To many contemporary viewers the idea of a silent western is as bizarre as a silent musical or silent Shakespeare. To counteract that, one could easily point to the popcorn pleasures of many a Tom Mix western, such as The Great K & A Train Robbery (1926) or Just Tony (1922). However, dipping back a mere ten years before Great K & A we find William S. Hart’s Hell’s Hinges (1916) to prove just how bizarre the silent western could get.
Hart was the direct opposite of Mix, yet both actors had an authentic western past. Where Mix’s film were flashy, over the top, stunt-oriented, dime-store pulp western family fare, Hart offered up a gritty, dusty realism. Yet, Hart’s “realism” was also mixed (often uncomfortably) with a heavy-laden, dated pathos that could compete with Charlie Chaplin at his soggiest (Limelight).
“Hell’s Hinges” is, perhaps, the quintessential example of one of these uncomfortably strange William S. Hart hybrids mixing sentimentality with violence. Both qualities are presented with all the subtlety of a pair of brass knuckles wrapped in a tear-drenched handkerchief.
Hart , who co-directed with Charles Swickard, plays Blaze Tracey, the meanest hombre in the town of Hell’s Hinges, a rowdy town similar to Chaplin’s “Easy Street.” The titles amusingly describe Hell’s Hinges as a “gun-fighting, man-killing, devil’s den of iniquity.” Hart’s Blaze lords over Hell’s Hinges, much like Eric Campbell lorded over Easy Street. Blaze has vowed that neither law nor religion shall ever come to Hell’s Hinges. Enter, on cue, Reverend Robert (Jack Standing) and his pure as the driven snow sister, Faith (Clara Williams), who have been assigned to pastor over the local church. Hart’s partner in crime, the beautifully named Silk Miller (Alfred Hollingsworth), informs Blaze that the new preacher has arrived. Blaze departs the saloon to “welcome” the new intruder.”
Greeting the town, Rev. Robert beams a big smile (that smile must have been excruciatingly difficult, and painful, to maintain), but the good reverend clearly becomes nervous as he discovers what he and Faith are up against.
Blaze is ready, willing and able to deliver an old west comeuppance to the whippersnapper preacher—that is, until he spots Faith in her Sunday bonnet. Suddenly, upon seeing this lovely maiden, Continue reading HELL’S HINGES (1916)