Saturday, September 05, 2020

Tonight's Movie: Hell Bent (1918) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

Two of Kino Lorber's most exciting Blu-ray releases this summer have been restorations of a pair of silent Westerns directed by John Ford.

The first release was STRAIGHT SHOOTING (1917), which I reviewed in July. That's been followed by HELL BENT (1918), which was just released by Kino Lorber a few days ago.

Both films star Harry Carey (Sr.), who wrote the script for HELL BENT along with the director.

The story is initially framed as the creation of a writer who's been asked by his publisher to write about someone who's not clearly virtuous but eventually triumphs. As the writer stares at a Remington painting of a saloon, a story begins to take shape in his mind, and we fade to a scene in the old west...

Enter Carey as Cheyenne Harry, which was also the name of his character in STRAIGHT SHOOTING. As the story begins, Harry is high-tailing it to the next county after a kerfuffle over a poker game.

Harry arrives in the rough, crowded town of Rawhide, where he fights with Cimarron Bill (Duke Lee) over use of a hotel room; they then become fast friends, loudly dueting the song "Sweet Genevieve."

Harry also quickly falls for Mary (Neva Gerber), a nice girl who's had to go to work at the dance hall as her no-good brother (Vester Pegg) is a lazybones who won't work, and there aren't any jobs in town for respectable women. Harry is shocked to find himself drinking tea because it's offered by Mary, and he later gives her the gift of a puppy.

It's a long story which also involves a robbery, but Mary is kidnapped by the head of a criminal gang (Joseph Harris) and Harry must go to great lengths to save her, including a trek across the forbidding desert.

All this and more is packed into just 53 minutes which nicely mixes action, romance, and quite a bit of comedy, such as Harry riding his horse into a hotel room (where it eats the hay-filled pillow!) or trying to figure out how to hold a teacup.

Carey is terrific as always; he could really do it all, conveying pure menace on the one hand and insecure uncertainty on the other. The scenes where he presents Mary with the puppy and again when he proposes are very sweet and nicely done.

Gerber isn't conventionally pretty but is interesting, as Mary proves to be a pretty tough woman, between going to work in the saloon and dealing with being stranded in the middle of the desert. Lee and Pegg, who were both in STRAIGHT SHOOTING, also do a good job, especially Lee, who is quite delightful as comic relief. I love the final scene where he pushes Harry to declare his feelings for Mary, then launches into his and Harry's favorite song, "Sweet Genevieve."

I think STRAIGHT SHOOTING was the stronger film of the two, with some real dramatic impact, but HELL BENT is entertaining and well done. I'm sure Ford and Carey fans will enjoy it, as I did.

The movie was filmed by Ben F. Reynolds. It appeared a location near the end of the film was Beale's Cut, also seen in STRAIGHT SHOOTING.

The Blu-ray looks terrific. There are occasional scratches and signs that the film is over a century old, but the picture is sharp and clear and a real pleasure to watch. This was a "lost film" until a nitrate print was found in the Czech Republic, so being able to watch it at all seems little short of a miracle.

I do have to admit I didn't care overly much for the score by Zachary Marsh. I particularly felt that the music was too jocular at times when more seriousness was called for. I've read a couple different reviews which were enthusiastic about the music, so as the saying goes, "Your mileage may vary."

Extras include a video essay by Tag Gallagher; an archival audio interview with John Ford, interviewed by Joseph McBride; and a commentary track by McBride.

Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.


Blogger Walter S. said...

Laura, I look forward to watching this lost, but found movie. Thanks for the good review.

1:11 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

I hope you will enjoy it too! :)

Best wishes,

6:30 PM  

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