Thursday, October 10, 2019

A Knight of the Trails

A Knight of the Trails. William S. Hart (Jim Treen) with his red pinto horse Fritz. Hart and Fritz were the first man & horse duo in the movies. Hart even wrote a book, Told Under the White Oak Tree (1922), as a first person narrative by Fritz. "A Sioux chief named Lone Bear reportedly brought Fritz to California in 1911" writes Petrine Day Mitchum in Hollywood Hoofbeats (2005). Hart discovered Fritz at Thomas H. Ince's movie ranch. When Fritz died in 1938 at age 31 Hart buried it on his ranch under a huge stone marker. Photo: Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences – Margaret Herrick Library, Los Angeles.

A Knight of the Trails. William S. Hart (Jim Treen), Leona Hutton (Molly Stewart).

US 1915.
regia/dir: William S. Hart.
scen: Richard V. Spencer, Thomas H. Ince.
photog: Robert Doeran.
cast: William S. Hart (Jim Treen), Leona Hutton (Molly Stewart), Frank Borzage (W. [Bill] Sloane Carey).
prod: New York Motion Picture Co., supv: Thomas H. Ince.
dist: Mutual/Kay-Bee.
uscita/rel: 20.8.1915.
copia/copy: DCP, 26′ (da/from 35 mm nitrate, 770 ft); did./titles: ENG.
fonte/source: George Eastman Museum, Rochester, NY.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM), Pordenone.
    William S. Hart.
    Grand piano: Maud Nelissen.
    Teatro Verdi, e-subtitles in Italian by Underlight, 10 Oct 2019.

Richard Abel (GCM): "In the western town of Canyon City, Molly Stewart, a waitress at the OK Restaurant, is engaged to marry Jim Treen, whom she does not realize is an outlaw, wanted for a $1,000 reward. Bill Carey, an Easterner sent West to sucker gold miners out of their stakes, discovers surreptitiously that Molly has bank savings of $805. Cleaning Jim’s cluttered cabin one day, Molly discovers his loot of jewels and money hidden under the floorboards, refuses to believe his plea of going straight, and breaks their engagement. Jim returns the loot anonymously to the sheriff, but soon Carey persuades Molly not only to marry him but also to entrust her savings to him. After Carey steals away on the stage to catch a train back East, the restaurant owner finds Jim drinking in the Eldorado saloon and shows him Carey’s “farewell” letter. Jim races off on horseback, taking a mountain short cut, and confronts Carey at the Kings River Junction rail station. Jim retakes the bank savings; in the ensuing gunfight he is wounded, and Carey is killed. In a brief denouement, Molly forgives him, and the couple apparently marry."

"This print comes from a 1923 Tri-Stone reissue, with new intertitles stamped with overly stereotypical graphics. In October 1915, Motion Picture Magazine published a story based on the original film in which Molly is an equally deceptive figure, despite being so naïve, and Jim, in the climax, simply knocks Carey’s gun away and seizes Molly’s pouch of money. The film is unusual in having Hart introduced as engaged to be married, but it also follows the familiar narrative arc of the bad man transformed by love. Hart mounts the story clearly, efficiently, with crucial close shots of the ring Jim puts on Molly’s finger, of the bank ledger that Carey spots, and of Molly’s shoe sinking slightly into the cabin rug, revealing the loose floorboard and cache of loot. By contrast, several long shots stand out: the exterior of the OK Restaurant has a wide, second-floor balcony for customers to sit outside; Jim races on horseback through the town’s broad main street, a lone figure bent on revenge; and, of course, Hart displays some skillful riding, first on a dirt road and then up and over a mountain trail. Finally, the film includes an early appearance of Frank Borzage on screen." Richard Abel (GCM)

AA: For a change, a William S. Hart film starts with him about to get married. The fiancée is shocked to observe the man's untidy cabin, but the worst is yet to come. Jim (Hart) is a reformed bandit, and there is still a cache of loot under the floorboards. Having found it, Molly (Leona Hutton) terminates the relationship at once: "I could never marry a thief". Jim is devastated. Sincerely reformed, he returns the loot to the sheriff, signed by "Mystery Bandit".

In her choice of company Molly goes from bad to worse, falling for Bill (Frank Borzage), an Easterner who proposes to her, takes all her money and is about to board a train ("business before pleasure") when there is a thrilling race to the rescue. Jim on his beloved pinto horse takes a shortcut and the tables are turned.

A triangle drama in which the rivals are played by two of the greatest film directors: William S. Hart and Frank Borzage.

Another entry to the cinema's obsession with the theme of the cancelled wedding.

Sharply edited, with epic long shots and thrilling action scenes.

Maud Nelissen had a romantic approach in her piano interpretation.

Visual quality: good, including in night shots coloured blue.


AA Facebook capsule:

Besides comedy duos we saw the cinema's first man & horse duo in Pordenone: William S. Hart and his pony Fritz.

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