Better Man (1912)
Once again, we have an interesting exploration of ethnic and gender tropes in an early Western, this time from Vitagraph who were seen as the major competition for Biograph in turning out drama at the time. Here, a Mexican horse thief (played by Robert Thornby, who went on to direct “The Deadlier Sex” and “Bianca”) proves to be “the better man” than a white husband and father who gambles away his pay at a bar while his young child lies sick at home. The thief enters the home looking for food, but the wife implored him to find a doctor, and, his heart moved by the icon of Maria on the wall, the wanted Latino criminal agrees, though it exposes him to possible capture. The father attempts to apprehend him, is bested in a fair fight, and tries again to get the drop on the Mexican while the doctor ministers to the child, resulting in a thorough shaming by his own wife. Although it may seem a surprising turn of events, the story is in line with other progressive “message pictures” of the day which blamed much of the world’s misery on unmanly men for failing to live up to their gender role as providers and protectors of women and children.
Director: Rollin S. Sturges
Cast: Anne Schaefer, Robert Thornby
Run Time: 12 Min
You can watch it for free: here (no music).