Combustible Celluloid
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With: Harry Carey, Duke R. Lee, Neva Gerber, Vester Pegg, Joe Harris, Steve Clemente, Millard K. Wilson, Molly Malone
Written by: John Ford, Harry Carey, Eugene B. Lewis
Directed by: John Ford
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 53
Date: 07/05/1918

Hell Bent (1918)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Sand Finale

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This silent-era John Ford Western is notable for its framing device: a writer has been asked to tell a story that's more "realistic," and less about generic good guys and bad guys, and he takes inspiration from a Frederic Remington painting before proceeding. Then Ford's frequent star Harry Carey plays a gambler and a troublemaker who rides into the next town, befriends the grumpy Cimmaron Bill (Duke R. Lee) and falls in love with Bess Thurston (Neva Gerber). He then must rescue Bess after her no-account brother (Vester Pegg) falls in with the nasty Beau Ross (Joe Harris). The existing 53 minutes of the movie skim over the plot chunkily, with not much concern for smoothness or consistency, and it's easy to lose the thread. But Ford's action sequences, and his outdoor footage are breathtaking, even at this early stage. A climactic desert sandstorm should quiet any doubts about his talents.

Kino Lorber released a restored version of this film on DVD and Blu-ray for 2020, complete with a new music score by Zachary Marsh. It includes a 1970 audio interview with John Ford by Joseph McBride (author of the seminal Searching for John Ford), a commentary track by McBride, a video essay by critic Tag Gallagher (author of another seminal book on Ford).

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