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Harry Carey
Duke Lee
Neva Gerber
Vester Pegg
Joseph Harris


Directed by John Ford

NEW 4K RESTORATION FROM UNIVERSAL PICTURES! Hell Bent (1918) is a rousing Western from the series of Cheyenne Harry adventures that director John Ford (still credited as Jack Ford early in his career) made with star Harry Carey (Straight Shooting). Cheyenne Harry was an outlaw with a heart of gold, played with stoic warmth by Carey, whose performances were a pivotal influence on John Wayne. In Hell Bent Harry flees the law after a poker game shootout, and arrives in the town of Rawhide, where he becomes friendly with local cowboy Cimmaron Bill (Duke Lee) and the kindly dance hall girl Bess Thurston (Neva Gerber), who is tending to her sick mother. Gang leader Beau Ross (Joseph Harris) falls hard for Bess, and kidnaps her. Cheyenne Harry goes to desperate lengths traveling across the deadly desert in order to free Bess from the hard-bitten Ross.

Blu-ray Extras Include:
Archival audio interview. with John Ford by Joseph McBride

Audio commentary by Joseph McBride, author of Searching for John Ford

Music by Zachary Marsh

Video essay by film critic Tag Gallagher

This is a super film. It makes the loss of most of the rest of John Ford’s silent pictures with Harry Carey all the more lamentable.

Largely dismissed and ignored today the period between 1915 beginning with THE BIRTH OF A NATION and climaxing in 1927 with THE JAZZ SINGER represents the art and business of the motion picture at its best as well as at it fullest. Theaters were built to seat thousands not, as today, a hundred.

With the coming of sound instead of allowing their own directors to work the Hollywood studios imported stage directors and stage stars. The unique form of acting developed during those years was tossed aside. Stage acting once again became the rule.

Silent motion pictures spoke to everyone. Once the screen began to speak motion pictures spoke only to those who understood the language spoken from the screen.

The great visual language of motion pictures was and remains lost. With it went the power of the movies to hold our eyes.

Today when we go to the movies our eyes spend half the time staring down into our popcorn.

John Ford was one of the few Hollywood directors from the silent era whose work dominated the screen as no other in the sound era has. Orson Welles said, “Study the masters. By which I mean John Ford, John Ford and John Ford.”

Bernardo Bertolucci, the great Italian master, said, “Film students should stay as far away from film schools and film teachers as possible. The only school for the cinema is the cinema. The best cinema is the Paris Cinémathèque. The best teacher is Henri Langlois.”

My work in Toronto from 1968 has been an effort to do in Toronto what Henri Langlois did in Paris.

That work has not been without success.

One UofT student writing in the University of Toronto student paper, THE VARSITY, stated, “I seldom feel a film’s greatness in film school. I often feel it at Reg Hartt’s Cineforum.

This is in large part because I know my job is to exceed the expectations of the audience.

Students in a classroom, the people who go to art cinemas and places like that are not an audience. They are like folks who regularly go to church on Sunday. They are there for the wrong reasons. Here is Orson Welles speaking about the audience: .

John Ford (here called Jack Ford) made movies for people who would not be caught dead if they could help it in church on Sunday or any other day of the week.

That was, always has been and always will be the audience for the movies. My programs have always been aimed at the  folks who would not be caught dead in church or at a film society.

Harry Carey’s career in motion pictures was a vein Universal Pictures, the studio that produced his films, thought had run dry when John Ford turned what was supposed to be a short film, STRAIGHT SHOOTING (1916) into a feature to the consternation of the studio suits who looked to the man in the number one suit, Carl Laemmle, to see what to do. Laemmle said, “If I order a suit and get an extra pair of pants free I don’t throw out the pants.”

STRAIGHT SHOOTING was released as a feature. Harry Carey became a major a star. John Ford jump started his career as a director.

Said Henri Langlois, “An art form requires genius. People of genius are always troublemakers, meaning they start from scratch, demolish accepted norms and rebuild a new world. The problem with cinema today is the dearth of troublemakers. There’s not a rabble-rouser in sight. There was still one, but he went beyond troublemaker to court jester. He clobbered the status quo. That’s Godard. We’re fresh out of ‘bad students.’ You’ll find students masquerading as bad ones, but you won’t find the real article, because a genuine bad student upends everything.”

Canadian cinema has good directors among them Norman Jewison, Bruce MacDonald, Atom Egoyan.

What Canadian cinema lacks (and what world cinema lack right now) are bad students.

Martin Scorsese for all of his success has never been a bad student. Neither has Francis Ford Coppola. Roger Corman almost was but he lacks vision.

John Ford was a sonofabitch tyrant.

But, oh, the pictures he made.

HELL BENT is one of them.

It’s got a wonderful wicked sense of humor, a sexual subtext that knows no boundaries and some real bastards who need to be brought up short.

John Ford taught himself to make movies by making movies. More should do that.

HELL BENT (1918) is one helluva movie.

This restoration does it proud.

Universal and Kino Blu-ray deserve to be commended.–Reg Hartt

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Cecil Taylor, “The key to success in the arts is to find someplace small in your own city where you can present your ideas without interference. Do that and the whole world comes to your door.” THE CINEFORUM is Reg Hartt’s small space. The whole world comes to his door.



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