The Bad Man (1923 film)
|The Bad Man|
|Directed by||Edwin Carewe|
|Produced by||Edwin Carewe|
|Based on||The Bad Man (play)
by Porter Emerson Browne
Edwin Carewe Productions
|Distributed by||Associated First National Pictures|
|70 minutes (7-reels)|
|Language||Silent with English intertitles|
The Bad Man is an American silent film western drama with prominently featured satirical and comedic elements, directed by Edwin Carewe, who produced it for his own motion picture company and adapted the scenario from the play by Porter Emerson Browne which opened at Broadway's Comedy Theatre in August 1920 and ran for a very successful 342 performances, closing in June 1921. The film version, from Edwin Carewe Productions, was released by Associated First National Pictures on October 8, 1923, with the title role played by the star of the play's Broadway and touring productions, Holbrook Blinn, and the other leading parts filled by Jack Mulhall, Walter McGrail and Enid Bennett.
The titular character, a Mexican outlaw named Pancho Lopez, bore an undisguised resemblance, both in name and personality, to Pancho Villa, a pre-eminent Mexican Revolutionary general, who was much in the news before and during the play's run and whose assassination on July 20, two-and-a-half months before the film's release, appeared in all the headlines. Nine years earlier, a supporting actress in The Bad Man, Teddy Sampson, played one of Pancho Villa's two sisters in the 1914 Mutual Film feature, The Life of General Villa, with that film's co-director, Raoul Walsh, portraying the young Villa, and Pancho Villa starring as himself. A 2003 television film, And Starring Pancho Villa as Himself, recreates the making of the long-lost 1914 feature, with Antonio Banderas as Villa and Alexa Davalos as Teddy Sampson.
The plotline has Lopez (Holbrook Blinn) and his band of outlaws living from the proceeds gained as a result of theft and confiscation of property, which means goods belonging to anyone wealthy enough to possess anything of value. One of those is rancher Gilbert Jones (Jack Mulhall), whose cattle losses are pushing him to the edge of bankruptcy.
As Lopez is about to deprive Jones of the remainder of his cattle as well as of any valuables he may still possess, and even to kidnap his beloved former sweetheart (Enid Bennett), now married to heartless loan shark Morgan Pell (Walter McGrail), he recognizes Jones as the man who, years earlier, saved his life. Determined to show his gratitude, the powerful bandit robs the rapacious bank which, in cahoots with Pell, cheats and exploits the locals, and gives the money to Jones. When Pell arrives to foreclose on Jones' oil-rich ranch, Lopez, addressing him as "Mr. Loan-Fish", inquires of him whether women in his country inherit their late husbands' wealth, and then, since he considers the despicable corrupter to be an unworthy opponent, tells his top aide to shoot him (intertitle: "Pedro, I do not hunt rabbits—you keel heem"), thus freeing his widow to marry Jones. Finally, he returns all of Jones' stolen cattle and bids the happy couple farewell, thanking them for making him feel good.
A year before Mordaunt Hall would receive a byline as The New York Times' first official film critic, an anonymous reviewer, writing for the paper in October 1923, reported that "Blinn seems to take the same Keen enjoyment in playing the part for the screen as he did before the footlights. His is a lesson for motion picture players, for he is never at a loss for a smirk, a smile, a look of surprise, threatening gestures, or interest in what is going on around him. Blinn's hands and feet appear to suit the very expression of his darkened countenance." A writer for Spokane's Spokesman-Review also extolled Blinn's acting and described the picture as "head and shoulders above the average screen performance. The suspense is kept taut enough to snap at any time, the comedy is scintillant, the acting of Holbrook Blinn superb." In examining the 86-year-old film in 2009, critic Ojos de Aguila noted that "Lopez is an allegorical stand-in for the mysterious and appealing side of Mexico and represents the complex tension of attraction and repulsion that marked relations between the United States and Mexico. It is not an irony that his very repulsive nature—the ability to kill—is also the source of his nobleness, albeit a naturalistic and primitive form of nobility."
