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When Reverend Robert Henley and his sister Faith arrive in the town of Hell's Hinges, saloon owner Silk Miller and his cohorts sense danger to their evil ways. They hire gunman Blaze Tracy to run the minister out of town. But Blaze finds something in Faith Henley that turns him around, and soon Silk Miller and his compadres have Blaze to deal with. Written by
Jim Beaver <email@example.com>
The story is dead simple: a tough guy is redeemed by love and becomes a defender of good over evil. The fact that it is told just as simply as it's constructed gives it a lot of power, though. The saloon-owner and the tough hombre both want to keep law and religion out of town, for different reasons. The saloon keeper sees it as a threat to his trade. The cowboy sees it as a curtailment of personal freedom. One look at the new preacher's sister changes his life: is it her beauty or her purity that strikes him to the core? In W.S. Hart's cosmos, they are the same thing. Whereas most great westerns are about the control of land, about advancing through physical spaces (and that's why they're such excellent visual subject matter) this one is really about the control of spiritual territory. The physical town will be conquered by the church-group only if it conquers the spiritual realm.
William S. Hart, who had considerable experience as a stage actor, including the performance of a good deal of Shakespeare, clearly understood that in the movies, acting and personal presence were inseparable. His acting is incredibly restrained, and he lets the contours of his face speak volumes. He makes a few very stylized gestures, but mostly relies on his personal presence, which is considerable. He is much more animated early in the film, before his conversion. Once he is won over by the message of the church, he never cracks a smile, barely moves his face at all unless he's really angry.
The entire film is as straightforward and unvarnished as Hart himself. The town is a spare group of unpainted wood buildings in barren wasteland. The Villain wants to run things, and he'll do whatever it takes with no subtrefuge necessary. The saloon girls are blatantly prostitutes. The church-goers are women and older men; all the young men are hell-raisers. The hero's prayer is, in essence, "God, if you really answer prayers, then what I want is the girl." It all sounds incredibly corny, but it rings so true when you watch it, it's hard not to feel a thrill.
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