Tough cattleman finds love
We’ve been looking at the Westerns Thomas H Ince made, especially those with William S Hart, and one that has survived (for sadly many have been lost) is a 1917 feature, a 5-reeler, Wolf Lowry.
It only just survived. Considered lost for a long time, it was saved by the assiduous efforts of restorers who assembled a 51-minute film from fragments discovered at The George Eastman House, UCLA and the Library of Congress. It is available on a Blu-ray along with another Hart picture, Bad Luck at Santa Ynez (1915), which we’ll review soon. The picture quality on the disc is really rather good, though tints vary as the different fragments are used.
In many ways Wolf Lowry belongs more in the romance/melodrama rack than the Western one but it’s Western enough, especially in the first couple of reels.
Hart is the titular rancher, a rough diamond if ever there was.
He can’t abide nesters and runs an elderly one right off in an opening scene. But crooked real estate agent and ex-gambler Buck Fanning (Aaron Edwards) palms the old man’s claim off on a young woman looking for a home, Mary Davis (Margery Wilson, in the eleventh of thirteen films she made for Ince, five of them with Hart), and far from running her off, gruff rancher Lowry falls for her hook, line and sinker. Of course ‘rough cowboy redeemed by the love of a good woman’ was a standard plot device for Hart, though this time there would be a twist.
There’s a scene in which she serves him tea and he tries to hide the mud he has tracked in which made me wonder if the makers of Open Range had seen this film (Kevin Costner does something very similar).
The smarmy Fanning visits while Lowry is away and tries to press himself on the fair Mary, the swine, but Lowry turns up in the nick of time and there is a fight in which Lowry is shot and wounded. Still, he only spares the villain when beseeched by Mary to do so. Fanning is driven off but develops a deep hatred for Lowry. Mary nurses Lowry back to health.
She originally came West looking for her lost lover Owen Thorpe but gradually she gives up on him, thinking him dead, and finally says yes to the proposal of Lowry. It might have all ended there, 31 minutes in, with a happy ending, but no.
For now Owen Thorpe (William Fairbanks, no relation) turns up. Mary has told Lowry a lie. She said Thorpe was her half-brother, so Lowry is delighted when the man appears, hiring him and taking him to be reunited with his ‘sister’. Little does he know the man is a rival.
The lovers decide to do a midnight flit, with Fanning’s help, but he meanly spills the beans by sending a note to Lowry. The climax looms. Who will win the fair Mary’s hand? It’s all very exciting. One thing I can tell you, Fanning gets his just deserts.
There’s a fair bit of overacting, especially from Ms Wilson, but the actors manage mostly to rein it in. There are also unfortunate episodes of the ‘comic’ mistreatment of Chinese characters, cooks and so on, which were considered highly amusing then but are regrettable to us now. There are some nice artistic title cards, which Ince was famous for.
The picture was written, or “picturized” as it was called, by Lambert Hillyer, who often directed Hart pictures when Hart wasn’t doing so himself, as in this case, from a story by Charles T Dazey (his only Hart film). At the camera was the great Joseph H August, who would go on to do work for John Ford. There’s some quite modern-looking editing, done by Ince himself.
Definitely worth a look if you like the occasional silent Western, and an Ince/Hart picture that has survived is a valuable thing.