Western Wednesdays: Hell’s Hinges (1916)

Young and weak-hearted Reverend Henley [Jack Standing] is sent from the big city church to preach in the town of Placer Centre, a city known locally as “Hell’s Hinges” for the cutthroat and violent behavior of its gun-toting townsfolk. However, two rogue citizens, Silk Miller [Alfred Hollingsworth] and “Blaze” Tracey [William S. Hart], do not care for Henley’s appearance in town and plot to do away with the reverend and his sister Faith [Clara Williams].

Upon meeting Faith Henley, Tracey’s heart immediately softens and declares to the ne’er do well townsfolk that he intends to protect the parson and his sister. Meanwhile Miller and his saloon showgirl Dolly [Louise Glaum] conspire to ruin the parson, with Dolly seducing the spineless reverend. Upon the morning’s service, the congregation discover the reverend sprawled on a bed, a drunken lout.

Soon enough, the no-good barflies and dance hall maidens conspire to burn down the recently erected church. The congregation stands their ground and engage in battle with the heathens with the wimpish reverend getting killed in the process. Tracey returns from fetching a doctor for the parson only to discover he is dead along with the church ablaze! Tracey, fighting mad, proceeds to shoot up the saloon, setting it, and the entire town. ablaze, leaving the townsfolk stranded.

“Hell’s Hinges” was a fantastic, beautifully produced and emotionally engaging western, in many ways a perfect motion picture that takes you on a sensational heart-pounding and heart-wrenching thrill ride. Everything about this film is spectacular, from the acting, the direction and the marvelous photography, everyone here played their parts extremely well and they created one of the most breathtaking motion pictures that I have seen in quite some time.

This is not simply a B-western, but a production that we can all take something away from. As a Christian man, this story touched me on so many levels. I loved the character development on the part of William S. Hart, whom was the perennial silent screen cowboy. Hart was a Shakespearean actor and even appeared in the original 1899 production of “Ben-Hur.” It is also worthy to note that Hart was friends with legendary figures of western culture such as lawmen Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson and owned Billy the Kid’s six shooters. Hart held a passion for the old west and imbued each film he made with realism and his characters with honesty and integrity.

This approach is certainly evident in “Hell’s Hinges,” a film produced by the legendary “Father of the Western,” Thomas H. Ince, who made over 800 films in his impressive career. Hart’s transition from brutish troublemaker to devout Christian was seamless and won my heart. Seeing Hart stand up for Christian values and his love for Clara Williams’ Faith Henley was refreshing to watch, especially considering the anger-inducing performance of Standing’s slovenly and derelict parson. For her part, Williams provides a heart-wrenching performance as a woman who just wishes to bring love to a town laden with sin and is especially effective in her scenes with Hart. Hollingsworth and Glaum are deliciously slimy and sleazy as the villains who bring about the demise of the church and it was great to see notorious B western baddie Robert Kortman at his disgusting best as a hate-mongering barfly.

The climactic shootout in the saloon is wonderfully rendered and it’s awesome to watch Hart take command over the hateful citizens of “Hell’s Hinges.” It’s near-apocalyptic as well, with Hart literally sending the heathens to Hell. Hart is simply a badass shooting up the bar and setting the town on fire with the sinners running for their lives. A brilliant ending to a brilliant movie.

In conclusion, I highly recommend “Hell’s Hinges” as a prime example of not only William S. Hart’s surviving body of work but also as a masterpiece of the western genre. This film deserves a respectable, deluxe Blu-Ray, loaded with extras and an exhaustive restoration. Hell’s Hinges is the finest western film I have seen thus far, in my short time reviewing for Cinema Crazed. Everyone needs to see this movie!