Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: Westerns

His Bitter Pill (1916)

This Western spoof from Keystone has some funny parts, but much of it is played surprisingly straight, or at least low-key, by the standards of the studio. It stars Mack Swain, who had been, and would again be, a “heavy” in Charlie Chaplin comedies, but had a number of starring roles himself.

Swain plays “Big-Hearted Jim,” the sheriff of a Western county. He lives with his mother (Ella Haines), and hankers after Nell, the girl next door (Louella Maxam). While he tries to chat her up, a local ne’er-do-well called Diamond Dan (Edgar Kennedy) gets one of his cronies to “start some legal trouble” so he can horn in. The crony goes into the bar and starts shooting at the ceiling, which causes Big Jim to come crashing in and beat up everyone in the place. He makes no arrests, just leaving the unfortunate rowdies lying on the floor, then he returns to find Nell talking to Dan. He pulls her away, but soon he has to go see about a local widow being evicted from her place. He pays her rent for her, but once again Diamond Dan is on the spot. Jim walks Nell home, and goes back to his mother. She convinces him to ask Nell to marry him, giving him her ring for the proposal. But, by the time he gets there, Dan has already given her a bigger ring! Nell reluctantly tells him she’s always loved him…”as a brother.” He goes home and weeps piteously into his mother’s arms.

While he’s letting out his sorrow, Dan and his pals decide to hold up a stagecoach. As a result of unfortunate planning, they do so in full view of Jim’s house, and he pulls out a pocket telescope and figures out what’s going on. He leaps from his window onto a waiting horse, then charges into action. The bandits scatter, but Jim is able to shoot their moving horses at considerable distance. His mom meanwhile rouses a posse. He pursues Dan, after de-horsing him, back to Nell’s place. But, Dan tells Nell that Jim is just jealous, so she agrees to hide him in the chimney. There’s a funny sequence in which Jim suspects where Dan is, and he deliberately starts a fire in the fireplace to smoke him out, but Dan leaves his boots behind and climbs on the rooftop. Finally, Jim finds Dan and Nell pleads with him to spare his life. Jim gives Dan his horse, then goes to find the posse. Dan sneaks back to the house and “lures” Nell into running away with him to a “back room in a hell hole” which just looks like any saloon. He tries to get her to drink whiskey, but she refuses. Jim, who is having a drink in the outer bar, overhears the commotion and bursts in, once again fighting every ruffian in the place to save her. Jim pretty much trashes the place, but Dan is able to abduct Nell and ride off again, so there’s another chase. Finally, Dan is caught by the posse and Nell tells Jim she loves him, while we see the posse preparing to lynch Dan. The end.

This spoof probably held up better at a time when making fun of silent Westerns was a more original idea. Mack Swain is very hammy, and particularly when he’s grieving for Nell’s loss he goes way over the top, but to some degree that’s what a modern audience is expecting, so it can be hard to remember that it’s deliberate. Edgar Kennedy literally twirls his mustaches as the evil Diamond Dan, but again that’s pretty much par for the course. Sometimes it’s hard to make fun of something that’s already self-parodying. The physical comedy sections are played up in fast-motion, which does make them entertaining, but they don’t seem as extreme as other Keystones, and the whole thing lacks the refined chaos I expect from Mack Sennett (who produced, but didn’t direct in this case). It’s mostly Swain’s innocent sympathy that makes this movie work, and that at least is something.

Director: Fred Fishback

Camera: J.R. Lockwood

Cast: Mack Swain, Louella Maxam, Edgar Kennedy, Ella Haines

Run Time: 20 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

Shark Monroe (1918)

This rare William S. Hart feature was shown at Cinecon in 2017. He plays pretty much his usual Western anti-hero character, but transported in this case to the wilds of Alaska.

