Combustible Celluloid
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With: Harry Carey, Duke R. Lee, George Berrell, Molly Malone, Ted Brooks, Hoot Gibson, Milton Brown, Vester Pegg
Written by: George Hively
Directed by: John Ford
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 62
Date: 08/27/1917

Straight Shooting (1917)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Give 'Em Hell, Harry

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

A good percentage of John Ford's silent era work no longer exists, so it's something of a small miracle that this one, his first feature film, is still around, and in such a decent print. Kino Lorber has released it on a new Blu-ray, looking pretty darn good for its age. It's an entertaining good guys-vs.-bad guys story, with Harry Carey's beloved "Cheyenne Harry" smack in the middle. Carey played this character many times, in two-reelers and in features. He was a bit of a scoundrel, palling around with the unsavory types before finally siding with the good guys in the end.

Straight Shooting opens with text, describing how the cattlemen once roamed free on open land, until the settlers showed up, put up fences, and established order. From that, you might guess that the cattlemen are the heroes of the piece, but they're not. The lead baddie, Thunder Flint (Duke Lee), starts things off by closing off the settlers' water supply. Then one of the good guys, Ted Sims (Ted Brooks), is shot and killed by Flint's hired gun, Placer Fremont (Vester Pegg). Harry starts the story as another of Flint's hired guns, but switches sides when he gets to know the dead kid's family.

Hoot Gibson, who also went on to become a notable cowboy actor, co-stars in another nuanced role, as another one of Flint's men, who is in love with Joan Sims (Molly Malone); he's constantly torn between his duty and his heart. George Berrell — who apparently knew John Wilkes Booth — plays old man Sims. At age 23, Ford — credited here as "Jack" — already shows his natural gift for visual poetry and composition, especially in the outdoors. One striking, three-plane shot has Harry facing off with Placer, with a horse standing in the foreground, Harry in the middle, and Placer in the deep background. The movie's ending, with its clash between home life and frontier life, comes quite close to The Searchers territory.

Kino Lorber's Blu-ray comes with only a few extras, but they are essential. Joseph McBride, author of the seminal book Searching for John Ford, as well as co-author of an older book on Ford, provides a fascinating commentary track. (Incidentally, he is also one of the screenwriters of Rock 'n' Roll High School.) And Tag Gallagher, author of another essential book on Ford, contributes both a ten-minute video essay and a written liner notes essay. The disc also features the only surviving fragment of Ford's Hitchin' Posts (1920), an intriguing 3-minute clip that looks like it would have been a good movie. Michael Gatt composed and performs the effective new piano score.

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