DENNIS SCHWARTZ 
IS THERE ANY GOOD 
IN SAYING 
EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?

 
TUMBLEWEEDS (director: King Baggot; screenwriter: from the story by Hal G. Evarts/C. Gardner Sullivan; cinematographer: Joseph H. August; music: William Perry/James C. Bradford; cast: William S. Hart (Don Carver), Barbara Bedford (Molly Lassiter), Lucien Littlefield (Kentucky Rose), J. Gordon Russell (Noll Lassiter), Richard R. Niell (Bill Freel), Jack Murphy (Bart Lassiter), Lillian Leighton (Widow Riley), Ted Duncan (Cavalry major), James Gordon ( Joe Hinman); Runtime: 78; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: William S. Hart; Image Entertainment; 1925-silent)

 
"The film was well-received by the public and the critics."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The presentation here includes the 10-minute historical spoken nostalgic introduction by the retired William S. Hart from his Horseshoe ranch at Newhall in the 1939 rerelease of Tumbleweeds. He sentimentally talks in a sincere way about how the west ended with the land rush at Cherokee Strip. He views the land rush in Tumbleweeds as the "last hurrah" for the west, with the coming of the homesteaders in 1889 to the Cherokee Strip. The land had previously been leased to ranchers. King Baggot ("The Notorious Lady") directs with uncredited assistance from Hart. After starting out as a Shakespearean actor, the Newburgh, New York born Hart found his way into western films and for his last 11 years in films made the first "adult" westerns. Prior to Hart's arrival, only Tom Mix and Broncho Billy played cowboy heroes. Hart became the embodiment of the "strong and silent type," the self-sacrificing cowboy hero who holds women up in a pedestal (except saloon ladies, who he gives the benefit of doubt but if they slip there's no mercy). He was a major force in the shaping of the western genre in his short tenure as a western hero. John Ford needed fifty years, while Mix's popularity took some 25 years to work the same western magic on the public. At age 60, Hart called this his last film. He was signed to a contract by Paramount, but by 1920 his popularity was slipping, and he refused to "modernize" his role as the studio requested and stuck to doing his own riding, no stuntmen and keeping things stark and realistic. His films had become increasingly old-fashioned and frozen in time, and he refused to do it any other way but his way. His only real stinker was the incoherent Singer Jim McKee (1924), while his other films in the twenties weren't all that bad but just lacked excitement like his Wild Bill Hickok (1923). This dispute prompted Hart to switch studios and sign with United Artists, where he put up $100,000 of his own money to make Tumbleweeds. But Tumbleweeds was mishandled by its distributor, United Artist, who wanted to do a cut job on it. Hart sued and prevented this, but his lawyer's fees were astronomical and cut severely into his profit.

Tumbleweeds was his only real epic, though his Wagon Tracks (1919) came close to being an epic. In this film, Hart makes a minor consent to popular appeal with the addition of Lucien Littlefield as his comic relief sidekick. It was the first time he worked with a partner. The film was well-received by the public and the critics, but is inferior to both Ford's masterful The Iron Horse (1924) and the other box office epic of the time James Cruze's better than average The Covered Wagon (1923). 

It tells the story of cowpokes Don Carver (William S. Hart) and Kentucky Rose (Lucien Littlefield), working for the Box K ranch, who round up the last of their cattle grazing on the Cherokee Strip of Oklahoma because the government is opening the Indian land to the settlers on a first come basis. With this, Carver, the range boss for the Box K ranch, finds himself out of work. While back in his hometown of Caldwell, Kansas, where the settlers register their claims and wait for the race to begin on the Strip (approximately 1,200 square miles) he falls madly in love with one of the eastern homesteaders Molly Lassiter (Barbara Bedford)--she must be some 40 years his junior. She has a sweet 13-year-old half-brother Bart, always seen with a dog, and a scoundrel adult half-brother Noll (J. Gordon Russell). The baddie teams up with his fellow scoundrel Bill Freel (Richard R. Niell), who cheat the other land-grabbers by becoming Sooners (those who illegally try to get a head start on claiming the land by camping out on the Strip before the stampede starts) and staking a claim to the Box K ranch (the most valuable site on the Strip). When Carver must go back to roundup some stray cattle, the baddies report him to Major White and according to the law he's captured and put in a bullpen until after the race starts. Even though he's not a Sooner, Carver accepts his punishment. In the film's most memorable and brilliant scene (the Tumbleweeds land rush re-enactment is the best one done in films), the cavalry fires the cannon and the pioneers charge in their covered wagons to grab the valuable land for free. Later, Carver sneaks out of the bullpen in a novel way and outraces all the homesteaders to thwart Noll and Freel's efforts at claiming the Box K ranch. He takes their claim and gives it to Molly, who misunderstands and thinks he's stealing Noll's claim for himself. Disgusted with her bad attitude, he flees and exclaims "Women ain't reliable - cows are - that's why I'm headin' for South America where there's millions of 'em." But he stops to save an old couple from being forced to give up their claim to Noll and Freel, and brings the baddies to the Major to face murder charges. In the end, Molly catches on that Carver's a good guy and the two hug, with the strong hint that he will settle down on the ranch.

REVIEWED ON 6/1/2007        GRADE: B

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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