Holbrook Blinn died in June 1928, at the dawn of the sound film era, following complications in the aftermath of a horse-riding accident and, in his September 6, 1930 review of the sound remake, Los Angeles Times' Philip K. Scherer noted that "Porter Emerson Browne's opera bouffe, The Bad Man, is now a talking picture. With Walter Huston in the part Holbrook Blinn would doubtless have taken had he lived, the film opened yesterday at Warner Brothers Downtown Theater." Produced by First National/Vitaphone Pictures, a subsidiary of Warner Bros. Pictures, and directed by Clarence G. Badger, the remake starred, in addition to Huston as Pancho Lopez, Dorothy Revier as Ruth Pell [Mrs. Morgan Pell], James Rennie as Gilbert Jones and Sidney Blackmer as Morgan Pell. In line with common practice during the early years of sound film production, foreign-language versions were simultaneously initiated, with the Spanish-dialogue entry, El hombre malo, directed by Roberto E. Guzmán (actors and staging) and William C. McGann (technical set-ups), spotlighting bi-lingual star Antonio Moreno as Pancho Lopez, while the French-language variant, Lopez, le bandit, helmed by bi-lingual director Jean Daumery, had French actor Geymond Vital portraying Pancho Lopez.
A second remake, still keeping The Bad Man title, adapted by Wells Root and directed by Richard Thorpe for MGM in 1941, starred Wallace Beery, who had already portrayed Pancho Villa in the studio's top-grossing 1934 production, Viva Villa!, as Pancho Lopez, Laraine Day as Lucia Pell [same as the name given to Mrs. Morgan Pell in the Broadway play], Ronald Reagan as Gilbert Jones and Tom Conway as Morgan Pell. In keeping with Beery's by-now-established trademark broad acting style, a greater emphasis was placed on humor, to the extent that the 1941 version is frequently categorized as a comedy. Furthermore, according to a number of film sources, Beery had still additional experience in his portrayal of Villa, having played the part not only in Viva Villa!, but purportedly also seventeen years earlier, in the 1917 serial, Patria, produced by William Randolph Hearst and starring dancer Irene Castle in the title role. The incomplete restored version of Patria does not confirm, however, the presence of either Beery or the character of Pancho Villa.
Between the release of the 1930 and 1941 versions, there was also a semi-disguised one in 1937, West of Shanghai, directed by John Farrow for First National/Warner Bros., which retained most plot elements from Porter Emerson Browne's play, but restructured the setting, character names and other details. The bandit leader was now a Chinese warlord, General Fang, as seen through the image of Boris Karloff who had already portrayed the villainous Oriental mastermind, Fu Manchu, in 1932's The Mask of Fu Manchu and would play the Chinese sleuth, Mr. Wong, Detective, in a series of five films directed by William Nigh for poverty row Monogram Pictures, starting a few months after West of Shanghai. The remaining characters also ran true to pattern, with Beverly Roberts as Mrs. Gordon Creed, the Mrs. Morgan Pell prototype, now named Jane, Gordon Oliver as the Gilbert Jones-like Jim Hallett who, years earlier, had saved General Fang's life, and Ricardo Cortez as the smooth-talking, venal-minded, Morgan Pell-styled Gordon Creed.
- newspaper ad in Easton, Pennsylvania for a screening of The Bad Man (Easton Daily Free Press, June 20, 1924)
- newspaper ad in Sonora, California for a screening of The Bad Man (The Union Democrat, February 28, 1925)
- color poster advertising "THE BAD MAN the laughable thriller by Porter Emerson Browne with HOLBROOK BLINN and an all star cast"
- "THE SCREEN". The New York Times review of The Bad Man (October 9, 1923)
- "THE BAD MAN AT RITZ SCORES; Holbrook Blinn Lifts Clever Play Far Above Usual Run of Photo Dramas" (The Spokesman-Review, June 29, 1924)
- "The Bad Man (1923)" Ojos de Aguila Film Review (November 18, 2009)
- Scheuer, Philip K. "Walter Huston Acts Bad Man; Traditional Role Filled by New Favorite Play Done in Talkie Form at Downtown Conteniences of Plot Seen in Version" (Los Angeles Times, September 6, 1930)
- Soares, Andre. "On TCM: Wallace Beery Movies" (Alt Film Guide, August 17, 2013)
- comment by film restoration practitioner Clark Savage, Jr. regarding his work on Patria