Shark Monroe (Hart), owner of a sealing vessel, agrees to take Marjorie Hilton (Katherine MacDonald) and her brother Webster (George A. McDaniel) to Skagway, provided Webster works his own passage. Webster is a drunk whom Monroe hopes to reform, but his sister sees Monroe as a bully who pushes Webster too hard. Monroe, of course, falls for her in a big way. Bert Sprotte is the typical grizzled bro-mantic sidekick with a soft heart, called “Onion” McNab. Marjorie falls into the power of Big Baxter (Joseph Singleton), a notorious character of the Alaskan coast (the intertitles tell us he is responsible for the ruin of half the women in Alaska), and agrees to marry him. Shark appears and, while his men hold the wedding party at gunpoint, marries and runs off with Marjorie. At the end of two weeks he agrees to safely return her to Baxter’s camp, revealing that the preacher who “married” them was actually a fake. Webster and Baxter arrive, however, and to restore the young man confidence Shark allows Webster to beat him in a fist fight. Later, after overhearing Baxter lie about him, Shark kills Baxter with one blow, and Marjorie finally realizes that her heart has been his all along.

According to the introduction given at Cinecon, this movie was set in Alaska because the studio could no longer find enough men to do stunt-riding during the war (all of them had enlisted), and so a story was needed that wouldn’t require any horses. There are some good dog-sleigh scenes. A number of silent films have kidnappings that turn into romances, often with some implication that the girl “learns what’s good for her” because of the man’s caveman tactics, but in this case it is played somewhat more realistically. Marjorie resents Shark for what he does and refuses even to speak to him, and only comes around after being released unharmed (and, it appears from the script, un-raped). In this case it seems more that Hart’s character uses the only tactics he can understand, only to realize when they didn’t work that he needs to prove himself in another way. Otherwise, the romance is very similar to what we saw in “The Return of Draw Egan,” with Hart pining for the girl and her horrified at his lack of civilized manners, complicated by his “tough love” approach to her brother.

Director: William S. Hart

Camera: Joseph H. August

Starring: William S. Hart, Katherine MacDonald, Joseph Singleton, George A. MacDaniel, Bert Sprotte

Run Time: 50 Min

I have been unable to find this movie on the Internet for free. If you do, please comment.

The Indian Land Grab (1910)

This short film from the Champion studio in Fort Lee, New Jersey, was screened at the Cinecon film festival this year, so I was able to see it only once. It takes a sympathetic approach to Native American issues and even violates later standards about portraying inter-racial relationships.

The movie begins by telling us through forward-facing Intertitles that the “young chief” is being sent to Washington (D.C.) to plead the case of the tribe to congress. Each scene in the movie consists of a single shot, and each shot is preceded by an Intertitle which predicts all of the action that follows. A group of Senators and lobbyists plot against the Indians, to pass a “land grab” bill, and one Senator asks his daughter to “distract” the chief while he is in town, and she does her best to attract his eye. He gives a speech before a group of white men in chambers, however when it comes time to give the critical speech before the vote, she insists that he dance with her at a ball. He rushes in too late to speak before the vote and accuses the Senator of “theft and prostitution.” When he returns to his tribe, they strip him of his war bonnet and prepare to kill him with tomahawks, but at the last moment the daughter emerges from the forest with a letter from the President, promising to let them keep their land “for all eternity.” The daughter now tells the chief that she loves him and wishes to stay with his people. They kiss.

Although the movie attempts to give a more balanced view than many of the time, it still comes across as very simplistic in its portrayal of both people and situations, and is very old-fashioned in its approach to storytelling. By 1910, it was not unusual to see more of the story told through visuals, or at least to have the Intertitles act as adjuncts, rather than narrators, to the action on screen. The Indians are consistently in full war-dress, although these costumes are the only elaborate props in the movie and the sets are minimal. I think we see four or five different sets, and a lot of the action takes place in a sparse hallway outside of the chambers of Congress. I’m not the only one to be surprised by the ending – according to the liner notes from Cinecon, reviewers at the time referred to the kiss as “offensive” or “repugnant.”

Director: Unknown, possibly Mark M. Dintenfass

Camera: Unknown

Cast: Unknown

Run Time: 11 Min

This rare film is not available on the Internet at this time. Please let me know if you see it online or in a home video format.

The Outlaw and the Child (1911)

This early Western from Essanay shows that Gilbert M. “Broncho Billy” Anderson’s characters weren’t always unambiguous heroes and also gives us a glimpse of work the Chicago-based company was doing in California even before opening a permanent studio in Niles.

