Straight Shooting (John Ford / U.S., 1917):

Five reels of lovely sagebrush engravings, the foundation stone for the John Ford hall. The depth of the screen is measured via a bovine herd leisurely winding down a hill from background to foreground, like everything in the film a divination (Tol'able David, Bend of the River, Aguirre: Der Zorn Gottes, countless others). The villainous Thunder Flint (Duke Lee) is introduced astride his horse with his cattle empire behind him, struggling farmers (headed by George Berrell) stand their ground in the face of hired marauders. The title is a pun on the gunslinger who reforms, a wanted poster is nailed to a tree and Cheyenne Harry (Harry Carey) leans out of the trunk to grin like the Cheshire Cat. A matter of water rights: The farmer's son (Ted Brooks) is shot down at the stream, the sorrowing tableau around his fresh grave moves the rascally bandit (a gauzy POV briefly registers his surreptitious tear). "Destiny," reads the one-word intertitle, though Ford the budding determinist already enjoys a meandering joke or two, the saloon drinking bout and the desperado with his finger in the jam jar. Flurries of zesty action within pictorial arrangements "to meet killers with killers," the Leone close-up born in a showdown on main street. The Griffith tutelage is felt in the climactic cabin siege (Battle at Elderbush Gulch is a blueprint, cf. Stagecoach), though the striking line of thought is toward The Searchers. Suspended between civilization and wilderness, Carey's roguish Prairie Kid is a rough draft of John Wayne's psychotic Ethan Edwards—the distance between them is the trajectory of American cinema. With Molly Malone, Hoot Gibson, and Milton Brown. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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