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Cheat
     

The Cheat

Director: Cecil B. DeMille,

Cast: Cecil B. DeMille, Fannie Ward, Jack Dean, Sessue Hayakawa

 
The Cheat was the picture that "made" the reputation of director Cecil B. DeMille. Broadway star Fannie Ward plays an irresponsible socialite who uses the charity funds entrusted to her to play the stock market. When she loses the money, Ward is afraid to tell her husband Jack Dean, so she arranges to borrow $10,000 from wealthy oriental Sessue Hayakawa. It is

Overview

The Cheat was the picture that "made" the reputation of director Cecil B. DeMille. Broadway star Fannie Ward plays an irresponsible socialite who uses the charity funds entrusted to her to play the stock market. When she loses the money, Ward is afraid to tell her husband Jack Dean, so she arranges to borrow $10,000 from wealthy oriental Sessue Hayakawa. It is understood that, in exchange for the loan, Ward will surrender herself sexually to Hayakawa. When her husband gives her a gift of $10,000, Ward tries to call off her deal with Hayakawa, but the enraged oriental calls her a cheat; wrestling her to the floor, he brands the woman with a symbol signifying that she belongs to him. She responds to this humiliation by shooting Hayakawa. Ward's loyal husband takes responsibility for the shooting, standing trial on an assault charge. To save her husband, Ward confesses all in court, displaying the brand mark on her shoulder. Logically, Ward should now be charged with the crime, but this is 1915: the all-white courtroom spectators pounce upon Hayakawa, nearly killing the poor fellow, and Ward and her husband are exonerated. Depending upon where this film was shown, Sessue Hayakawa's character was either Japanese or Burmese: either way, he was regarded as the villain of the piece almost solely on the basis of his race. Interestingly, Hayakawa was elevated to stardom on the basis of The Cheat, permitting him to play far more sympathetic characters in the future. As mentioned, The Cheat also served as the breakthrough film for Cecil B. DeMille: critics of the time fell over themselves praising DeMille's creative use of low-key lighting and shadow effects to artistically convey his melodramatic yarn. Though The Cheat was remade several times, the 1915 DeMille film remains the definitive version.

Editorial Reviews

All Movie Guide
One of the key films from Cecil B. DeMille's silent period, The Cheat was a sensation at the time of its initial release and secured Sessue Hayakawa's status as a major star of the day. It almost goes without saying that a 1915 movie about a Japanese man attempting to possess a wealthy white woman is bound to touch upon some thorny racial issues and have its share of cringe-inducing scenes. But aside from the horror of the branding scene and the hysteria of the climactic courtroom riot, DeMille is more interested in pure melodrama, and few filmmakers in the history of the movies have been so skilled at making melodrama so entertaining. A major reason for the film's effectiveness is the performance of Hayakawa as the villain Tori. While the other actors, especially Fannie Ward, are busy emoting, Hayakawa displays a tremendous subtlety not often seen in films of that period. He often reduces his performance to nuanced body language and eye movement, but it is with those little touches that he gets across more than the rest of the cast combined. At this early stage DeMille was already displaying considerable talent, and the branding scene is a particularly powerful moment in what must have been shocking to audiences of the day. It is also worth noting that the Japanese government was so offended by the film that upon its re-release during World War I (when Japan was a U.S. ally), Tori's name was changed to Haka Arakau and his nationality became Burmese.

Product Details

Release Date:
10/06/2015
UPC:
0089218770592
Original Release:
1915
Source:
Alpha Video
Sound:
[silent]
Sales rank:
5,166

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