The Cheat (1915) - Rotten Tomatoes

The Cheat (1915)

The Cheat





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Movie Info

The Cheat was the picture that "made" the reputation of director Cecil B. DeMille. Broadway star Fannie Ward plays an irresponsible socialite who uses the charity funds entrusted to her to play the stock market. When she loses the money, Ward is afraid to tell her husband Jack Dean, so she arranges to borrow $10,000 from wealthy oriental Sessue Hayakawa. It is understood that, in exchange for the loan, Ward will surrender herself sexually to Hayakawa. When her husband gives her a gift of $10,000, Ward tries to call off her deal with Hayakawa, but the enraged oriental calls her a cheat; wrestling her to the floor, he brands the woman with a symbol signifying that she belongs to him. She responds to this humiliation by shooting Hayakawa. Ward's loyal husband takes responsibility for the shooting, standing trial on an assault charge. To save her husband, Ward confesses all in court, displaying the brand mark on her shoulder. Logically, Ward should now be charged with the crime, but this is 1915: the all-white courtroom spectators pounce upon Hayakawa, nearly killing the poor fellow, and Ward and her husband are exonerated. Depending upon where this film was shown, Sessue Hayakawa's character was either Japanese or Burmese: either way, he was regarded as the villain of the piece almost solely on the basis of his race. Interestingly, Hayakawa was elevated to stardom on the basis of The Cheat, permitting him to play far more sympathetic characters in the future. As mentioned, The Cheat also served as the breakthrough film for Cecil B. DeMille: critics of the time fell over themselves praising DeMille's creative use of low-key lighting and shadow effects to artistically convey his melodramatic yarn. Though The Cheat was remade several times, the 1915 DeMille film remains the definitive version.more
Rating: Unrated
Genre: Drama
Directed By:
Written By: Jeanie Macpherson, Hector Turnbull
In Theaters:
Jesse L. Lasky Feature Play Company


Fannie Ward
as Edith Hardy
Jack Dean
as Dick Hardy
Utake Abe
as Tori's Valet
Dana Ong
as District Attorney
Hazel Childers
as Mrs. Reynolds
Arthur H. Williams
as Courtroom Judge
Show More Cast

News & Interviews for The Cheat

Critic Reviews for The Cheat

All Critics (5) | Top Critics (1)

Full Review… | March 25, 2006
New York Times
Top Critic

Made waves during its day because of its explosive sexual and racial content.

Full Review… | June 5, 2008
Ozus' World Movie Reviews

Fascinating -- albeit racist -- pre-Biblical DeMille.

May 23, 2004
Mountain Xpress (Asheville, NC)

August 21, 2005

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.

Aj V

Super Reviewer


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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