The Cheat Reviews
For 1915 this films pulls all the punches & would have been a controversial film in its day. Most famous is the scene where Fannie Ware unable to pay back the Ivory Merchant he brands her with a Hot Spoke.
Made the career of Sessue Hayawaka largely known as the Japanese General from Bridge on the River Kwai. This film was a sensation in its Day & although 102 years old this year still is quite intriguing.
I liked this movie a lot, because I was really amazed at the treatment Hollywood gave to the Asian character. He was treated very humanely and I guess the whole Evil-Asian propaganda thing hadn't quite kicked in yet in Hollywood. Instead, Hollywood was turning stuff out like this and, another great example, Broken Blossoms, with Lillian Gish. The Asian actor, Sessue Hayakawa does SUCH a great job here, shining every scene he's in. Hayakawa amazingly, later on went on to appear in Bridge On The River Kwai with Alec Guinness!!
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.