The Cheat (1915)
Critic Consensus: No consensus yet.
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Critic Reviews for The Cheat
Made waves during its day because of its explosive sexual and racial content.
Fascinating -- albeit racist -- pre-Biblical DeMille.
Audience Reviews for The Cheat
I loved this movie, it mixes the romance, thriller, and drama genres, sort of like a film noir, but much earlier. There are a lot of cool editing techniques used skillfully too. And I loved the ending. I highly recommend this movie, it's the best movie I've seen from the 1910s so far.
In my film history class, this was the second close-to-feature-length film we watched, the first being Sherlock Jr. This was also the first film to have quite a complex plot compared to other films that came out in that era of film. I found myself constantly asking questions even though the film captured the idea of pure cinema very well - the idea that you should be able to understand a film purely based on the images without the help of dialogue.
Before I comment on the positive aspects of this film, let's look at how this film can be regarded as racist. Since this is American cinema in its early years, most of the cast and background characters are played by white men and women. The main villain of the film happens to be Asian, as well as the villain's two sidekicks. He is labeled something along the lines of the king of ivory for the region. It just seems out of place that the only foreigners in this film happen to be the villains of the film, depicted as sneaky, conniving businessmen hungry for power and sex. The only Asians in the film, and they are depicted as monsters, and the activities these men engage themselves in definitely does not reflect the behaviors of all Asians at the time when this film was released. This film is very close to straight up chastising Asians; not okay.
This next point could be because I was zoning in and out the day we were watching it, but I was constantly asking myself questions about the narrative since it was a little complex while focusing on money as what would later be called a MacGuffin. We also have more characterization even if it is just from title cards which we have to read dialogue from. The leading lady is a gold digger, spending money she doesn't have and using a large donation for her personal needs. Her husband is a passive man and a hero, letting people (including his wife) push him around but having a kind heart when he takes the blame for a crime his wife had committed. Sadly we don't get that much character knowledge about the villain aside from the fact that he doesn't like to be cheated, and that he'll make things worse for the lady and her husband simply because he can.
I praise this film for exploring great concepts of lighting as well as using more depth with the cinematic space compared to films by Melies, whose films seem very two-dimensional (although they're not exactly narratives like The Cheat). The Cheat is definitely a film you should see if you want to study film, filmmaking, learn about film history, etc etc.
The Cheat is a terrific film. It is incredibly well directed, wonderfully shot and it has some scenes that are immensely powerful and even horrific, but it is above all perfectly melodramatic and entertaining, it has excellent characters, the acting is marvelous and the story is very well crafted. It has its flaws including its too fast-paced nature and an unfortunately contrived ending, but it is mostly a phenomenal film that for a century-old movie aged like fine wine, still being powerful and entertaining, and it is one of the best films of the period.
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