Jeff Arnold’s West

The blog of a Western fan, for other Western fans

The Disciple (Triangle/Kay-Bee, 1915)


Revd. Bill Hart


The other 1915 William S Hart Western that we have (see out earlier post on The Darkening Trail) was again produced by Thomas H Ince, and this time Ince also wrote it, with S Barret McCormick. It’s a 50-minute 5-reeler (the two films are available on the same DVD) whose picture quality has not lasted well – it’s difficult sometimes even to read the title cards. It was The Disciple.


I see it was on just after MARTYRS OF THE ALAMO. Not a bad ticket price!


The story is set in Barren Gulch, AZ (filmed at Inceville, we can tell), a lawless town dominated by a rowdy saloon run by frock-coated Doc Hardy, who studied medicine but finds gambling more to his taste and more profitable. Hardy is played by Robert McKim, who worked a lot with Ince and eleven times with Hart.


Bad guy McKim, in this one vaguely Doc Holliday-ish


A wagon arrives bearing Jim Houston, a parson (Hart), who has come to set up a church and preach to the godless community. He is accompanied by his wife Mary (Dorothy Dalton, another Ince regular, who would be Queen Anne in Ince’s The Three Musketeers) and their little daughter Alice (Thelma Salter). We are told on a title card that Mary was “sweet and purty but with a mighty lot of wishbone where her backbone orter be”.


The new parson arrives, with wife and child


Decent Judge-and-Sheriff Birdshot Bivens (Charles K French, 111 Westerns to his credit, as actor or director), who is “square as a die to men or wimmen”, welcomes the new parson, though warns him that Barren Gulch “ain’t a preachin’ town”, and indeed the townsfolk snub the newcomers and Doc Hardy takes an instant dislike to Preacher Jim – though not to his wife, whom he caddishly courts.


Doc courts the preacher’s wife, the skunk


There’s a good scene in the saloon when they form a mock marching band


There’s a saloon brawl which turns into a shootin’ matter and the new parson bravely interferes to stop the shooter being lynched.


He builds a church but while he is so doing, the sneaky Doc is wooing the faithless Mary, and she agrees to go away with him. On the day of the first Sunday service, she writes a note to her husband telling him he is too good for her and to forget her, for she is going away with Doc Hardy. She tells young Alice to give the letter to her father, and absconds in a buggy with her lover.


While he’s preaching, she’s eloping


Parson Jim has gone to the saloon and preached to its patrons at gunpoint, and returns home feeling he has won the first victory, but of course he is mortified to read the note. In fact he tears off his clerical collar and says, “God, you and me is through.”


He preaches to them


Next we see Mary and Doc in another town. She gets news that the body of a man and child have been found in the desert. It must be her husband and daughter. Doc decides to go back to Barren Gulch to find out for sure, close up his saloon and then they can be married.


Meanwhile, Parson Jim and Alice are far from dead. Jim is living in the mountains, no longer a clergyman but a prospector. Unfortunately, though, the child falls sick (she manages to overact even at her tender age).


Doc and Mary take refuge in an abandoned cabin and Doc goes into Barren but a terrible storm arises, Mary, left alone, is afraid, she wanders out into the night, overacting even more than her daughter (it’s actually laughable) and just happens to come to Jim’s cabin. Probability isn’t really this film’s strong point.


La Dalton. The word ‘overacting’ doesn’t suffice.


She says the child must have a doctor. There is none in the country – except Doc Hardy!


Thus is set up the dramatic dénouement. Will Hardy come and tend the child? Will he save her? Will then Mary stay with him, or will Jim take her back? Ah, such suspense.


I can tell you that Doc is saved at the last moment, but by Calvary rather than the cavalry.


On the set, Ince with Hart


This picture isn’t too bad but it’s not as good as The Darkening Trail. Hart overdoes the gestures, especially while importuning the Almighty, and the whole thing has the air of a cheap melodrama on the Victorian stage. The characters also move too slowly and sometimes stand with their back to the camera. Bad directing, I think, which is credited to Hart himself and Clifford Smith.


Interesting photograph. That’s Hart seated and August next to the camera. One of the others is Clifford Smith, I think the guy on the left with the pipe.


The cinematography was by the great Joe August but the picture these days is so poor that we can’t really appreciate it.


Still, at least it’s a Hart Western that has survived.



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