"The Trap" (1922)

The Trap

A Universal-Jewel Production
Produced by Universal Film Manufacturing Co.
Directed by Robert Thornby
Based on a story by Lucien Hubbard
Writing credits: Lon Chaney, George C. Hull and Irving Thalberg
New York premiere: May 22 1922
Released in England as "Heart of a Wolf"

Cast: Lon Chaney, Alan Hale, Dagmar Godowsky, Stanley Goethals, Irene Rich, Spottiswoode Aitken, Herbert Standing and Frank Campeau.


In the village of Grand-Bellaire in the Canadian Northwest, Gaspard (Lon Chaney) is a fur trapper. Upon returning from a trip, he is greeted by a group of children, and when he enters the trading post, he is introduced to Benson (Alan Hale) who is seeking gold.

Gaspard is also greeted at the trading post by his girlfriend, Thalie (Dagmar Godowsky). He tells her that he will re-open his mine, and as soon as he finds gold, he will marry her. But Thalie only seems to be interested in the dapper dressed Benson.

While Gaspard is in church giving thanks for his wonderful life, Benson is wooing Thalie. The next morning Gaspard goes to his gold mine and sees strangers working his mine, and they tell him that the mine belongs to Benson. When Gaspard seeks out Benson, he is told that the mine does not belong to him. Gaspard explains that the mine was given to him by his father. Benson throws Gaspard out.

Gaspard complains to the Northwest Mounted Police, and then Benson produces a claim to the mine. Since neither Gaspard or his father located the claim legally, the mine now belongs to Benson.

Devastated, Gaspard leaves and meets Thalie and tells her that the mine is no longer his. He goes on to say that the mine is of no importance as long as he has her. Thalie tells Gaspard that she will give him an answer to his proposal the next morning.

The next morning Gaspard has forgotten the heartaches of the day before, for he will soon marry the woman he loves. But when he arrives at Thalie's home, he is told, "Thalie is going to be Benson's squaw. They went down river at sunrise."

Gaspard is devastated, and the kindly and happy trapper becomes a very bitter man. Seven years pass, seven long, lonely years of crushed and beaten life . . . lighted only by the never-dimming fires of an all-consuming hate that obsess him, body and soul.

During the seven years Benson had seen his fortunes crumble, his happiness eluding him, and ever at his side smiling, always smiling was Gaspard. Meeting Benson in a bar, Gaspard asks how is the wife and the boy, and Benson replies, "My wife complains of pains in her chest, but it is nothing but laziness."

When Gaspard mentions that it was a misfortune that a landslide destroyed the mine, Benson replies," One piece of bad luck after another! I can't understand it. You'd think someone had put a curse on me!"

The strength and ignorance of Pierre, the village bully (Frank Campeau), gave Gaspard an idea, and he tells Pierre that Benson has said that Pierre is a big bluff and that Benson can beat him. Pierre becomes angry, and Benson walks into the bar. A very angry Pierre begins threatening Benson, and Benson shoots Pierre in self-defense.

Benson tells the police that Gaspard was a witness to the self defense, but when the police ask Gaspard what had happened, he replies that he was looking at a picture on the wall when the shooting took place. Benson is led away by the policeman.

Meanwhile life has also been very harsh on Thalie, and when Gaspard goes to Benson's cabin, Thalie, who is dying, mistakes him for Benson and asks him to promise to take care of her son. With a smirk, Gaspard agrees, and after informing her that he is Gaspard, she dies.
Gaspard is pleased with the turn of events, and he takes the young boy to his cabin and takes out his hatred on the child. He tells the incarcerated Benson that he was the cause of his misfortunes and that he has custody of Benson's son.

Pierre does not die from the gunshot wound, and Benson is sent to prison instead of the gallows which further sears Gaspard soul. Eventually Gaspard's hatred for the young child turns to love, and after bitter years of hatred, Gaspard becomes a changed man.

He enrolls the youngster in school and meets the new school teacher (Irene Rich). When the young boy will not leave Gaspard, the schoolteacher asks him to remain in the classroom. The next few weeks saw a drastic change in Gaspard, and he becomes the happy young man he had been over seven years before. Then, suddenly, his life is devastated again when the police sergeant tells him that Benson is being released from jail.

