Unfair Play: “The Cheat” (1915)

In a modern day variation of Hester Prynne, selfish, corrupt socialite Edith Hardy (played by Fannie Ward) finds herself branded with the marked symbolizing a rather precipitous plummet from Grace in Cecil B. DeMille's bizarrely immoral 1915 morality play, "The Cheat".

In a modern day variation of Hester Prynne, selfish, corrupt socialite Edith Hardy (played by Fannie Ward) finds herself branded with the marked symbolizing a rather precipitous plummet from Grace in Cecil B. DeMille’s bizarrely immoral 1915 morality play, “The Cheat”.

    Cecil B. DeMille’s 1915 “The Cheat” is a morality play that manages the hypocritical feat of allowing the guilty embezzler, the shallow socialite Edith Hardy, to escape punishment from both the law and her particular social class, but excoriate another, the Burmese ivory trader Haka Arakau, who while certainly not innocent of wrongdoing, is essentially an accomplice who is drawn into his initial immoral action by the behavior of Edith, taking advantage of the circumstances of her criminal deceptions, feeling shielded by Edith’s fear of exposure, not merely to her dumbly devoted husband but to the members of her Long Island high society circle, both of whom she has needlessly betrayed through sheer selfishness. (More about this in a moment.)

    Not unlike another American film milestone release of the same year, D.W. Griffith’s “The Birth of a Nation”, “The Cheat” has been lambasted with charges of racism, to the point where the eventually blamed”villain” of the piece (Haka), originally identified as Japanese, was in the 1918 re-release changed to Burmese, [presuming whatever made the character adherent to the accusation of racist ignonimity would suddenly evaporate by this subtle shift of ethnicity] due, in no small part, to official protests from  Japanese organizations, including their Embassy.

    However, on close examination, it is not the depiction of Haka which may be divisive, no matter what his racial persuasion, but the generally low standard for justice and morality which are more at issue, the ease with which the film abandons any semblance of  law in its relentless excusing of Edith in sacrificing a character far less complicit in unlawful behavior. If the character of Haka Arakau is to be considered an insulting model of the Asian male, then what possibly would the verdict be on the white American Edith Hardy? She is by all accounts a liar and a cheat, loyal to no one, and a betrayer of all; a spoiled self-centered sociopathic manipulator who brings ruin to everyone who comes close to her. Curiously enough, Edith Hardy is also the eventual, titular heroine of the film.

To read the complete review, simply click the following link to: https://chandlerswainreviews.wordpress.com/chandler-swain-reviews-the-silents/

About chandlerswainreviews

I've been a puppet, a pirate, a pauper, a poet, a pawn and a king, not necessarily in that order. My first major movie memory was being at the drive-in at about 1 1/2 yrs. old seeing "Sayonara" so I suppose an interest in film was inevitable. (For those scoring at home- good for you- I wasn't driving that evening, so no need to alert authorities.)Writer, critic and confessed spoiler of women, as I have a tendency to forget to put them back in the refrigerator. My apologies.
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2 Responses to Unfair Play: “The Cheat” (1915)

  1. love the film…love your analysis…REGENERATION is another gem from 1915!!!

    • Doc, as always I have to admire the breadth of your taste. Also, “Regeneration” would be an excellent film to examine, perhaps with companion commentary on “The Musketeers of Pig Alley” to trace the genesis of the gangster film. Or is “Regeneration” DocSpeak for “Reptilicus”? I am either emboldened with renewed critical vigor, or extremely confused. I haven’t decided which.

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