Never Again (Selig, 1915)
Tom (Tom Mix) is Vicky Jordan’s (Victoria Forde) boyfriend. He’s a cowboy or something like that and has just ridden into Las Vegas to see Vicky and to visit the local saloon. At said saloon and after several drinks, Tom spots his old friend Ned Burrows (Leo D. Maloney) coming through the door. The bartender appears and he and Ned argue over something the audience isn’t privy to. Tom, a little tipsy, pulls out his gun and starts shooting wildly. Ned is hit. Tom staggers out of the saloon and rides away. He’s met on the road by another of the barflies who tells him that he “sure enough killed Ned” and that he had better clear out of town before the police find him. Tom hops a train and disappears into the night afternoon.
A week later, the Sheriff (Sid Jordan) receives a letter from his sister Bess (Helen Gilmore). There’s going to be a riding show in Los Angeles and she wants him to accompany her there, which he does, and who should he see among the participants…
Tom Mix and Sid Jordan made a boatload of short westerns for Selig in the 1910s. They were mostly comedies or action-comedies, but Never Again (1915) is more of a drama with a twist. The setup echoes the dozens upon dozens of other “drink” films that were coming out at the time. It was during the lead-up to Prohibition and the temperance movement was growing louder by the day. The first act of Never Again reminded me particularly of a somewhat less preachy What Drink Did (1909), but the second act abandons the hard-line approach for a much more moderate message:
The film ends with the Sheriff arresting Tom and taking him back to Las Vegas, only to deliver him into the hands of Ned, who it turns out wasn’t seriously injured, and to Vicky, to whom Tom promises that he’ll “never again get drunk”.
Tom doesn’t say he’ll never drink again, only never drink to drunkenness again. That is frankly remarkable. As far as the other drink films I’ve seen are concerned, alcohol is nothing short of the embodiment of all evil. To see one that hedges that claim even slightly is a puzzle. I don’t pretend to have the answer, but I have an idea for why Never Again backs away from calling for an all-out prohibition.
Who was the target audience for Tom Mix films? They had a broad appeal, surely, but they weren’t most popular among rural audiences, they were watched most by inner-city children and their mothers. City dwellers were, on the whole, against Prohibition – the loudest voices calling for it were in the suburbs and countryside. There were a host of reasons for that, but a big one was that the temperance movement went largely hand-in-hand with the nativist movement, whose subscribers thought America was going to hell in a handbasket and laid the blame squarely on the recent influx of immigrants from southern and eastern Europe. Those immigrants congregated in cities, chiefly New York, and would have made up the core of Mix’s audience. It would seem to me that Never Again is trying to cash-in on the drink film craze while simultaneously trying hard not to alienate those targeted by Prohibition.
But I haven’t said much about what I thought of the film. It’s pretty good. Like most Selig films, it offers few details regarding the characters or story and it leaves even major plot points to the audience’s imagination, but it has a certain crude charm that makes it very agreeable to watch. I’ve said before that I’m attracted to Selig films for reasons that I can’t entirely express, but I think that comes nearest to explaining why. That, and the fact that the output of any major studio that somehow re-imagines itself as a zoo when the movie business dries up can’t help but be intriguing.
My rating: I like it.
Available from Harpodeon