Gaspard is devastated that the young boy may be taken from him. That night Gaspard hears the howl of a wolf, and he gets a sinister idea. He traps the wolf and sets the animal in a cage adjacent to the Benson's cabin. Gaspard makes a gadget that when the cabin door is opened, the wolf can enter the cabin from the cage!

When Benson is released, he heads towards his cabin, and, in the meantime, Gaspard is near Benson's cabin awaiting his encounter with the wolf, but the young boy has awoken and goes looking for Gaspard. Horrified, Gaspard sees the young boy going into cabin and screaming for God's assistance, Gaspard rushes into the cabin!

The Reviews

Variety - May 5, 1922: "Too much star in close-ups every few feet makes this feature a very dreary affair. In the telling of the story of a long-lived hatred of a French-Canadian trapper this feature goes along slowly, without delivering any punch until just a few moments before the finish."

Harrison's Reports - May 13, 1922: "A melodrama of the Canadian Northwest, so powerful that the attention of the spectator is absorbed to the point of making him think that he is witnessing a real-life occurrence. The spectator is at times made to tremble for fear for the fate of the characters."

Lon Chaney

Lon Chaney (1883-1930) was born Leonidas Frank Chaney of deaf parent. He honed his ability to communicate with his parents via pantomime at an early age. When he was about fourteen, he obtained a job as a tour guide during the summer months at Pike's Peak. At about the same time, Chaney's older brother started working at the local opera house.

Eventually Lon obtained a position as a prop boy for the sum of 25 cents a night. Besides painting flats, collecting props, he learned the art of applying makeup by watching the actors and actresses changing their appearances.

At the age of fifteen his father obtained a job for Lon with Brown's Wallpaper and Paint Company, but Lon returned to the opera house in 1902 when he was hired on a full time basis as a stage hand. Shortly after his nineteenth birthday, Lon made his debut as an actor in an amateur play.

After appearing in numerous stage shows, he joined a touring company and traveled throughout the Midwest. In 1905, he married Clara (Cleva) Creighton (Francis Cleveland Bush) who was an aspiring singer in Oklahoma City. To support his wife, he obtained a position in a furniture store, and about a year later, he joined the Columbia Comic Opera Company. In 1910 he was working in Los Angeles at a theater on Main Street.

He is said to have done some work as an extra in 1912, and supposedly his marriage began falling apart when they moved to Los Angeles. His wife, who now had a young son, was becoming well-known appearing at local supper clubs. As her singing career as Cleva Creighton bloomed, her career as Mrs. Lon Chaney wilted. Chaney was offered a position as stage manager for a company in San Francisco, and when they arrived, Cleva soon became the star of the family, and all of San Francisco's rang with applause for her singing.

Cleva was soon spending more of her time with the customers where she worked, and when Lon went on tour, she remained in San Francisco. She also began drinking heavily, and in 1913 they separated and were divorced in 1915.

He had began to work for Universal in 1913 as a prop man and then began getting small roles in numerous one to three-reelers. In 1919 he was given the role of "Frog," a crook who feigns to be crippled in a faith healing scam in "The Miracle Man. " As he is "healed," Chaney used his entire body to give the effect of a terribly disfigured man who is miraculously being rejuvenated as he slowly stands before the assembled townspeople proclaiming his "miracle."

The movie, now lost, was one of the year's major hits both at the box office and with the critics. Although Photoplay Magazine said in `1922 that "The Trap" was far short of his work in "The Miracle Man," Chaney was on the road to stardom. Many of his films are available for viewing today including "Shadows," "Oliver Twist," "The Monster," "The Blackbird," "The Unknown," "Mockery," "Laugh, Clown, Laugh" and "Where East is East."

Alan Hale

Alan Hale (1892-1950) was born Rufus Edward MacKahn in Washington, District of Columbia, the son of a patent medicine manufacturer. He attended the University Of Pennsylvania and then went to the college of Osteopathy. Just two months from obtaining his degree, he decided that he did not want to be an osteopath.

