Cinevent Notes: THE SILENT MAN (1917) with William S. Hart

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Richard M Roberts
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Cinevent Notes: THE SILENT MAN (1917) with William S. Hart

Postby Richard M Roberts » Mon May 05, 2014 8:35 am

THE SILENT MAN was William S. Hart’s second film under his new contract with Paramount Pictures following THE NARROW TRAIL. William S. Hart Productions was still contractually forced to have the words “supervised by Thomas H. Ince” in the opening titles, even though Ince had nothing to do with the production of Hart’s films since the split from Triangle. William S. Hart would direct all of his Paramount-Artcraft features from 1917-1010, when he began sharing the Directors Chair with Lambert Hillyer on SQUARE DEAL SANDERSON, then never sat in it again. Hillyer would handle all of the rest of Hart’s self-produced Paramount Pictures.

THE SILENT MAN is a good standard Hart western, perhaps not on the classic level of HELLS HINGES (1916) or THE TOLL GATE (1920), but definitely one you could use if you wanted to show someone what a typical William S. Hart western looked like. Bill plays “Silent” Budd Marr, a miner who has finally “made a strike” in the Arizona Desert and has come to the Town of Bakeoven (good name for an Arizona Town in Summer) and heads for the Hello Thar Saloon, run by local baddie and owner of most of Bakeoven, Ames Mitchell, who manages to con Marr out of his claim.

Meanwhile, the front man of the Saloon, “handsome Jack” Presley (Robert McKim) has promised to marry Betty Bryce (Vola Vale), a young Virginia girl who has come to Bakeoven on account of her little brother David’s health. Presley has left out a few bits from his past, like the fact that he’s already married, but Silent Budd knows this, so when he “turns bad” and robs the Stage carrying the stolen ore from his stolen claim, he kidnaps Betty and little brother David as well.

This is all the set-up for a Good Bad Man redemption story and a lot of other drama in the film’s short five reels. Beautifully shot by Joe August, Hart’s main cameraman and decorated with art titles written by Hart and co-scenarist C. Gardner Sullivan, who wrote a number of Hart’s films.

Joseph H. August began his film career not as a cinematographer, but as an animal wrangler! Born and raised in Idaho Springs, Colorado with a ranching background, his talents in this area were what got him his first job with Thomas H. Ince in 1912. August soon switched careers to becoming an assistant to cameraman Ray C. Smallwood. August was assisting Cinematographer Robert Newhard on filming William S. Hart’s first starring feature, THE BARGAIN in 1914 when Hart took a liking to him and made him his main Cinematographer starting with his fourth feature and first Triangle release , THE DISCIPLE in early 1915. August would shoot over forty of Hart’s films, working on nearly all of Hart’s self-produced pictures, and returning to shoot Hart’s swan-song, TUMBLEWEEDS in 1925. August’s marvelous camerawork and reputation guaranteed him employment outside of Hart before and after he retired, and Joe first went to Fox in 1922, where he shot any number of films including DANTES INFERNO (1924). He first worked with John Ford on LIGHTNING (1925), beginning a long working relationship with the Director for whom he’d also shoot STRONG BOY, THE BLACK WATCH, and SALUTE (all 1929), MEN WITHOUT WOMEN and UP THE RIVER (both 1930), THE SEAS BENEATH (1931), THE WHOLE TOWNS TALKING (1935), MARY OF SCOTLAND and THE PLOUGH AND THE STARS (both 1936), then finally, THE BATTLE OF MIDWAY (1941) and THEY WERE EXPENDABLE (1945).

August moved to Columbia in late 1932, where Harry Cohn put him on everything from THE CIRCUS QUEEN MURDER (1933) to Howard Hawk’s TWENTIETH CENTURY (1934) to even the first Three Stooges short, WOMAN HATERS (1934). Moving to RKO in 1935, he filmed many classics like GUNGA DIN (1939), THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME (1939), and THE DEVIL AND DANIEL WEBSTER (1941). He joined John Ford to make training and informational films for the OSS (Office of Strategic Services) during World War II, and was wounded along with Ford shooting THE BATTLE OF MIDWAY. Joe August only completed one post-war film, PORTRAIT OF JENNIE, which was released after his death in 1947.

Though William S. Hart would remain the top Western Star through the end of the teens and early 1920’s, his seriousness and far more melodramatic style began to fade as the popularity of movie cowboys like Tom Mix, Buck Jones, and Hoot Gibson, whose more action-oriented, light-hearted style more easily cheered the post-war movie audiences. Perhaps the closest to carrying on Hart’s more stoical acting style were cowboys like Harry Carey, another New York stage actor who immersed himself in the lore of the West, and Tim McCoy, former Government Indian Expert and MGM’s only silent film cowboy. Both of these men’s careers segued into the Sound Era, where they nevertheless perpetuated the concept of the “Silent Man” in their own characterizations.

While William S. Hart officially retired from films in 1925, he remained part of the Hollywood Community, living at his spacious ranch (now a state park) in Newhall, California, he lived to a ripe old age, passing away in 1946 at the age of 81.



RICHARD M ROBERTS

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Re: Cinevent Notes: THE SILENT MAN (1917) with William S. Ha

Postby Gary Johnson » Mon May 05, 2014 10:54 am

Yeah, that Three Stooges credit always use to baffle me.
"What is John Ford's cameraman doing helming this short?"
But one must always remember The Cohn Factor.

CINEVENT always seems to book a Hart or two each year -- doing their bit to keeping him alive.

Richard M Roberts
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Re: Cinevent Notes: THE SILENT MAN (1917) with William S. Ha

Postby Richard M Roberts » Mon May 05, 2014 4:37 pm

Gary Johnson wrote:Yeah, that Three Stooges credit always use to baffle me.
"What is John Ford's cameraman doing helming this short?"
But one must always remember The Cohn Factor.



Most of Columbia's top cameramen spent time down in the shorts department, Lucien Ballard shot a number of them in the late 30's-early 40's (so did shooting Stooge-Fu come in handy as training for him when he shot THE WILD BUNCH? Imagine Moe going for an eye-poke in slow-motion.), Benjamin Kline was one of the main shorts cameramen in the 30's and 40's, and he also shot all sorts of other Columbia features, Allen Siegler went back to Universal in the teens, shot a number of major Hollywood silent features like THE PLASTIC AGE(1925) and Paramount's JESSE JAMES (1927) with Fred Thomson, and when he went to work for Columbia in the mid-30's, stayed there until he retired in the ealry 50's. Same with Henry Freulich, who joined Columbia in the early 30's and stayed through the 60's, even shooting television for their Screen Gems division, which couldn't have been much different than working on the shorts. Only Joseph Walker seemed to be immune and too busy shooting features to have to take direction from Jules White.



CINEVENT always seems to book a Hart or two each year -- doing their bit to keeping him alive.



Exactly, though there has been talk through the years of a comprehensive Hart DVD set, the chances of it happening seem to be getting slimmer and slimmer, so we do what we can.



RICHARD M ROBERTS


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