 

Broncho Billy plays the outlaw, and as the movie opens we see him being secured in his cell by the sheriff (Arthur Mackley), arrested for we know not what crimes and awaiting trial. The sheriff heads home to see his five-year old daughter, assuring that we get to see both of the title characters in the first few minutes of the film. She does a cute bit of searching her father until she finds a bag of candy hidden under his hat. Then the sheriff puts her to bed and gets ready to sleep himself. Meanwhile, a confederate has brought Broncho Billy a file so that he can cut through the bars of his cell. He is able to do this in remarkably little screen time, and steals a saddle and horse in order to get out of town. The deputy (Harry Todd) discovers his absence and raises a posse, heading over to the sheriff’s house to rouse him and get him to lead the search. The sheriff leaves his small child alone, and when she wakes, she finds him absent and so goes out to look for him, soon blundering into the desert with her doll. The search is unsuccessful and the sheriff returns home, only to begin a new search for his missing daughter.

 

Meanwhile, the outlaw has made his way into the dessert with a full canteen, but he comes across the prostrate figure of the child. He rushes to her side and revives her with his supply of water, but while he is doing this, his horse wanders off. Now, he must carry the child back to civilization, sacrificing all his water to keep her alive. He brings her right to the door of the sheriff’s house, where the sheriff and his posse all witness his heroism before he expires.

This simple plot works well for a one-reel Western, although there is little subtlety of character or drama. We have to accept that a seasoned outlaw doesn’t know how to keep his horse under control for a couple of minutes while he attends to another concern, and also that the sheriff hasn’t been able to teach his daughter to stay put at night (I assume it’s night, because they were asleep, though the whole movie was clearly shot in broad daylight), but these are pretty minor concessions compared to the enormous coincidences audiences expected in melodrama at the time. I rather expected when the father left the girl alone that Billy would wind up taking her hostage and then having a change of heart, but this story emphasizes his redemption over his crimes. The locations, which were in Los Gatos and Redlands, California, work well for the piece, especially the desert scenes, where I found myself thinking how vast the openness looked behind our actors, while a film crew and safety lay only a few feet away. The filming and editing are pretty standard for 1911, with pretty much all scenes sequential and shot in long shot, so that we can see actors’ entire bodies as they move about the screen. A simple piece of Americana from another era.

Director: G.M. “Broncho Billy” Anderson

Camera: Unknown

Starring: G.M. “Broncho Billy” Anderson, Arthur Mackley, Harry Todd, William A. Russell

Run Time: 15 Min

I have not been able to find this movie available for free on the Internet. If you do, please comment below.

Wild and Woolly (1917)

Douglas Fairbanks is back with a parody of the Western genre that takes full advantage of his good-natured American good looks and propensity for athleticism. By this point, the Fairbanks comedy “brand” was clearly established and he was milking it for all it was worth.

wild_and_woolly

Doug stars as Jeff Hillington, the spoiled son of a railroad magnate with an obsession for the Old West. We first meet Jeff having a breakfast of beans at a campfire in front of a tent, decked out in complete “Western”-style clothing, reading an Old West adventure novel. As the camera pulls back, we realize that this cozy scene takes place in his Manhattan apartment: He has set up the campfire and tent in his bedroom. He also does some target practice in his room, which prompts his father to send the butler up to remind him to get ready for the office. Doug is really rough on the old guy, roping him with a lasso, making him watch his trick shots from dangerously close to the line of fire, and finally jumping on his back and “busting” him like a bronco.

wild-and-woolly

Doug goes in to work for his father, but doesn’t get much done because he’s too busy fantasizing about the West. He goes to a Nickelodeon to watch the latest Western movie, and tells a passing woman that “his mate” will have to be just like the girl in the poster. Meanwhile, dad is meeting with a delegation from the town of Bitter Spurs, Arizona, where a prosperous mining facility needs a new spur line added to facilitate transportation of the ore. Hillington Senior likes the idea in theory, but decides to send Jeff to look at the situation at first-hand. He also hopes that a trip to the real West will cure him of his obsession. Jeff thinks this is the most exciting idea he’s heard, and insists on calling all the delegates “pard” and commiserating with them that they have to wear “store clothes” when they visit New York.