He also studied engineering in the evenings and had a brief stint with the Metropolitan Opera. But when his voice and his money ran out, he turned to vaudeville. In addition to touring with vaudeville companies, he briefly wrote obituaries for a newspaper and then decided to become a movie actor. He entered films as a slapstick comedian for the Lubin Co. in 1911. About a year later, he joined Reliance where he made numerous one-reelers for about $60 a week. He was persuaded to join Biograph by D. W. Griffith.

Hale made over 100 pictures in the 14 months that he was at Biograph, and during that period, he also appeared in a few Broadway shows. When he moved to Hollywood in 1915, he devoted all of his time to the screen. In Hollywood, he appeared in pictures with various studios including Reliance, Majestic, Peerless, Fox, Lasky and Famous Players. He directed a few pictures, and during the mid-twenties, he started obtaining starring roles. He appeared in a few silents with William Boyd, and his favorite silent role was in "The Spieler" with Clyde Cook and Renee Adoree.

During the early 1930's, his career was at a standstill until he appeared in Frank Capra's "It Happened One Night." From the thirties until his last three pictures in 1950, he made films for 22 companies. When he died in 1950, he had appeared in about 400 movies in his 40-year screen career. He can be seen in a few of his silent films today including "The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse," "Robin Hood," "The Covered Wagon," "Dick Turpin," "Braveheart," "Skyscraper," "The Spieler" and "Power."

Dagmar Godowsky

Dagmar Godowsky (1897-1975) was born in Vilna, Lithuania, and educated in Europe and the United States. She was the daughter of renowned pianist/composer Leopold Godowsky and an American mother. Her father at one time had a music studio in Chicago, and, after spending a few years abroad, her family returned to the New York where she studied for the stage at the American Academy.

Her father introduced her to the Broadway producer David Belasco's manager, and she became Belasco's protege and given a role in Ibsen's "The Doll House. " After considerable legitimate stage experience, she accompanied her father to California where he had a music teaching contract. He introduced Dagmar to Charlie Chaplin who took them to Universal Studios. A casting director noticed her and cast her in a Western film. She later appeared in a John Ford film and then appeared with another actor, Frank Mayo, whom she later married.

Dagmar in her autobiography mentions her second marriage." I married a second time, and I left him too. . . It was the shortest marriage that ever was in the whole world. As I said, I have claustrophobia, and when he put his arms around me right after the ceremony and asked," Who do you belong to now?" that was that."

She appeared in about two dozen films playing 'vamp' roles during the 1920's and retired from the screen in 1924. Dagmar went to Europe and made a picture in England and was engaged to make a sound film in Berlin for UFA, but Hitler changed her mind. With the exception of "The Trap," none of her other films are available.

Upon retiring, she became a notorious and internationally popular socialite, and in her own autobiography, she boasted of her romantic flings with such luminaries as Charlie Chaplin, Rudolph Valentino, Jascha Heifetz, Arthur Rubinstein, Enrico Caruso and Igor Stravinsky. At one time she was married to silent star Frank Mayo. Dagmar's brother Leopold was a noted violinist who also helped invent Kodachrome color processing

Irene Rich

Irene Rich (1891-1988) was born Irene Luther in Buffalo, NY, educated at St. Margaret's School For Girls, and was a twice married successful real estate agent when she entered films in 1918 as an extra in Mary Pickford's Stella Maris. Soon she was starring in scores of female-oriented screen melodramas of the 1920's.

She appeared opposite the likes of Will Rogers, Wallace Beery, and John Barrymore, and she worked for numerous studios including, Goldwyn, Warner, Pathe, Fox, Paramount, Mayfair, and MGM. Surviving the talkie revolution, she worked in sound films as a character actress and retired from the screen in 1932 to become a very popular radio star. During the mid-thirties, she appeared in several Broadway plays including "Seven Keys To Baldpate" opposite George M Cohan.

In 1938 she returned to the screen portraying mothers and other character roles until her retirement in 1948. Well preserved in the late 1970's, she was featured in Welch's Grape Juice advertisements that predominately indicated her date of birth as 1891. She can be seen in a few of her silent films including "Stella Maris," "A Fool There Was," "Brass," "Beau Brummel," "Captain January," and "Lady Windermere's Fan."

