|Index||5 reviews in total|
Prime early William S. Hart western. Although it lacks the elaborate and fantastic structure of Hart's HELL'S HINGES. the prints of this survive better. The story is nothing surprising to someone familiar with western films, but it is told with a simplicity and honesty that lift it far above ordinary Saturday Oater fare.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
William S. Hart was originally a classically trained stage actor (the S
in his name apparently stood for Shakespeare). He originated the role
of Messala in the 1899 production of "Ben Hur" but it was his role in
"The Squaw Man" (1905) that really clicked with audiences. He had
always loved the West and had never been happy when his family was
forced, for employment reasons, to live in the City. More Western plays
followed - "The Trail of the Lonesome Pine" (1913) etc. When he saw his
first movie western he was appalled and determined to make his movies
completely realistic. He created "the good bad man", usually playing
outlaws who are redeemed through the love of a good woman or a small
child - sometimes both!!!
From the ornate Western inspired titles to the authentic locations this is an excellent movie. "Silent" Bill Marr (William S. Hart) comes to the desert town of Bakeoven to file a claim on a gold mine he has just discovered. "Handsome" Jack Pressley (Robert McKim) runs the dance hall "Hello Thar" and plans to keep Marr busy for a few days while he registers the claim in his own name. He enlists the help of "Topaz" (Dorcas Matthews), his "secret" wife, who is the star attraction at the dance hall. Marr is innocently roped into a crooked card game and when he realises they are both cheating him, a fight erupts and Bill recuperates in the local hospital. When he gets out he finds that someone has staked his claim.
Meanwhile "Handsome" Jack is romancing Betty Bryce (Vola Vale, one of the great beauties of the day) at the nearby town of Chloride. Marr holds up the stage that he knows is bringing in gold from his stolen claim but it is also carrying Pressley and his new bride back to Bakeoven. Another scuffle occurs and this time Marr is the victor. He collects his gold and also kidnaps Betty, who at first doesn't believe his story. He now has a price on his head and when he is recognised in a local store, the towns folk, led by evil "Handsome" Jack hunt him down. The mad mob burn down the half built church of "Preaching" Bill Hardy because he will not tell the whereabouts of Bill. George Nichols was a top character actor of the time - he played another old "prospector" type in "Mickey" (1917). Bill is "held up" by Betty's brother, David (Harold Goodwin), who has heard about the reward and Bill helps out by letting himself be captured.
There are a few surprises and some people are not what they appear. If some of the acting and the titles appear florid and exaggerated, the locations and the costumes are very authentic and make you believe that you are looking at the West and how it really was at that time.
Silent Man, The (1917)
*** (out of 4)
'Silent' Budd Marr (William S. Hart) risks his life locating some gold in the desert but his pain finally pays off when he hits it rich. He goes into town where he ends up entering a poker game with a crooked man known as Handsome Jack Pressley (Robert McKim). Soon Budd is cheated out of his money and ends up on the run where he swears vengeance. This Western really turned out to be a pretty good gem and it contains pretty much everything I've come to expect from a Hart film. For starters, we have Hart playing the greatest guy in the world as he does nothing wrong and would stop at nothing to protect a lady. In this case that lady turns out to be played by Vola Vale who in the film is the woman of Pressley but of course she falls in love with Budd. Also on hand here is the overwhelming preaching of God, the good things in life and how one should live. Normally a lot of preaching in a film will make the viewer grow tired but Hart, the director, actually does a very good job at mixing all these moral lessons into the story and he keeps everything entertaining by throwing in some nice action scenes. There's one classic sequence that really stands out and that during the crooked poker game when all hell breaks loose. Hart directs this sequence very well and from here on out we really want to see his character get his revenge. Hart, the actor, turns in a fine performance playing this character perfectly. Vale is good as his love interest and McKim makes for a wonderful snake. Griffith regular George Nichols plays an elderly preacher and does fine work as well. All in all this is a nice little gem that deserves to be better known as all the elements mix well together and in the end this here is certainly worth checking out.
I admit that I have only seen "The Silent Man" through the window of "One Foot in Heaven" starring Fredric March, but like his character, Rev. Spence, I enjoyed it thoroughly. Good action, strong characters, and an excellent delineation between right and wrong, something obviously lacking in today's movie fare. The print is supposed to be in good condition; how nice it would be if TCM would schedule it to be shown on their silent movie nights.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Having moved with producer Thomas Ince to Paramount, William S. Hart
tried to expand his repertoire of storytelling, yet retain his formula,
as I outline in my Ince biography. THE SILENT MAN (1917), based on a
story by Charles Kenyon, was burdened by an overloaded narrative that
could not contain its many elements, resulting in a presentation that,
serial-style, abandons some plot threads in favor of new ones.
THE SILENT MAN begins with a series of intertitles typifying the most overblown of Hart's purple prose. "The region that God cursed and left unfinished: a vast mysterious sea of wind and sage." Shots of the desert follow. "Primordial desolation, a huge waste shunned by beast and bird, fostering only a poisonous life of a hiss and fang." There, we will meet the story's hero. "A trackless solitude braved only by the superman, combating the eternal dryness in search of gold." "Silent" Budd Marr arrives on the town of Bakeoven, where in the Hello Thar saloon this paragon of clean-living amidst the harshest of nature orders the simplest but most desirable condiment: water.
He meets a kindly stranger, "Grubstake" Higgins (J.P. Lockney). When Marr pays in gold dust, the avarice is aroused of the supposed-owner of the saloon, "Handsome Jack" Pressley (Robert McKim). The celebration of Marr and Higgins is interrupted by Topaz (Dorcas Mathews), who has dragged her down. Between sobs, she tells Marr that Pressley married her to make her into a dance girl. Marr is tricked into a card game in which he realizes too late that she is signaling to Pressley.
A fortnight later, Pressley is in nearby Chrloride, courting Betty Bryce (Vola Vale), and Marr is released from prison, only to find his claim taken by Pressley's partner. Robbing the first stage containing its proceeds, Marr discovers Pressley with his new wife, and abducts her. She refuses to believe ill of him, so Marr leaves her at the home of "Preachin" Bil Hardy (George Nichols) and his wife (Gertrude Claire). As a result, Pressley and his men burn the church, in a scene clearly echoing the previous year's HELL'S HINGES.
Realizing he can't avoid the stigma of crime, Marr allows Betty's little brother David (Harold Goodwin) to turn him in for the reward. But at the trial, Higgins reveals himself as a marshal who knows the truth about Pressley and Mitchell. When a lynching looms for the innocent, Higgins handily has troops at hand. It requires this deus ex machina to resolve the disjointed plot, tie up the many loose ends, and allow the right to triumph, so that Hardy may marry Betty to Marr. Routinely directed, Hart places his own presentation of his heroic character front and center, leaving surrounding plot sense behind amidst what are becoming ritualistic plot motifs.
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