Tuesday, October 08, 2019

The Gun Fighter (1917) (2019 reconstruction by Christopher Bird and Kevin Brownlow)

The Gun Fighter (US 1917). William S. Hart, Margery Wilson. Photo: Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences – Margaret Herrick Library, Los Angeles.

The Gun Fighter (US 1917). William S. Hart.

The Gunfighter / Maschera nera.
US 1917.
regia/dir: William S. Hart.
scen: Monte M. Katterjohn.
photog: Joseph August.
scg/des: Robert Brunton.
cast: William S. Hart (Cliff Hudspeth), Margery Wilson (Norma Wright), Roy Laidlaw (El Salvador), J. J. Dowling (“Ace High” Larkins), Milton Ross (“Cactus” Fuller), J. P. Lockney (Col. Ellis Lawton), George Stone (Jimmy Wright).
prod: New York Motion Picture Corp./Kay-Bee, supv: Thomas H. Ince.
dist: Triangle.
uscita/rel: 11.2.1917; orig. l: 5 rl.
copia/copy: DCP, 30′, col. (da/from 9.5 mm + 35 mm, 19 fps, imbibito/tinted); did./titles: ENG.
fonte/source: Patrick Stanbury. Reconstruction produced by Christopher Bird and Kevin Brownlow.
    Newly constructed intertitles by Fritzi Kramer.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM), Pordenone.
    Introduce Christopher Bird.
    Grand piano: Donald Sosin.
    Teatro Verdi, e-subtitles in Italian by Underlight, 8 Oct 2019.

Kevin Brownlow (GCM): "When I was given a 9.5 mm home-movie projector, at the age of eleven, I acquired a handful of films to go with it. One was entitled The Outlaw – which I later found to be an abridged version of The Gun Fighter. I was instantly captivated by the authentic atmosphere of this world, and it sparked a lifelong fascination with Hart."

"Credit for direction on original prints went to Thomas Ince, even though Hart himself directed it. This was a habit of Ince’s, and it is small wonder the two men soon quarrelled."

"It was customary to credit the scenario writer, but unusual at this period to acknowledge the art director. Robert Brunton had been production manager at Ince before specializing in art direction on such pictures as Peggy (1916). He eventually opened his own studio. The Gun Fighter was shot at Inceville, Thomas Ince’s vast studio at what is now Pacific Palisades, where Hart had already made more than 30 films."

"In the shooting script there is a note to cutting rooms: “244; advise 6 to 8 flashes of fire and panic – take from wealth of material taken of fire and panic during the making of HELL’S HINGES.” The script also says, at 238, “Burn one building – the saloon, smoke pot – and fake the rest”!"

"Hart’s cameraman was Joseph August, much admired in the business, who in 1935 would photograph John Ford’s The Informer. He was one of the founding members of the American Society of Cinematographers."

"Margery Wilson, who played Brown Eyes in Griffith’s Intolerance, would soon become a director in her own right. In 1920 she directed and starred in a 5-reeler, That Something, and in 1922-23 she directed two more features. She was interviewed by Anthony Slide for his documentary Silent Feminists, in which she spoke of preferring to film in actual houses rather than on sets."

"She plays Norma Wright, the town milliner, kidnapped by Cliff Hudspeth (Hart), an outlaw with a matchless reputation as a gunfighter. She has seen him in action, however, and condemns him as a cold-blooded murderer. Deeply shocked by her words, he knocks back a few glasses of whiskey and promises never to kill again. However, the authorities offer him a pardon if he will rid Arizona of El Salvador (Roy Laidlaw). When the bandit hears this, he burns the town and drags Norma to the mountains. Cliff rides in pursuit and kills El Salvador. But he is mortally wounded himself, and as Norma rides to safety, Cliff dies, consoled by the knowledge that he has killed only in her defence."

"Bessie Love, who played with Hart in The Aryan, told me that John Gilbert was a bit player in The Gun Fighter, along with Alice Taafe, a girl from the cutting rooms, later famous as Alice Terry."

