Wednesday, May 31, 2017

FILMBAY 2000 Greatest Films of All-Time (1888-2014) by Year # 0116 - CHEAT, THE (Cecil B. DeMille, 1915, USA, 55m, BW)


CHEAT, THE (Cecil B. DeMille, 1915, USA, 55m, BW)


CHEAT, THE (Cecil B. DeMille, 1915, USA, 55m, BW)

Directed by Cecil B. DeMille (uncredited)
Produced by Cecil B. DeMille
Jesse L. Lasky
Written by Hector Turnbull
Jeanie Macpherson
Starring Sessue Hayakawa
Fannie Ward
Jack Dean
Music by Robert Israel (1994)
Cinematography Alvin Wyckoff
Edited by Cecil B. DeMille
Jesse Lasky Feature Plays
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release date
December 13, 1915 (initial release)
November 24, 1918 (re-release)
Running time
59 minutes
Country United States
Language Silent
English intertitles

The Cheat is a 1915 American silent drama film directed by Cecil B. DeMille, starring Fannie Ward, Sessue Hayakawa, and Jack Dean (1874-1950), Ward's real-life husband.


Socialite Edith Hardy (Ward) has extravagant tastes. Her stockbroker husband Richard (Dean), with all of his money tied up in a very promising investment, insists she send back an expensive dress she has just bought. When she asks an acquaintance what he could do with $10,000, he assures her he could double it overnight. She gives him the Red Cross funds entrusted to her as the charity's treasurer.

The next day, however, he reports that the money is gone. Hishituru Tori (Hayakawa), a wealthy Japanese admirer (changed in the film's 1918 re-release to a Burmese ivory king named "Haka Arakau"), overhears and offers her a loan, if she is willing to pay the price of her virtue.

The same day, her husband is jubilant that his gamble has paid off. She asks him for $10,000, which she explains is to cover her losses playing bridge. She visits Tori and tries to pay him back, but he refuses to cancel their bargain. She threatens to kill herself, but he is so confident that she is bluffing that he hands her a pistol. When she continues to resist his advances, he subdues her and brands her on the back of the shoulder with the seal with which he marks all of his property. Edith grabs the gun and shoots him in the shoulder, then flees. Richard, having followed her after she left their home, finds Tori and picks up the gun. He is held for the police by Tori's servants. When questioned, he confesses to the crime to protect his wife.

When Edith visits him in jail, Richard orders her to remain silent. During the trial, both he and Tori testify on the stand that he was the shooter. However, when he is found guilty, Edith rushes to the judge and announces she did it. When she shows the brand to all, the judge and officers of the court have great difficulty keeping the outraged spectators from attacking Tori. The judge sets aside the verdict, and Edith and Richard depart the courtroom.


Fannie Ward as Edith Hardy
Sessue Hayakawa as Hishuru Tori (original release) / Haka Arakau (1918 re-release)
Jack Dean as Richard Hardy
James Neill as Jones
Yutaka Abe as Tori's Valet
Dana Ong as District Attorney
Hazel Childers as Mrs. Reynolds
Arthur H. Williams as Courtroom Judge (as Judge Arthur H. Williams)
Raymond Hatton as Courtroom Spectator (uncredited)
Dick La Reno as Courtroom Spectator (uncredited)
Lucien Littlefield as Hardy's Secretary (uncredited)


The film was remade in 1923, with George Fitzmaurice as director and Pola Negri and Jack Holt starring. In 1931, Paramount again remade The Cheat, with Broadway mogul George Abbott as director and starring Tallulah Bankhead. The Cheat was also remade in France as Forfaiture (1937) directed by Marcel L'Herbier. This version, however, makes significant changes to the original story, even though Hayakawa was cast once again as the predatory Asian man.


Cecil B. DeMille was lucky to start making movies independently in 1914. Unlike the previous generation of directors, he didn’t have to serve a long apprenticeship making short films, and unlike directors bound to the Edison Trust, he didn’t have to fight to be able to work in feature length. He lept in with Westerns like “The Squaw Man” and “The Virginian,” then graduated in 1915 to dramas like this one (the epics he’s remembered for today don’t come along until the twenties). Here, Fanny Ward (later in “Her Strange Wedding” and “Witchcraft”) is a young socialite with no head for money, whose husband (played by her real-life husband Jack Dean, whose credits include “The Marriage of Kitty” and “A School for Husbands”) refuses to buy her fancy gowns and lingerie while his money is tied up in an important investment. 

So, she wisely decides to invest the money entrusted to her by the Red Cross in a shady copper mine pushed on her by some guy at a party. Salvation comes in the form of Sessue Hayakawa (who we saw in “Last of the Line” and later got an oscar nomination for “Bridge on the River Kwai”), a wealthy Asian financier, who offers to loan her the money to save face. When Dean’s investment pays off, Fanny is jubilant, and runs over to pay off Sessue, but he’s not having it. He clearly felt he had “bought” her when he lent the money, and he proves it by taking out a wax seal and branding her with his mark! Understandably displeased, Fanny picks up a revolver and shoots him in the shoulder, running off into the night. Now hubby wanders in, no doubt wondering where his wife ran off to with $10,000 in the middle of the night. Finding the wounded man, the check, and the gun, he puts it together and confesses to the crime when the police arrive. His wife’s later efforts to buy off the scheming villain are to no avail – “You cannot cheat me twice,” he declares. This leaves her no choice but to pull a dramatic court room reveal, saving the day at the risk of her honor.