wild-and-woolly2

This gives the city fathers of Bitter Creek an idea: They’ll impress this young fool by putting on a Wild West show just for him and pretending that nothing has changed since the 1870s. They cover up all their nicely-printed signs with handwritten boards (the “S” is always backwards) and turn the city assessor’s office into a Western Saloon. They get everyone to dress up like cowboys and plan out a dance, some rowdies for Jeff to confront, and a holdup for the climax. Meanwhile, the local Indian Agent (Sam De Grasse) has been skimming off the government assistance intended for a nearby reservation, and he learns that he will soon be exposed. So, along with his sidekick, he plans a real train robbery, using the Wild West show as a distraction, and plans for some of “his” Indians come into town to simulate an “uprising.”

wild-and-woolly4

Jeff rides into town decked out like a true Urban Cowboy and immediately confronts a man harassing the one available single girl in town (Eileen Percy). The mining men realize that they need to get his guns away from him and put fake bullets in them, because he’s too eager to use them. They manage to do this while he’s washing his face in a basin in the hotel. Everything goes well, with Jeff consistently acting out the clichés of his fantasy, and the townsfolk laughing their heads off behind his back. They convince him that they need the spur in order to put Wild Bill and his Dirty Ditch outfit out of business. Jeff insists on walking the girl everywhere she goes for her own safety.

Alley-oop!

Alley-oop!

Then, the robbery takes place. Sam De Grasse shoots the conductor after he has indicated which strongbox has the real money in it, and takes it. The Indians pour into town and take over the bar, drinking excessively and demonstrating that their guns, at least, have real bullets. Much of the town’s leading citizens are held at bay, and in a nearby room is a collection of infants, brought in by the wives because they had to attend the dance. Jeff discovers that his bullets have been replaced when he tries to save the day, and the city fathers come clean. He leaps up to the ceiling, kicks a hole through so he can climb into his own room, and secures the boxes of ammunition he had packed for his vacation. Now armed, he and the townsmen are able to re-take the bar. Meanwhile, the Indian Agent’s henchman had kidnapped Eileen and taken her out to the range. Jeff jumps on a horse from behind and rushes off to save her. The townsmen also get on horses and herd the Indians like cattle. Jeff saves the girl, and sheepishly admits that all the trouble was his fault for being such a goof about the West. Then he rides off on the next train while Eileen sheds a tear.

wild-and-woolly7

Then an Intertitle tells us that a Western must end with a wedding, so of course the two principles are married. But where should they live? Eileen wants to live n New York and Jeff in Arizona. The final shot is a sort of reversal of our introduction to Jeff: we see the finely-appointed foyer of a mansion, with liveried servants waiting to serve. Jeff and Eileen come down the stairs together and kiss, then they open the doors onto the rough desert terrain, and a group of rowdies on horseback greets them as Jeff mounts his horse to ride the range.

Ouch.

Ouch.

This movie captures a lot of the fun of Douglas Fairbanks in a simple package. It also reminds me of the kind of thing Harold Lloyd would later do: the good-natured nebbish who doesn’t quite live in reality, but makes good and gets the girl in the end. I think it’s actually a bit funnier when skinny Lloyd does this than buff Fairbanks, but Fairbanks did it first. This movie definitely has its funny moments. I particularly enjoy the early sequences in New York with the butler, but Jeff’s efforts to “fit in” to the Western town are also quite good. That said, I wouldn’t call it perfect. In terms of comedy, a lot of the humor is dependent upon funny Intertitles, which I find distracts from the visual action. Most silent movies tried to minimize the use of titles and show as much as possible visually, but, perhaps because they wanted to preserve the witty writing of Anita Loos, they overdid it a bit here. The other “not funny” part of this movie is the stereotypical portrayal of Native Americans. This is mostly a problem in about the last ten minutes of the movie, but it gets really bad when they take over the bar and drink heavily, threatening the white citizenry and their babies. According to Wikipedia, these scenes were frequently censored even at the time.

Welcome to New J-I mean Arizona!

Welcome to New J-I mean Arizona!

It’s interesting to note that this movie was actually shot in Fort Lee, New Jersey, which was still a major filmmaking center in 1917. This would have made the New York scenes easier. In fact, there’s one scene of Jeff riding his horse in Central Park South that couldn’t have been shot anywhere else. But, it must have made the Western town and countryside a bit of a challenge. We don’t get any sweeping panoramas of the desert, but those weren’t common at the time even in Hollywood films, partly because of the limitations of cameras and film stock. The town itself is quite good, and we do get some impressive long shots to establish it that work well.

wild-and-woolly1

The real point of the movie is that it parodies the clichés of an established genre, especially the style of Western favored by Broncho Billy Anderson and other kid-friendly fare. Loos and Fairbanks obviously saw that these tropes were ripe for satire, and they went at it with both barrels. This movie is important historically for what it tells us about the development of that genre.

