Tuesday, October 08, 2019

The Sheriff's Streak of Yellow

The Sheriff's Streak of Yellow. William S. Hart as Sheriff Hale in his ninth film. The solitude of the lawman amongst the townspeople who cannot understand why he let the bandit go. Photo: Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences – Margaret Herrick Library, Los Angeles

Bankrøveriet i Gold Bar
US 1915
regia/dir: William S. Hart.
sogg/story, scen: Richard V. Spencer, Thomas H. Ince.
photog: Robert Doeran.
cast: William S. Hart (Sceriffo/Sheriff Hale), Jack Nelson (Bill Todd), Gertrude Claire (“Mom” Todd), Bob Russell (Jennings).
prod: New York Motion Picture Co., supv: Thomas H. Ince.
dist: Mutual / Kay-Bee.
uscita/rel: 26.2.1915.
copia/copy: 35 mm, 1680 ft, 22’30’’ / 25′ (18 fps), col. (imbibito/tinted); did./titles: DAN.
fonte/source: Det Danske Filminstitut, København.
Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM), Pordenone.
William S. Hart.
Grand piano: Donald Sosin.
Teatro Verdi, e-subtitles in English and Italian by Underlight, 8 Oct 2019.

Richard Abel (GCM): "Much admired in the town of Gold Bar, Sheriff Hale rides out alone to find the wanted outlaw Bill Todd, who has just buried his mother. Getting the drop on Todd, Hale recognizes him as the son of the woman who once saved him from dying in the desert. He lets Todd go free, with the threat of killing him if they meet again; but he refuses to explain why he failed to arrest Todd, and the townspeople demand his resignation. Later, when Todd and his gang try to rob the local bank, Hale awakens in his room across the street and begins shooting the men standing guard outside the bank. Once inside he finds Todd and another man trying to break into the vault; in the fight that ensues, Hale shoots one man before Todd dies as well. The townspeople realize Hale is not the coward they thought and return his sheriff’s badge."

"This film differs from other Hart westerns in that a potential romantic partner does not transform his “bad man” figure through love. Instead, the story turns on the townspeople’s misrecognition of his character, focuses on the singular conflict between Hale and Todd, and the power of a mother figure. That conflict is complicated in the beginning by a relatively long scene of Todd’s care for his mother and then for her gravesite. Moreover, Hale’s startled recognition of Todd leads to the flashback of his indebtedness to the outlaw’s mother for rescuing him from certain death. In the end, Todd accepts his own debt to Hale and commits suicide. Two other moments stand out: early on, Hart shows off his skill in rolling a cigarette as well as striking a match on his thumbnail; at the end, in medium close-up, he registers anxiety about what the townspeople may do after finding him with the bodies in the bank." Richard Abel (GCM)

AA: Often in William S. Hart's films his bandit character is redeemed by the encounter with a woman. In this film he is a sheriff, and the important woman is the bandit's mother. The film starts with the bandit Bill tending to his mother at her sickbed and burying her when she dies. The sheriff Hale, coming to arrest Bill, realizes that Bill's mother was the one who once saved Hale's life in the desert. We see the stark desert scene in flashback.

"I let you ride away", Hale says to Bill, repaying the old debt, and warning Bill to stay out. The townsfolk are furious, and Hale has to resign. But when Bill returns to rob the bank anyway. Hale wakes up at midnight, alone to meet his gang, and Bill shoots himself.

There is a High Noon affinity with the misunderstood Hale alone amongst the townsfolk. But in this movie the sheriff gets his star back.

A good vintage William S. Hart short story.

The print has been struck from a source close to the original negative, but the tinting is on the heavy side. The projection speed was too fast at first.


AA Facebook capsule:

A variation to Hart's theme of the woman's transformative impact on the terrible man: the sheriff Hale (Hart) lets a bandit go because his mother had saved Hale's life in the desert, but for this, Hale is fired. When the bandit returns, there is a chance of retribution. There is a High Noon affinity in the sheriff's solitude, but in this story the sheriff gets his star back.

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