Now, a lot’s already been made about the fact that the villain is a foreigner, to the point that the intertitles were changed in 1918 to make him Burmese rather than Japanese, due to protests from the Japanese government. And it certainly fits the general racial attitudes of the day, though I would point out that Hayakawa is never held up to represent all members of his race; he appears to act as an individual. At worst, he’s sort of a “Shylock” character, who would confirm existing prejudices without necessarily promoting them to new audiences. What is interesting is that the end of the movie toys with the possibility of a bloody lynching when the white male spectators at the trial burst into an angry mob at the sight of Fanny’s brand. But it doesn’t go there. The judge insists on keeping order, and the police eventually calm things down and escort Sessue out of the room. The message does not seem to endorse lawless racist vigilantism, at least, which is more than I can say for “The Birth of a Nation.”

Since I noted the good use of darkness and shadow in Feuillade’s early work recently, I want to draw special attention to how far we’ve come by 1915. There are several darkened rooms and darkened exteriors, and especially good is the dark jail cell, with the shadows of bars striking Dean’s frame and the back wall, in a noir-like effect. When Fanny moves a practical lamp, however, its shadow is clearly visible against her, making it obvious that the light actually comes from another (off screen) source. The whole movie is shot much closer to the actors than earlier films would have been.

Wealthy Japanese ivory dealer Tori (Sessue Hayakawa) resides in a posh Long Island estate and he travels with the "smart set," hosting parties. He's neighbors with hardworking, struggling society stockbroker Dick Hardy (Jack Dean), who hopes to strike it rich to please his frivolous, extravagant and beautiful wife Edith (Fannie Ward, she was a stage actress married to Jack Dean in real-life). He puts her on a pedestal and worships her, and is willing to do anything for her though he frowns that she's so friendly with Tori.

Edith gets overtaken with greed and invests $10,000 in a copper stock tip that Tori gave her and uses the money raised for the Red Cross Belgian relief fund, money she holds because she's the treasurer for the ladies group. Dick, on the other hand, invests in D.& O., and strikes it rich. When Edith discovers she lost everything, she appeals to Tori for help. He gives her the money so the society lady wouldn't face an embarrassing arrest, but in turn she's to go to bed with him that night. Edith manages to get $10,000 from her generous hubby on the sly and offers the money to Tori to even the debt. 

But the film's racial theme is spelled out in the following quote: "East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet." Tori refuses the money and when she refuses to honor her part of the bargain, he uses his curio iron to brand his seal on her shoulder. He then says "That means it belongs to me." Edith shoots Tori, winging him in the shoulder, and escapes. But Dick arrives and to protect Edith, tells the police that he shot Tori. The case goes to trial, but after being found guilty an hysterical Edith tells her story and bares her branded shoulder in the courtroom. The guilty verdict is overturned, and the Asian is lucky to leave the courtroom in one piece from the irate mob yelling at him.

The Cheat so offended members of the Japanese government that in the 1918 version, Tori's nationality was changed to Burmese and his name became Haka Arakau. This indicates that the Japanese had clout with the studio moguls to influence them to change things that are perceived as bias as against the Japanese--something other Asian minorities didn't have. 

Additional Information

Cecil Blount DeMille  

born August 12, 1881, Ashfield, Massachusetts, U.S.
died January 21, 1959, Hollywood, Los Angeles, California

Cecil B. DeMille was an American motion-picture producer-director, whose use of spectacle attracted vast audiences and made him a dominant figure in Hollywood for almost five decades. He was the son of the playwright Henry Churchill DeMille. After studying at the Pennsylvania Military College and the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, he began his career in the theatre as an actor in 1900. He was soon collaborating with his brother, the playwright William Churchill DeMille.

In 1913 DeMille joined Jesse Lasky, Samuel Goldwyn, and Arthur Freed in forming the Jesse Lasky Feature Play Company, which subsequently became Paramount Pictures. DeMille's own first film was a western, The Squaw Man (released 1914), one of the first full-length feature films produced in Hollywood. His ability to give the public what it wanted soon made him a “name” director in the days when directors were virtually unknown. From 1919 to 1923 DeMille made comedies that reflected the postwar freedom from moral restraint, but then he began to produce films dealing with biblical subjects and featuring spectacular crowd scenes and sets. Among these were The Ten Commandments (1923) and The King of Kings (1927), which, it is estimated, was seen by 800 million people.

DeMille was known for his strong and assertive personality: he was the first director to use a megaphone on the set and the first to install a loudspeaker system for issuing orders. He was also noted for his right-wing political views and his strenuous opposition to labour unions. In later decades DeMille concentrated on large productions, culminating in Samson and Delilah (1949), The Greatest Show on Earth (which won the Academy Award for the best picture of 1952), and a second version of The Ten Commandments (1956), his 70th and last film. His other major films included The Sign of the Cross (1932) and Union Pacific (1939). From 1936 to 1945 DeMille appeared on radio in a popular weekly series of adaptations of recent motion pictures.

Although many critics dismissed DeMille's films as devoid of artistic merit, he was conspicuously successful in a genre—the epic—that he made distinctively his own. His numerous honours include a special Academy Award (1949) for “brilliant showmanship” and the Irving G. Thalberg Award (1952).


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