Director: John Emerson

Camera: Victor Fleming

Writer: Anita Loos

Starring: Douglas Fairbanks, Eileen Percy, Sam De Grasse, Joseph Singleton, Charles Stevens, Tom Wilson

Run Time: 1 hr, 12 min

You can watch it (no music) for free: here. It can also be rented for download (with music) from Flicker Alley on Vimeo.

The Return of Draw Egan (1916)

William S. Hart returns to the screen with familiar Western tropes done in a mature and morally sophisticated manner. While not as unrelentingly dark as “Hell’s Hinges,” this movie confirms that early silent audiences already knew that cowboys weren’t just kiddie fare.

return_of_draw_eganAs the movie begins, Hart is introduced as the title character, a wanted criminal with a price on his head. He has a sizeable gang of desperados with him, but he decides that the heat is too much and they should split up and “shift for themselves.” One member of the disbanding gang is Arizona Joe (Robert McKim), who “has a yellow streak a mile wide,” but hides it with bluster and bravado. Before they can go their separate ways, however, the posse catches up to them and chases them to an abandoned mountain shack they use as a hideout. There’s a pitched gun-battle, but several of the gunmen escape through a tunnel underneath the shack to a place where they’ve stashed horses. Arizona Joe is too timid to try this, and tries to sneak past the lawmen, but he’s captured on the way out.

return-of-draw-egan Read the rest of this entry »

The Spoilers (1914)

This is another movie I saw at the Cinecon Film Festival in Hollywood. They did us the special favor of showing both this and the 1930 version with Gary Cooper. I took notes to keep them straight, but Coop’s voice was still in my head whenever I read William Farnum’s subtitles.

spoilers_1914_film-posterThe story of “The Spoilers” is the now-hackneyed Western theme of the man-who-lays-down-his-guns-for-the-love-of-a-woman story, which maybe was fresher in 1914. The major twist is that instead of being set in the Southwest in the nineteenth century, it’s in Alaska during the 1898 Gold Rush, which makes it much more topical for an audience who had read about it in the papers just a few years earlier. This version starts with our hero, Roy Glenister (Farnum) breaking up with his girl Cherry Malotte (played by Kathlyn Williams), the classic prostitute-with-a-heart-of-gold – actually she deals cards for a living, but close enough. We then see the “plot to spoil Alaska” being planned in Washington, D.C. by Alex McNamara (Thomas Santschi) as various folks sign documents and shake hands beneath portraits of Abraham Lincoln and George Washington. In connection with the plot, Judge Stillman sends his niece Helen Chester (Bessie Eyton) to Nome with important documents. She meets up with Glenister while trying to escape from the S.S. Ohio, which has been condemned for smallpox. Glenister and his buddy Dextry (Frank Clark) beat up the pursuing sailors so she can climb aboard the Santa Maria. They hide her out in their cabin while they sleep outside, and it’s clear that Helen and Glenister are sweet on each other, but she disapproves of his wild, rough-house ways. Read the rest of this entry »

White Fawn’s Devotion (1910)

This, I believe, is the first movie I’ve reviewed by James Young Deer, a Native American director who mostly made movies about Native Americans for white audiences (at white-owned film studios). This is a short movie, based on the themes of “The Squaw Man,” but told from the Indian girl’s perspective, utilizing fairly basic editing techniques and a central chase sequence to heighten tension.

White Fawns DevotionThe movie begins with a white settler receiving a telegram informing him of his inheritance. He has to go to some unspecified place to receive it (the ancestral home, I suppose), but he’s very happy to hear it and runs home to tell his family. Said family consists of a small child and a Native wife. When he tells them of his good fortune, the child seems happy for her father, but the wife looks uncertain. Finally, when he gestures about his coming departure, she objects. They argue, apparently the wife is concerned that he plans to go for good, abandoning her (and the child? It’s never clear what her intended fate is). No matter how he tries to reassure her, she will not be consoled. Finally, the father sends the child away, not wanting her to hear the dispute, which escalates until the father goes into the house to pack his belongings. He has left his knife on the table, however, and his wife grabs it and plunges it into her heart. He comes out and finds her, pulling out the knife just as the child returns, making him look like the murderer!

