Knight of the Trail (Mutual Film, 1915)
Two-Gun Bill rides again
As we have been saying, many of the films of the great silent Western star William S Hart (click the link for more on him) have been lost. We looked at a survivor, his first feature, The Bargain (1914) the other day – again, click to read. Another that is still with us is a rather charming two-reeler of 1915, Knight of the Trail.
Like most of Hart’s early pictures, this was produced by Thomas H Ince, and was directed by Hart as well as starring him. Early as the film might be (1915) it was already a remake of a 1911 short. It tells of a bandit reformed by the love of a maid. This is classic Hart territory, of course.
Jim Treen (Hart) is a cowboy with all the proper worn range duds and accessories so dear to Hart. He rides his famous pinto Fritz, too.
Badman Jim (he is a robber) loves a fair maiden, the waitress Molly (Leona Hutton, who had been Hart’s co-star the year before in Two-Gun Hicks). Rival to Jim for the affections of the winsome beauty is dastardly mine speculator Bill Carey, played by the great Frank Borzage (Danny’s brother), whose Western career as actor dated from Days of ’49 in 1913 and who started directing Westerns on his own in 1916 - his last Western credit as director was the 1941 version of Billy the Kid. He would be a two-time Oscar-winning director. But Bill Carey actually isn’t after Molly’s heart at all, just her savings account, and he leaves her standing at the altar (or in a house anyway) as he takes the stage to the railroad depot. The cad.
Jim was rejected, you see, because such a pure girl could never marry a hold-up artist. But our hero turns in the stolen loot to the sheriff, reforms, chases Carey and catches him at the station. There are fisticuffs, then there is gunplay. It’s dramatic stuff.
You may guess, and I don’t think that it constitutes a spoiler to tell you, that Jim and his true love live happily ever after.
These early oaters were hardly more than romantic episodes, really, but they have a charm of their own.
One little awkwardness with all this film, in common with the others (they mostly had the same plot) was that the heroine, Ms Hutton, was 23, while her paramour, Hart, was over 50, so there was a slight mismatch. But we gloss over that, and count them as young lovers.
Hart had only started Westerns in 1914, yet this was already his twentieth (he did 17 in 1915 alone). The shorts like Knight of the Trail became enormously popular and played for a decade afterwards under various titles all over America. They complemented admirably the highly popular features he made.
Definitely worth 24 minutes of your time.