THE THEODORE HUFF MEMORIAL FILM SOCIETY                 October 20 1959
      


                                            WILLIAM S. HART

When we've played William S. Hart movies before - "Hell's Hinges", "Return
of Draw Egan"
, "The Fugitive", "Tumbleweeds", "The Sheriff's Streak of Yellow" -
we probably said all that needed saying about his largely unrecognised talents as an
actor. Since tonight's compilation says all these things for us again --
far more strikingly than we could in words -- and pin-points all the virtues,
as well as the weaknesses, of Hart's portrait of a fighting yet sentimental
westerner -we'll content ourselves with just covering the films themselves in
these notes. Our program, incidentally, is a little shorter than usual -
deliberately. Any compilation of Hart material is bound to seem a trifle
repetitious after a while, and so we've kept our films to 2 1/2 hours. There'll
be more Hart in the future - including the complete "On The Night Stage",
represented in excerpt form tonight, and possibly (on one of our third programs)
"Hell's Hinges" - which is one of Hart's best, and which we haven't shown for
over four years.
                                            - - - - - - - - - -

Program in order of screening:

MR. SILENT HASKINS   (Triangle-Ince, 1914) Directed by Hart, with Rhea Mitchell.
                              (Also known as "Dealing for Daisy", "The Gambler's Love",
"His Royal Flush"). Although somewhat pedestrian, and more dependent on drama
than action, this is a good and typical early Hart, with some nice camerawork
(the long pan over the faces of the antagonists was a particularly typical Hart
shot) and the usual lively crowd scenes. The pictorial quality is quite fine.
The leading lady, Rhea Mitchell, came back into the news a couple of years ago
when she was murdered by her Japanese house-boy.

THE CAPTIVE GOD   (excerpt) Triangle-Ince, 1916. Directed by Josef Swickard;
                            starring William S. Hart, Enid Markey, P.D. Tabler, Robert
McKim (Montezuma), Dorcas Mathews, Herbert Farjean, Robert Kortman.

Released in April of 1916, between "The Apostle of Vengeance" and "Hell's
Hinges"
, "The Captive God" came out when Hart was really at the peak of his
creativity. It was an off-beat picture for Hart (he played a Spanish orphan
raised as an Aztec Indian) and Hart himself always disliked the picture
intensely, considering it one of his worst. For some years I assumed that this
might be because he hadn't directed it himself, but now it is quite apparent
that his judgement wasn't faulty! I studied the entire original negative on a
viewer, expecting originally to print up the whole subject, but it was frankly
too dull and poor a subject to be worth the very considerable expense involved.
So, we settled for the 5th and final reel -- which is probably the best reel
of the film, but still shows the rather formless construction and haphazard
direction of the whole. Actually, the whole simple story could have been told
quite easily in two reels, and much of it is padding. Hart himself, though he
makes a fine figure of a man as the Indian, seems uncomfortable in the role,
and gets no opportunities in the way of good dramatic scenes. His closeups are
few and far between too. However, it is an interesting little reel, especially
as no footage from this film has been seen around in years. Swickard,
who directed, seems to have been a washout all around; he was a singularly poor
character actor too. However, at the time Triangle were astonishingly
enthusiastic about the film, exceeding even their normally wild publicity to
acclaim it one of the great masterpieces of all time, the "most stupendous
"production ever", and with "thousands of players" in the battle scenes! Some
of the sets are reasonably impressive - but only by Triangle standards. By the
way, those of you interested in the eternal problem of projection speeds might
care to note this direct quote from the original Triangle bulletin on the film:

"The two big battle scenes - one early in the picture and the other in the last
reel - should be speeded up considerably. In the first battle scene, the
warriors are seen descending from the roofs of their houses. Here the movements
are particularly slow and to give the needed atmosphere of excitement and
natural confusion, the machine should be speeded up considerably. Following
the title "The Alarm", shoot it through fast. Interior scenes should be slowed
up".

BAD BUCK OF SANTA YNEZ   (Triangle, 1914) Directed by Hart; with Robert Kortman.
                                       2 reels.

One could hardly find a more characteristic example of Hart as "the good badman"
than this lively - and moving - little legend of an outlaw's better nature
brought to the surface by the plight of a stricken child. The tragic climax
is the kind of finale that most people (in later years) came to regard as
the traditional Hart ending, although actually its use by Hart was quite
sparing. Santa Ynez was the name of a canyon right outside Inceville; it
bears the same name today, and its hills remain relatively unchanged, although
Inceville itself has now been obliterated by a highway and sundry gas stations
and hot-doggeries.

                                              INTERMISSION

THE SAGA OF WILLIAM S. HART   (Compiled by Blackhawk Films, 1959)

This fascinating survey of Hart's work covers most aspects of his films and
brings in tantalizing excerpts from 11 of his films, some familiar, others less
so - ON THE NIGHT STAGE THE ARYAN (with Bessie Love - how we'd like to see all
of that one!) HELL'S HINGES, THE DESERT MAN, THE SQUARE DEAL MAN, THREE WORD
BRAND
, O'MALLEY OF THE MOUNTED, THE TESTING BLOCK, THE TOLL GATE, WOLF LOWRY
and WILD BILL HICKOK. The material is arranged chronologically, and linked by
very informative titles with which we have only one quarrel -- the use of the
phrase "romantic west" in describing Bill's movies. Hart's West was austere
and rugged, poetic in its way, but never romantic. But why quibble? With the
limited collector's market for which this compilation was intended, Blackhawk
could have taken far less trouble and sold just as many prints, and their sincere
effort to present a comprehensive survey of Hart's career really rates a vote of
thanks. Some of the original material was obviously in bad shape, with sections
missing or decomposing, and thus key bits of action here and there are
frustratingly absent, but by and large the sequences chosen are highlights of
their respective pictures. There is room for improvement -- one or two
sequences go on a little too long, and there is perhaps one fight scene too
many but on the whole it's a fine job, representing the best of Bill Hart
and his right-hand man and favorite director, Lambert Hillyer, and the best too
in really virile subtitle-writing.

TUMBLEWEEDS (Hart-UA, 1926) Dirs: King Baggott, Wm. S. Hart

We have covered this film quite extensively in previous notes, but as Hart's
last western, it obviously has to be represented in this program. Our sequence
is the wonderful landrush episode -- a superbly constructed piece of mass
action, with overall excitement brilliantly welded to the individual vignette
of sheer poetry -- as in the wonderful shot of Bill seeming to fly through the
sky as he races his pony over the crest of a hill.

WILLIAM S. HART - 1939 Shot in 1939 as a foreword to the reissue of "Tumbleweeds",
Hart's description of the film - and his farewell to his fans - is, as we
stated on a previous occasion, probably to most moving 8 minutes on film.


 

                                

 © William K. Everson Estate