Frank Campeau

Frank Campeau (1864-1943) was born in Detroit, Michigan, was educated at Notre Dame, and was a veteran stage actor before entering the movies. He portrayed character roles from the mid-1910's through the 1940's.

He was the perfect bad man, whether dressed as a millionaire or a flop house henchman, and his short, wiry, build with an evil-looking face was the secret to his success for many years. Douglas Fairbanks capitalized on Campeau's villainous manner by casting him in several bad-guy roles. In "His Majesty the American," Campeau was a shifty-eyed diplomat. In "Til the Clouds Roll By," he is identified only as The Jilted Villain.

He made a smooth transition to sound and retired from films at the age of 74. He can be seen in several of his silent films including "His Majesty The American," "Til The Clouds Roll By," "Just Tony," "The Isle Of Lost Ships," "Three Bad Men," and "The First Auto."

Irving Thalberg

Irving G. Thalberg (1899-1936), also credited as Irving Grant Thalberg, was born in Brooklyn, New York City. A sickly child, he was cared through his many illnesses by his strong-willed mother. Forced to leave Boy's High School because of rheumatic fever, he read voraciously during his convalescence, and his knowledge would serve him well during his Hollywood film-making years. After several secretarial jobs, Thalberg met Carl Laemmle, the head of Universal Pictures, who was a friend of the family. Laemmle was impressed by the young man.

As Laemmle's secretary in the company's Broadway headquarters, Thalberg expressed several solid theories on to how to improve efficiency on the rambling Universal lot in California. When Laemmle went on an extended vacation, he put the young Thalberg in charge of the studio where the frail young man proved a capable decision-maker.

At Universal Thalberg had problems with Erich von Stroheim over the production costs of "Foolish Wives" and "The Merry Go Round." Supposedly Thalberg left Universal in February of 1923 when he declined to marry Laemmle's daughter and accepted a vice-president post at the small company of Louis B. Mayer. In April of 1924, Mayer's studio was absorbed into the mammoth new production company Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) with Thalberg as vice-president and supervisor of production.

He again encountered and battled with von Stroheim over the director's extravagance and 42-reel epic "Greed." When von Stroheim refused to cut "Greed," Thalberg took the film away from him and had it cut to his satisfaction.

Under Thalberg, MGM commanded great respect throughout Hollywood, not only because of his near-infallible gift for movie-making, but also because he was a polite, respectful boss, willing to listen to anyone's input so long as it was for the general good of the studio. In 1927 Thalberg married one of MGM's top actress, Norma Shearer.

However, not everyone was enchanted by the Boy Wonder. Disciples of Erich von Stroheim, who was fired twice by Thalberg, singled the young producer out for some particularly vicious remarks. Broadway writers like George S. Kaufman despaired at being kept waiting in the busy Thalberg's outer office for hours and days on end; and actor Edward G. Robinson deeply resented Thalberg's intention to "mold" Robinson's career, rather than allowing the actor his creative freedom. But the yes man outweighed the no men, and Thalberg continued riding high until a heart attack in 1932 forced him to take several months off. During that period, Louis Mayer, who'd always been jealous of Thalberg's accomplishments, maneuvered things so that Thalberg's powers would be severely reduced upon his return. Thalberg was among the first producers who instituted the 'Sneak Preview" to judge the audiences reaction to his productions, and an unfavorable reaction usually resulted in a major overhaul of the film.

By 1936, Thalberg was on the verge of leaving MGM and setting up his own independent production company, in the manner of David O. Selznick, but such a move never took place. Thalberg died of pneumonia at the age of 37.
He left behind some of the classics of the silent cinema including "He Who Gets Slapped," "The Merry Widow," "The Big Parade," "Ben-Hur," and "The Crowd."

Eighty Silent Film Stars by George Katchmer
Who's Who In Hollywood by David Ragan
The World Film Encyclopedia by Clarence Winchester Stars of the Photoplay by Photoplay Magazine (1924)
The Film Encyclopedia by Ephraim Katz
The Real Tinsel by Bernard Rosenberg and Harry Silverstein
Lon Chaney by Michael Blake
Lon Chaney by N.L. Ross.

copyright 2003 by John DeBartolo. All rights reserved.

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