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Monday, July 10, 2017

A Best Of Hart Was Never Better

1919 Looks a Hundred Years Better with Wagon Tracks

Ring out news --- Bill Hart on Blu-Ray! Never thought I'd see the day, but here it is, courtesy Olive Films, and result is swell. Wagon Tracks looks last week shot, the way you dream all silents might register if only they'd been better protected. So are over 90% really lost? Painful to ponder, but after all, most of antiquity is gone, looted, unaccounted for. But think, once upon long-ago time, all the Harts looked like Wagon Tracks, better in fact what with nitrate projection. Viewers then beheld beauty we never will. Few times I saw nitrate projected was like stepping into a woodcut. At moments of Wagon Tracks, though, I felt I might do it again. Blu-Ray reclaims every tear Bill shed for big emotional scenes done here, him walking plank of a kid brother lost to crooked cards and back-shooters. Killing is by all appearance done by winsome Jane Novak, though Hart smells fish. A "good" woman just couldn't commit such an act. He knows, and will prove, her no-good gambler brother and snaky fiancée in back of the deed. How Bill unmasks them is stops-out application of Hart justice as fans expect from this hardest-bitten apostle of frontier realism.

Bill Uses Tried-True March and Thirst Method To Force a Murder Confession
But how real was Hart's west? Better to never mind that and just enjoy. Idea most of time was to lay moral dilemmas on Bill and let him sort out which loyalty to keep, which unworthy object to discard. Hart went swift as judge/jury, more so than moderns are comfortable with at times, which of course, is glory of work he did that we can still access. The Wagon Tracks finish is corkscrewed with punish of sins and sacrifice set at alter of love. It's all so precise that a slight misstep could bring the whole thing a cropper and see all of cast roasted over Indian fire. How careful-calibrated were Hart shows ... you come away satisfied that right is done, universal themes applied as they were to all media that told tales of the sweep westward. This was how a public wanted myths, and Wagon Tracks, like all of Hart, got it done to their liking. Even after a century, would we have it any other way?  I could hope Olive sells five thousand units of Wagon Tracks, but .... And yet Bill's one that even the uninitiated often take shine to. His persona is fresh wind against a current-day Code so strictly applied.


Blogger Reg Hartt said...

Are you certain this is from Kino? Olive has WAGON TRACKS on Blu-ray.

The first William S. Hart film I saw was 1919's HELL'S HINGES. I was hooked from then on. I rescored with Spaghetti western music by Enio Morricone. Boy, does that make HELL'S HINGES kick ass! I have every Hart title I could get my hands on. If only his Wild Bill Hickok were available!

11:00 AM  
Blogger CanadianKen said...

Bought this Blu-ray the day it came out. I think Hart and Harry Langdon are my favorite male stars of the silent era. Would love to think that the Hart films I like best (The Return of Draw Egan, The Narrow Trail, The Silent Man) might someday show up in similarly beautiful form.
I think Jane Novak's one of Hart's best leading ladies. A decade later she was still emanating grace and beauty in the marvelous color western "Redskin" with Richard Dix.
It's superb.

7:59 PM  
Blogger MikeD said...

If you're ever in the LA area with some free time and a car, head up to Santa Clarita and visit the William S Hart Park and Museum. It is WSH's former ranch which he donated to the county for the public's enjoyment. There is no charge. Even though it's in the middle of town, it sits high on a hill and you imagine WSJ sitting up there in his retirement enjoying the scenery. Close you eyes and think about what would have been going on down in Hollywood (or Glendale, Culver City) at the time. WSJ must have really loved his pets, there's a pet cemetery where his horse is interred plus hiking trails along the ridges where you'll find the last resting place of his Great Danes. An added bonus is a herd of buffalo donated by Walt Disney which were used in a True Life Adventure. When you're finished here, head down about a mile or so to the Saugus Café (seen in Highway Patrol!) for a cup of Joe.

8:22 AM  
Blogger Barry Rivadue said...

Not that this is technically cheery news, but I think over 90% lost is a bit extreme for lost American silents. I believe currently it's more like 75% lost. Significant finds have been uncovered in recent years, many overseas, but it's still a grim statistic. And I do think a lot of "lost" are merely missing or hidden by collectors.

8:02 PM  
Blogger lmshah said...

No, 90% is still a pretty accurate number, when you consider that of 11,000 known American silent features known to be produced, only 3,300 are known to exist in any form, and that does not even begin to include the number of short films also produced, there was quite a lot of product produced in the Silent Era, and most of it is gone. There are indeed still a number of films missing that may be just sitting in a vault labeled incorrectly, but the myth that there are a lot of film collectors sitting out there hoarding vast quantities of "lost" films is just that, a myth. To begin with, there aren't that many film collectors left, and most of the ones who still are around have actually cooperated with the archives in getting their rare materials preserved, I know, I'm one of them.


2:06 AM  
Blogger Barry Rivadue said...

I think I was also mindful of a comment Kevin Brownlow made awhile back. He said if there was an amnesty for silent movie collectors from studios/copyright holders, there would be a notable number of "lost" movies suddenly found. And I still hope foreign archives haven't fully tapped their holdings.

3:52 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

From Reg Hartt:

I feel we're long past the time the studios were so limited in their thinking they lacked the wit to be grateful to those who by their private efforts preserved what they through neglect lost. The biggest factor is and always will be cost and the need to make the money back. While I laud Olive films for this their refusal to issue a 3D Blu-ray restoration of MONEY FROM HOME when the 3D Film Archive more than went the distance to make that possible is infuriatingly disappointing. I am certain someone other than Olive did the work on this. Olive is riding on their coat tails.

The 3D Film Archive does such beautiful and loving work that Olive's refusal to go the distance is all the more galling especially considering Jerry Lewis is still with us to appreciate a proper restoration and to help promote it.

Reg Hartt.

9:57 AM  
Blogger Barry Rivadue said...

I'm pleased that Universal is restoring whatever surviving silents they can find in their vault.

6:59 PM  

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