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The Outlaw (Kalem, 1912)

The Outlaw ScreenshotThe Outlaw (Kalem, 1912)
Starring Carlyle Blackwell, William H. West, and Alice Joyce

Jim (Carlyle Blackwell) discovers a man dying of thirst while he’s out prospecting (William H. West). He brings him back to his cabin and nurses him back to health. Jim finds it odd that, after the stranger recovers his strength, the first thing he wants to do is to shave off his beard. Nevertheless, the two go out prospecting together and the stranger meets Jim’s girlfriend, Jenny (Alice Joyce). She becomes infatuated with the mysterious man.

The sheriff (Paul Hurst) stops by Jim’s cabin to ask if he’s seen the wanted outlaw Black Pete, who’s hiding somewhere in the area. After glancing the stranger leave the cabin, the sheriff is suspicious of him, but Jim asserts that he can’t be Black Pete. In the wanted poster the sheriff brought, Black Pete has a full beard, and Jim’s stranger is clean-shaven.

When the sheriff leaves, Jim goes to join the stranger, but discovers him and Jenny in an embrace. He then checks his pans and realizes that the stranger has been stealing gold from his claim. Jim decides to take revenge. That night, while the stranger sleeps, Jim pulls out a knife. He stands over the bed, but just as he rears back to stab, he sees his murderous reflection in the mirror and drops the knife.

The following day, the stranger is out mining at the base of a hill. The sheriff patrols the top of the ridge and inadvertently starts a landslide that catches the stranger. Jim hears the stranger’s cries and he and Jenny go to rescue him, but they arrive too late. They pull the mortally wounded stranger from the rubble and he dies in Jim’s arms.

The sheriff returns, evidently now convinced that the stranger was Black Pete, and demands that Jim reveal where he is. Jim tells him only that “the stranger has gone”.

I don’t know why the film wasn’t called The Stranger instead of The Outlaw. “The stranger” is the name the mysterious man is consistently called throughout the story and calling him an outlaw in the title kills the suspense. Imagine if The Lodger (1927) were instead called The Victim’s Brother.

Even for 1912, Blackwell’s acting is over-the-top. He doesn’t so much play to the back row as he plays to the next town over. But where I might fault the acting, I have to commend the direction and cinematography. The final scene, in particular, was expertly done. We see Jim, who in the previous scene refused even to look at the stranger, rush to the landslide and begin digging him out with his bare hands. After he’s freed, there’s an axial cut to a medium-close shot of Jim cradling the stranger – affirming a connection between them while simultaneously breaking the action of the previous shot in a way that, to me, suggests breathlessness. Jim calls for Jenny, who moves to the stranger’s head, and as he dies, the stranger reclines into her lap. The Jenny’s eyes meet the stranger’s lovingly, then slowly become more vacant and downcast as they move to Jim’s. It’s extremely well choreographed and coveys all that needs to be said while at the same time never feeling staged – it plays entirely natural.

The Outlaw (1912) is rough in spots and would have benefited greatly had it another reel to spend expanding on the friendship between Jim and the stranger before the latter was uncovered as Black Pete, but the good parts outweigh the bad in my opinion.

My rating: I like it.

Available from Harpodeon