In a panic, the child runs to the neighboring Indian tribe and speaks to a Native elder. When he hears her story, he demands justice for the wife, and sends out the warriors to hunt the white man down. He figures out what is happening and runs for it, grabbing a horse and making tracks as fast as possible. Unfortunately, he is cornered at a cliff and has to climb down, leaving the horse behind. He winds up in the river, fighting the current and losing, ending up passed out on the shore. His pursuer finds him, binds him, and returns him to the tribe, where the elder tells the daughter to kill him, giving her a large dagger. She balks, and the warriors begin a dance. Just as it seems that the elder will take his tomahawk and do the deed himself, White Fawn suddenly arrives, apparently uninjured, and interposes herself. She, evidently, explains the situation and the white man is freed. The family gathers together and the elder signals them to leave.

White Fawns Devotion1According to the notes that came with the DVD, there’s a missing scene at the end where the father renounces his inheritance and stays with his family, making this the one version of “The Squaw Man” with a truly happy ending. I guess. It seemed to me as if he could go attend the will reading or whatever and then get his money and come back to the homestead easily enough. This version didn’t make it clear what all the fuss was about. In “The Squaw Man” it’s made very obvious that his marrying a non-white is unacceptable, and there’s even some question as to the child. Apparently, Young Deer later made a gender-reversed version in which a white woman was married to a Native American, which Moving Picture World found “disgusting.” There’s also some dispute about the female lead: the “Treasures” disc and the imdb attribute Lilian St. Cyr (aka “Princess Red Wing”) as the actress, but Wikipedia says it doesn’t look like her. I’m inclined to agree, but it’s hard to tell from the distance of the shots and the quality of the available prints (and my own uncertainty regarding the still images Ive seen of her).

In this movie, the focus is really on the chase, which is handled competently, but not especially innovatively. Action tends to cut from the pursued back to the pursuer just as the latter reaches the place the former just left. There’s a bit of more sophisticated inter-cutting for the scene at the cliff, where the warrior cuts the rope that the white man is climbing down on, but it’s pretty standard for 1910. There are no close-ups or camera movement, and pretty much the whole movie is done in wide shot. Young Deer made this fairly early in his contract with Pathé Freres, which hired him because American critics were making fun of their phony Westerns, and it was felt that he would bring added authenticity to the new American unit.

Director: James Young Deer

Camera: Unknown

Cast: Uncertain (see above)

Run Time: 11 Min

You can watch it for free: here (no music) or here (with music).

Hell’s Hinges (1916)

Hell's_HingesI’ve been looking forward to seeing a Western starring William S. Hart for some time now, and today I got my chance, with this famous entry from 100 years ago. Hart is famous for being the “darker” “anti-hero” alternative to Gilbert M. “Broncho Billy” Anderson, but does this movie stand up to the hype?

The story begins by introducing us to Clara Williams and Jack Standing, who are brother and sister. Jack has been trained for the clergy at the instigation of “a devout and love-blinded mother,” although he is unsuited for the job. His sister, it seems, is made of sterner stuff, but, of course, she’s a girl so never mind. The church fathers decide that Jack could never stand up to “the trials and temptations” of a city parish, so they decide to send him to the countryside. Jack, with visions of worshipful señoritas dancing in his head, agrees to go and sister offers to come along to help him get established. Unfortunately, the town they send him to, Placer Center, is a wild frontier town, with just a small contingent of church-goers, derisively known as the “Pettycoat Brigade.” Most of the town spends its time drinking, gambling, whoring, brawling, and especially shooting at each other. You’d think the population would rapidly diminish. Read the rest of this entry »

Naked Hands (1916)

Alternate Title:Humanity

This movie apparently took several years to get to the screen and may not exist in complete form today, although at half an hour long, I find it one of the most developed of the movies Gilbert M. “Broncho Billy” Anderson made in his career as a Western star. As with “Broncho Billy’s Sentence,” the story is written to allow Billy to display the full range of human emotions, but the longer run time makes this appear more natural and convincing.

