The Ruse (1915, B&W, Silent):
After he abandons gunfighting for prospecting, Bat Peters believes his hard work has finally paid off when Chicago businessman John Folsom expresses an interest in his mine. Bat's trip to the Windy City takes a nasty turn when his supposedly generous patron is revealed as a swindler. But whenthe big-city crooks kidnap Bat's sweetheart, pretty stenographer May Dawson, the retired gunman straps on his six-guns determined to bring western justice to town. The Ruse
, filmed in 1915 by legendary producer Thomas H. Ince, shows cowboy star William S. Hart at his rugged best and breaks with genre conventions by setting the bulk of its action in a contemporary urban setting. (DVD also includes The Great Train Robbery
, An Arizona Wooing
and Out West
Hell's Hinges (1916, B&W, Silent): Reverend Robert Henley and his sister Faith arrive in the lawless frontier town of Hell's Hinges, intent on reforming its amoral citizens. Local saloon keeper and deep-dyed villain Silk Miller, realizing that a temperate populace would be bad for business, discredits the preacher by ordering a dancehall girl to seduce and denounce him. But Miller hasn't reckoned on interference from his former accomplice, notorious gunfighter Blaze Tracy, who has fallen in love with Faith and becomes an avenging angel on her behalf. By 1916, former stage actor Hart was already established as a Western star, but the unexpected box-office success of Hell's Hinges took his career to another level. Although he had portrayed reformed outlaws before, something about Blaze Tracy resonated powerfully with moviegoers - so much so that he would play variations of the character in most of his subsequent films. But Hart's performance wasn't the only exemplary thing about Hell's Hinges: C. Gardner Sullivan's story brought Biblical allusion to sagebrush sagas, and its apocalyptic, fire-and-brimstone climax rocked audiences accustomed to tamer resolutions in Westerns.
The Toll Gate (1920, B&W, Silent): Eager to retire from his life of crime after eluding the law for years, outlaw Black Deering is persuaded by fellow bandit Jordan to undertake one last train robbery. During the holdup, Deering is arrested by army troops who have been tipped-off to the raid by the treacherous Jordan. He manages to escape and flees south across the border to Jordan's own hideout. Fate pushes him into the arms of Jordan's long-suffering wife and Black finds himself torn between his desire for revenge and his passion for the woman he loves. Long established in "good bad man" roles, pioneering Western star William S. Hart eventually found himself challenged to vary his patented characterization, lest audiences grow weary of his frontier-based morality plays. The Toll Gate (1920) was adapted from his own story, which presented its protagonist with complex moral quandaries. Thematically more sophisticated than the horse operas of its contemporaries, The Toll Gate ranks among Hart's very best films.
The Bargain (1914, B&W, Silent): Notorious Jim Stokes, "The Two-Gun Man," is badly wounded following a botched hold-up. His unconscious body is discovered by Phil Brent, a prospector. While recovering from his wounds, Jim falls in love with his nurse, Phil's lovely daughter Nell, and the two are wed. When the sheriff catches wind of his whereabouts, Jim is forced to flee from his young wife, and head for the border. Although the sheriff manages to take Jim prisoner, fate will intervene and cause the two enemies to strike a terrible bargain - one that will test the mettle of both of their souls. William S. Hart began as a highly acclaimed Shakespearean actor on Broadway who entertained no aspiration for movie acting prior to age 49. A major western buff, he purchased Billy The Kid's pistols and boasted friendships with both Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson. Partnering with producer Thomas Ince in 1915, Hart went on to star in and direct dozens of memorable westerns. The Bargain features a most unusual title sequence and beautiful location photography of Arizona's Grand Canyon. The Bargain was named to the Library of Congress' National Film Registry in 2010 because of "Hart's charisma, the film's authenticity and realistic portrayal of the Western genre and the star's good/bad man role as an outlaw attempting to go straight."
The Return Of Draw Egan (1916, B&W, Silent): Barely escaping a deputy's posse, notorious desperado Draw Egan flees to the town of Yellowtail. Posing as "William Blake," he convinces town reformer Matt Buckton to hire him as the new sheriff. Tough-as-nails "Blake" cleans up the town in no-time flat, all the while falling for Buckton's pretty daughter, Myrtle. Just when redemption and the chance for an honest life with a good woman seem possible, Arizona Joe, a former member of Draw Egan's gang, shows up in town with blackmail on his mind. Sheriff "Blake" must either allow Arizona Joe and his outlaw gang to bleed the town dry, or be exposed as Draw Egan, a wanted fugitive with a price on his head. William S. Hart began as a highly acclaimed Shakespearean actor on Broadway who entertained no aspiration for movie acting prior to age 49. A major western buff, he purchased Billy The Kid's pistols and boasted friendships with both Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson. Partnering with producer Thomas Ince in 1915, Hart went on to star in and direct dozens of memorable westerns such as this fine motion picture. (DVD also includes Love, Speed and Thrills (1915) with Mack Swain).