Tuesday, October 08, 2019

The Taking of Luke McVane (DCP from Library of Congress)

The Taking of Luke McVane (US 1915) by William S. Hart. Photo: Diane and Richard Koszarski Collection

The Taking of Luke McVane: the final announcement. Foto di: Valerio Greco. Teatro Verdi, 8 Oct 2019. Source: Le Giornate del Cinema Muto 2019 / Flickr.

The Fugitive.
US 1915.
regia/dir: William S. Hart.
scen: Richard V. Spencer, Thomas H. Ince.
cast: William S. Hart (Luke McVane), Enid Markey (Mercedes), S. C. Smith [Clifford Smith] (Sceriffo/Sheriff Stark), ? (“Crooked Jim” Ashley), ? (Garcia).
prod: New York Motion Picture Co., supv: Thomas H. Ince.
dist: Mutual/Kay-Bee.
uscita/rel: 16.4.1915.
copia/copy: DCP, 25′; did./titles: ENG.
fonte/source: Library of Congress Packard Center for Audio-Visual Conservation, Culpeper, VA. Preserved by the Library of Congress as a part of the Silent Film Project from the collection of Jon C. Mirsalis.
Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM), Pordenone.
Grand piano: Donald Sosin.
Teatro Verdi, e-subtitles in Italian by Underlight, 8 Oct 2019.

Richard Abel (GCM): "The story begins in a saloon, with Luke McVane, a “Range Rider,” playing cards with “Crooked Jim” Ashley, while Mercedes, the “Belle of Chuckawalla Valley,” dances for a crowd of white and Mexican patrons. She approaches Luke, hands him a rose, and returns to her own background table. Garcia, who covets Mercedes, separates her roughly from another man at her table; Luke intervenes, and draws his gun to force Garcia to drop a knife. After Luke returns to his table, Mercedes comes up behind Ashley, notices how he is cheating, and silently alerts Luke, who struggles with the gambler, shoots him, and flees the saloon, fearing he could be lynched. Luke rides into the desert; Sheriff Stark pursues; Mercedes follows with an extra horse she has stolen and then misleads a posse onto a false trail. Stark catches up with Luke, but Luke wounds him with a rifle shot. He carries Stark to his bare desert cabin, cares for his head wound, and explains why he fled the saloon. Meanwhile, Mercedes bribes the old man whose horses she has stolen and then is relieved to see the posse return to town empty-handed. Stark convinces Luke to return to town and promises to use his influence to exonerate him. On the journey they are waylaid by Apaches who have jumped a reservation; they try to fight off the circling Indians; but the returning posse finds both men and their horse dead."

"The film is notable in several ways, perhaps because it took twice as long as usual to shoot. In the extended opening scene, high-angle long shots set up the full space of the saloon, with Luke and Ashley at a foreground table; at key moments, the action is punctuated by close shots of Luke noticing Garcia’s attack, Ashley slipping a card into a hidden table slot, and an exchange of looks between Luke and Mercedes that reveal the cheating. Many extreme long shots frame Luke, Stark, Mercedes, and the posse riding into and through the desert, and an unusual camera angle shows Luke dismounting his horse in the background, disappearing behind a foreground hill, reappearing, and moving into a mid-close-up before he shoots at Stark. Very brief flashbacks to key shots in the saloon emphasize Luke’s confession to Stark that he is attracted to Mercedes and later her own attraction to him. The large band of Apaches appear (in a striking low-angle extreme long shot) riding single file along the crest of a dune, but the “Circle of Death” gunfight is less plausible than most of the attacks in Ince’s earlier Indian pictures (shown at the Giornate several years ago). Two moments near the end, however, more than make up for that. Alternating with the gunfight is a scene of Mercedes looking at herself in a dresser mirror, turning slowly toward the camera, closing her eyes, and bowing her head — as if she realizes that Luke will not return to her. When the posse discover Luke and Stark, a close shot reveals the rose Mercedes gave him clutched in his hand."

"Two different plot synopses in the trade press suggest that changes were made in the ending between the film’s publicity and its release. In Reel Life, “Luke, a revolver in either hand, is sitting, propped against a sand hill, his arm riddled with bullets […] across his knees is the body of the dead sheriff.” In Motography, by contrast, “in a thrilling scene,” Luke and Stark “repulse an Indian attack.” While the first synopsis is ambiguous about Luke’s survival or death, the second sets up a possible happy ending. The release print is far more effective by underscoring what turns out to be Luke and Mercedes’s tragic love." Richard Abel (GCM)

AA: I saw The Taking of Luke McVane in Bologna's William S. Hart retrospective in 2006. On display then was a 35 mm MoMA print (1992) from a diacetate print from the original camera negative, running 26 min at 19 fps, with Donald Sosin at the grand piano. My resume then: "In self-defense, Luke shoots a card cheat. An escalating tragedy starts as he escapes an imminent lynch mob. His friend Mercedes helps him by creating a false trail in the sand, but the sheriff finds Luke. In a tragic twist, they meet a renegade Apache band."

A tragic Western love story condensed into 25 minutes. Luke is a gallant knight to Mercedes, the "Belle of Chuckawalla Valley", defending her from violent harassment. In gratitude, Mercedes alerts Luke to cheating at the card table. When Luke flees from a lynch mob Mercedes leads it to a false trail. In self-defense Luke wounds the pursuing sheriff but heals him and helps him back to the saddle. They meet their maker in a circle of death of a renegade Apache band. The posse arrives too late In Luke's hand they discover a rose from Mercedes. "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). Mercedes brings flowers to Luke's grave.

Amusingly, Library of Congressed had copied to the presentation vintage announcements ("Next week East Lynne") and a request for the audience to move since "the lobby is jammed".

A taut and moving piece, a Western poem. As Richard Abel states in his program note, the editing of looks and close-ups is exciting in the introduction of the Mercedes – García – Luke triangle and the cardplaying sequence. Unfortunately, Enid Markey is not very inspired as Mercedes.

Like in Bologna, Donald Sosin was at the piano again for this film and provided a beautiful Mexican theme to the movie: a love theme for Mercedes.

On display was a DCP from a duped, low contrast source, and at times the presentation looked like a below average home video. I wonder why the fine MoMA print was not shown.


AA Facebook capsule:

In the same slot we saw also The Taking of Luke McVane, a tragic love story in which Luke protects Mercedes in a situation of violent harassment, and Mercedes reveals to Luke that he is being cheated at cards. In a mix-up of misunderstandings Luke finds himself being chased by a lynch mob but manages to redeem himself with the sheriff, yet both end up in the Circle of Death of the Apache. Luke's corpse is found holding in his hand a rose from Mercedes. All this in 25 minutes. All this elevated by Donald Sosin's passionate Mexican style score.

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