Naked HandsThe movie opens on Ruth Saville, who plays Billy’s wife. We are told she is an “Eastern flower” transplanted to an environment that doesn’t agree with her. We see the her framed against the empty rolling hills of Western California, and understand that she needs more company than the wilderness provides. Her old school chum (Rodney Hildebrand) is out for a visit, however. When Billy arrives home to find them talking together, Rodney suggests that he go out and look for gold on his property – he represents an Eastern mining concern that can make him rich. Billy goes out while Rodney continues to pressure Ruth to come back East with him, and he spends days scrabbling at rocks with no success. Finally, he does strike gold and rushes into town to buy finery and things Ruth would like in their shed, but it’s too late – Ruth has left with Rodney. Billy refuses to take revenge, and in a state of deep shock, he sets fire to the shed and all of his possessions. With his house burning in the background, he bids the adulterous couple go on their way – condemning them to each other’s weakness.

Naked Hands1The mine, however, continues to be prosperous, and with nothing else in his life, Billy proceeds to get rich on it. In the meantime, Rodney has set Ruth up in the city as his mistress – he has a wife already and never had any intention of giving her anything but money for her affection. With nowhere else to turn, Ruth accepts it, but she’s no happier here than she was in the West. Billy is now living with servants and a mansion – but he still allows his dog to jump up on the desk. As a new wealthy man in town he is invited to a dinner party with other men of wealth. Of course, when he arrives, the house turns out to be Rodney’s, and he refuses to dine with a lowdown snake. Rodney tries to save face with his chums by bragging about stealing Billy’s girl, which sets him off: “if you ever speak disrespectfully of her or any harm comes to her – I’ll finish you with my naked hands!” Ruth as we know is suffering from her mistake, and she finally decides to kill herself, first writing a note asking Billy to come to her. She ends up in the hospital, and Billy does come, arriving in time to be the last thing she sees on Earth. They play a touching scene at her deathbed, surrounded by doctors and nurses, and of course Billy forgives her. She dies as he kisses her.

Naked Hands2Now Billy is overcome with the desire for revenge, and to make his threat come true. He goes at once to the home of Rodney, where a butler in terrible blackface lets him in and shows him to his master. Billy and Rodney fight, Rodney tries to get a gun, then tries to run, and finally starts throwing anything he can get his hands on to try to stop Billy, smashing up his own house in the process. The fight is prolonged, and intercut with Rodney’s wife and butler trying to break down the door to get in, finally, they do and a tiny child runs in as Billy closes his hands on the throat of his nemesis: “Please don’t hurt my daddy.” Billy suddenly becomes aware of what he is doing and backs off in horror, while the family tries to revive Rodney. Billy collects his hat and coat and leaves them in the shambles of the living room.

Naked Hands3Again, I think it is Anderson’s acting that carries this movie, although compared with the shorts I’ve reviewed up to now, it is well-shot and edited, and we do get somewhat more interesting performances from the supporting cast, especially Rodney Hildebrand. I also liked how the visuals contrasted the openness of the West with the closed and sometimes claustrophobic spaces of the East. While the West is empty and spacious, the “city” is crowded with things and people. There are minimal close-ups, so Anderson must show his feelings in a big way that sometimes seems to overwhelm the moment. When he backs off from fighting Rodney at the end, for example, his stunned look and frozen body language seems to drag out the situation rather than resolve it, although we do understand how horrified he is by his own actions. That fight includes probably the best stunts I’ve seen in any Broncho Billy movie, perhaps he’d taken advantage of over a year of having Charlie Chaplin as an employee to pick up a few tricks. In some ways, this was probably the masterpiece of his career, and it does deserve a look by any fan of silent Westerns. On the other hand, I wouldn’t put it in the same category with the best work being done by DeMille, Chaplin, and others in Hollywood by this time, and it may be that Broncho Billy’s day ended about when it needed to so that others could advance the art past his level.

Director: Gilbert M. “Broncho Billy” Anderson

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Gilbert M. “Broncho Billy” Anderson, Ruth Saville, Rodney Hildebrand, Harry Todd, Lee Willard

Run Time: 30 Min

I have not found this movie on the Internet for free. If you can, please comment below.