A Hart feature become a short
A late feature (it was a 50-minute 5-reeler) that William S Hart made for Thomas H Ince in 1917, The Gunfighter, also known as The Gun Fighter, is now available to watch on Harpodeon (click the link for that) in a cut-down version of 11 minutes. This was sometimes the fate of features; they became shorts.
Hart is Cliff Hudspeth, an Arizona outlaw, who receives a threatening note from a rival, the feared El Salvator (Roy Laidlaw, who did 35 films for Ince, including several Hart ones) forbidding him to do any more outlawin’ in the territory. Cliff sees red and leads his men on a raid of the enemy band’s HQ, the saloon in Desert Pass, and there he surprises El S’s chief henchman (Joseph J Dowling, another Ince/Hart regular) and shoots him dead in a one-to-one duel in the street. That’s his reply to the threat.
This is witnessed by the local milliner, the fair Norma (Margery Wilson, in one of five Hart Westerns she did) and her little brother Jimmy (Georgie Stone). Norma doesn’t approve of such violence.
But a gentleman in a frock coat (JP Lockney) commissions Cliff to hunt down El Salvator, and gives him a sheriff’s star to do it.
Now El Salvator gets his revenge with a raid. He not only grabs Norma and carries her away, he even kicks the little boy doing it! Such villainy. On the title card the child pleads: “Oh, Cliffy! Bwing my sis back. A bad, nasty man took her away on his horse!”
So Cliff undertakes a daring night rescue and saves Norma just as the wicked Mexican is pressing his unwanted attentions on her, and it’s RIP, El Salvator.
The trouble is, Cliff was hit in the exchange of fire and, with the title card reading “The past redeemed”, he duly expires. Fin.
Judging by the eleven minutes, it’ a classic Hart tale. There is, as usual, a good deal of overacting, though by 1917 Hart had learned to rein it in a bit.
There’s a specially-composed piano score accompaniment.
The picture was directed, as they often were, by Hart himself, and the great Joe August was at the camera. It was written by Monte Katterjohn, who had also worked on The Patriot for Ince and Hart the year before.
Worth a look!