"Moving Picture World (10 February 1917) seemed to have a prejudice against westerns like these: “The story reverts to a role Mr. Hart ought to be thoroughly tired of, that of western tough whose soft spot is found by a woman of refinement.”" Kevin Brownlow (GCM)

Christopher Bird (GCM): "The Gun Fighter started life as a 5-reel feature, but nothing like a complete copy has ever been found. Nine years after the film was made, Pathéscope issued a 9.5 mm home-movie version running around 10 minutes. When 17-year-old Kevin Brownlow reviewed this in his monthly column in Amateur Cine World, he described it as a “much reduced version” of “a real collector’s item”. For decades, enthusiasts had no hope that they were going to be seeing any more."

"There was also a separate 9.5 mm version of the same length issued by Pathex in America – and because a different editor worked on this, they made different choices about what to leave in the drastically shortened home-movie release. The Pathex version lacked the opening of the gun being fired straight into the camera, but retained much more of the climax, with the night-time shootout. So it was already possible to create a slightly longer version by combining the two."

"The breakthrough came when Kevin discovered that the Cinémathèque suisse had almost two reels of it on 35 mm nitrate, tinted, with French titles. He also had a copy of the shooting script, complete with the list of English-language titles. He asked me whether it was possible to reconstruct the film based on these, including the two 9.5 mm versions."

"The reconstruction very broadly uses the Pathéscope version for the opening, the 35 mm nitrate for the middle, and the Pathex release for the climax. All the titles have been recreated by Fritzi Kramer, based on the original title list. I have left the tinting, simple though it is, to match the nitrate, but added conjectural tints to the 9.5 mm sections. It is still missing around two reels, but it is at least possible to get a fair impression of the quality of this film."

"The reconstruction incorporates 9.5 mm prints from Kevin, Dino Everett, and myself, scanned at the Hugh M. Hefner Moving Image Archive at USC. The nitrate was scanned by the Cinémathėque suisse." Christopher Bird (GCM)

AA: Christopher Bird in his introduction stressed that on display is not a restoration but a reconstruction from three different sources totalling approximately half of the original film. He showed us the touchingly tiny cassettes of the 9,5 mm prints from which the beginning and the end of the reconstruction were blown up. The intertitles were created by Fritzi Kramer based on a script in the Kevin Brownlow collection.

What we saw was a stunning resurrection of a William S. Hart film believed lost. Hart belongs to the film-makers whose impact is electrifying even in fragments, and the disparity of the sources gave the show a touch of the experimental. The adventure of reconstruction was an added thrill.

Joseph August's art of cinematography is evident: elegant austerity charged with suspense. The film starts with a shot echoing the shock image of The Great Train Robbery (1903). Dynamic compositions and the heat of the action are palpable even in footage of inferior quality.

Margery Wilson, actress, producer, director and screenwriter, was Hart's leading lady in five films from The Primal Lure (1915) to Wolf Lowry (1917) while also portraying Brown Eyes in the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre story of Intolerance, among many other films for Triangle.

The William S. Hart convention of the bandit reforming at first sight when he meets the woman of his life was found amusing already at the time. But Margery Wilson is convincing as Norma, a woman of equal calibre. When she condemns Cliff (Hart), he decides to change, and he gets his opportunity when he is appointed special sheriff to rid Arizona of its scourge, El Salvador. "It takes an outlaw to take an outlaw".

The combat between Cliff Hudspeth and El Salvador offers a new variation to Hart's series of fugues charting his "soul fights". It is a battle of the spirit, of salvation, of redemption. (Intriguingly, it is the name of the bandit that is El Salvador – the Saviour). In the finale, Cliff goes "against his lifelong code" of the gunfighter to save Norma.

Elegant blue toning is used in night scenes. El Salvador's rampage when he burns down the town is tinted in glowing red.

P.S. 18 Nov 2019, alerted by Sanna Haukkala: a web article on the restoration by Fritzi Kramer: The Gun Fighter (17 Nov 2019 in Movies Silently).


AA Facebook capsule:

Seen in Pordenone: a reconstruction of The Gun Fighter, a William S. Hart classic believed lost but now a half of it has been resurrected in a fascinating montage that conveys its tragic grandeur. A bandit (Hart) redeems himself by ridding Arizona of an even more terrible bandit: "it takes an outlaw to take an outlaw". In the female lead: Margery Wilson, actress, producer, screenwriter and one of the earliest female directors in Hollywood, memorable also in Intolerance's French story. A convincing match for Hart. The jigsaw puzzle of the reconstruction has a mesmerizing touch of the experimental.

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