were just as big business in the 'teens as they were in the
later decades - each company had their own set of talented youngsters.
Thelma Salter was called "Tom Ince's Wonder Child" and was one of the
top little players of the era, appearing opposite William S. Hart on a
few occasions. His leading lady was the forthright Dorothy Dalton. She
had just come to Hollywood and was determined only to work for Thomas
H. Ince who thought she was beautiful and gave her a tryout role in
"The Disciple". Anything Hart released at this time was guaranteed a
sure fire hit and Dorothy was given a meaty characterization as a
fickle wife and she was noticed favourably by the critics of the day.
Jim Houston (Hart) is the "Shootin' Iron Parson" who comes to lawless Barren Gulch to try to reform the town's people with the support of the local sheriff. Jim's wife Mary (Dalton) is made of weaker stuff and soon falls for the oily charm of "Doc" Hardy (Robert McKimm) the chief rabble rouser - "He went through doctorin' school, but doctorin' was poor and gamblin' better"!! As Jim builds his church, Mary finds she is ostracized by the town folk for being the wife of a "sky pilot" and that's when "Doc" steps in. He quickly convinces her to leave Jim and promising to marry her when her divorce comes through.
"I ain't a parson no more - God and me has split"!!, that's Jim's reaction when he realises Mary has gone. Hart subdued his acting as the years went on and he was more at home in the saddle. As "Shootin' Iron Parson" he throws underplaying to the winds and attacks the part with gusto, forever throwing his arms in the air, forgetting that while the stage called for grand gestures film work needed a different style. New York Dramatic Mirror called it "a strong stirring exposition of primitive human emotions" but Hart actually held up the action with his sweeping style.
Little Alice falls sick, partly fever, partly not knowing where her mother has gone. Mary finds her way to the cabin during a storm and while Alice is calmer a doctor is needed and, of course, the only one available is "Doc" Hardy who finds caring for the sick little girl very therapeutic.
Robert McKimm seemed to be part of William S. Hart's stock company of actors, always playing the villain. Unfortunately he died in 1927 of a cerebral hemorrhage while only 40.
God sends frontier parson and gunslinger William S. Hart (as Jim
Houston), his pretty wife Dorothy Dalton (as Mary), and their cute
little daughter Thelma Salter (as Alice) to the western town of "Barren
Gulch". Of course, Mr. Hart finds the town sinfully in need of his
services. He needn't have looked any further than his own back yard,
however; soon, Ms. Dalton decides to run off with the local sleaze,
Robert McKim (as "Doc" Hardy) after he is nice to her in the grocery
store. The Lord must have blinked when Mr. McKim winked.
Thomas H. Ince's "The Disciple" is inexplicable. Hart is an odd man of God, threatening a flock at gunpoint, "Are you going' to force me to preach to cripples?" Dalton's abandonment of her husband and young daughter is not very plausible, assuming Hart fathered the impossibly blonde curled girl. Dalton performs well, considering the weak material; and, perversely, her scenes with McKim look good. Although unseen, "God" is a character who becomes more and more involved in the plot, which makes it more silly than not.
** The Disciple (10/17/15) William S. Hart ~ William S. Hart, Dorothy Dalton, Robert McKim
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