William S. Hart “The Darkening Trail”

September 26, 2008

Charles Starrett would have been 11 or 12 in 1915 when this Alaskan melodrama hit the theaters.

And he would have been 27 when he made “The Viking” set in New Foundland.  I wonder if he got a secret thrill making this third movie, knowing that he was following in his boyhood hero’s snow-covered tracks.

“The Darkening Trail” is, at first, a melodrama set among the social set.  A moneyed “cad” flees a pregnant lover to start over in Alaska, which the card describes as “the melting pot of the North”.

Hart (who directs as well) doesn’t even show up until nearly 20 minutes into the film.  He plays his usual rough jerk with a heart of gold.  He spots the cad for what he is and ultimately punishes him for it.

Hart’s range is so much more impressive than most of the cowboy stars (including Charley).  In this film, where he in essense plays a supporting role, he displays cruelty, honor, crazed mirth, stoic anger, sorrow and blood-thirsty intensity.

But fans of his work watch these movies for two things: to see him ride terrifically (here in a pouring rainstorm) and get mad vengeance (dispatching the cad at the death-bed of his wife.)

Charley does neither of these things very often or very well.

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