Starring Fannie Ward and Sessue Hayakawa
THE NEW YORK TIMES
December 13, 1915
"The Cheat" belongs to the "modern society" category. It tells the story of a butterfly wife who hypothecates charity funds in her keeping to gamble in stocks, and when she loses, accepts money from a rich Japanese with the promise that she will pay the price. Offer to repay Jap and be released; refusal; tussle; burning brand on her shoulder; bang, bang; enter husband; ditto police; "I shot him"; trial; husband convicted; wife bares branded shoulder; everybody happy but Jap.
Mr. Lasky's enthusiasm is not wholly without reason, for the
picture is much above the average of its kind. But is there any
more excuse for this sensational trash than for the old-fashioned
melodrama in which half of the characters were killed off at the
end of the play? Miss Ward might learn something to help her fulfill
her destiny as a great tragedienne of the screen by observing
the man who acted the Japanese villain in her picture.
Starring Fannie Ward and Sessue Hayakawa
MOVING PICTURE WORLD
December, 15, 1915
Features like this one put the whole industry under obligation to the Lasky company. On every conceivable test this picture shows a hundred per cent. Indeed, the feature is of such extraordinary merit as to call for the highest term of praise.
The plot is simple. This always constitutes special merit in a film story. It is worked out rapidly with that rise of interest which is the mark of every successful dramatic composition. The climax is overpowering. As one of the men that sat behind me in the Strand Theater said, "I would like to be in that mob."
Like all really strong stories, that of "The Cheat" can be told in a few words. A young, extravagant wife, a social butterfly, is playing with fire. In her craze for fine clothes, she gambles with money entrusted to her by a Red Cross society. She loses the money. Her husband knows nothing of the desperate plight of his wife. Even if he knew, however, he would not have been able to help her. His investments had stripped him of ready cash. With visions of horrible disgrace haunting her mind, she is offered help from a strange and dangerous quarter. A rich Japanese who has found entrée into the social set, and who has paid much attention to the young wife in the absence of the busy husband, comes forward and says he will give her the money and ward off the impending exposure "upon conditions." In her despair the young wife gives an almost unconscious and quite mechanical consent, and in the daze that has seized her, she takes the check from the Japanese. Here Fate intervenes. The troubled wife learns from her husband that he had been successful in his operations and that he is now rich.
"Does that mean I can have ten thousand dollars right now?" asks the agonized wife in a frenzy of joy mixed with fear. She gets the money and then goes to the Jap's home to return his treacherous gift. And now the beastliness in the Oriental's nature leaps forth. Not only will he not release her from her bargain, but he means to be paid at once. I shall not attempt to describe what follows -- words seem altogether too feeble for that. In the struggle the Jap sears the woman's shoulder with a red-hot iron to mark her as his own by right of bargain and purchase. Lying on the floor and steeling herself for the next attack and still writhing under the pain of the burning flesh, the woman seizes a revolver and fires it at her torturer. The bullet hits him, and he falls. The woman escapes. A moment later, the husband enters and finds the Jap, covered with blood, gripping convulsively a hank of hair. He sees other proof of his wife's visit. The police are alarmed. The Jap is asked who shot him, but before he can open his mouth, the husband accuses himself of the crime.
The wife hastens to the cell of her husband and confesses all. He forbids her to speak. Now follows the trial. Never before have I seen a more gripping climax. It is built up with exquisite skill. The accused husband and the guilty wife sit side by side. The court room is crowded with spectators, following with feverish interest every new turn in the trial. We see the jury, thoughtful, tense, nervous. The Jap takes the stand, impassive, mysterious, but convincing. The verdict is guilty. The trembling wife is no longer able to restrain herself. Her passion rising superior to all the form and severity of court procedure, she leaps upon the witness stand, a fearful and unconquerable resolve in her eyes. The next two minutes the audience is as spellbound as the men and women in the court room. She tells far more by her looks and gestures than by words of what has happened between her and the Oriental, and when the audience seems on the verge of hysteria, the woman tears the dress from the seared spot on her shoulder. It was like the spark thrown into a keg of powder. The wrath of the audience bursts forth with elemental fury, and there ensues a scene that for tenseness and excitement has never been matched on stage or screen.
Space bids me be brief. I cannot, however, omit words of unqualified praise for Fanny (sic) Ward, whose impersonation of the social butterfly with the singed wings was a masterly performance. The lighting effects must be mentioned too. They are beyond all praise in their art, their daring and their originality. There are those deft and subtle touches that we find all the Lasky pictures possess -- only here they crowd upon one another. What a delicate but powerful effect was the omission of the bars in the prison scene. The shadow of the bars, the sombre light, the bent head of the prisoner silhouetted against the bare wall -- this is but one of the numerous happy touches. "The Cheat" is worth advertising to the limit. It is one feature in a hundred.
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