There is a great power in this movie. William S. Hart abandons his familiar cowboy gear to play the role of a Mountain Man guiding a wagon train across the west while trying to discover the truth about his young brother's murder. If the language veers between the poetic scene-setting titles, and the eye-dialect dialogue, there is great strength in Joseph August's photography and compositions. More than that, in the context of the silent film, Hart is a great actor. A stage star, he understood that the camera catches the smallest movement of the eye, His gestures, while melodramatically overwrought, are never overly wide. He infuses the character with truth. Perhaps this style of movie-making is a mystery to the modern movie-goer. When the shiphands sing 'Weep No More, My Lady', and the titles show the lyrics, they obviously have more importance than sound effects added by a Foley artist for artistic verisimilitude. Perhaps the melodramatic plots are as snicker-worthy as the sort of modern story in which villains commit murder for no discernible reason, but because they are crazed mass murderers, and the enforcers of the law catch them, not because it is their job, but because one of the victims is a relative and 'this time it's personal' ... but I don't think so. Both sorts of story are mythic in structure, telling us the truths we want to hear. It may well be that the modern movie-goer will have no patience for Hart's movies in general and WAGON TRACKS in particular. If that is the case, alas, they are missing a fine story, beautifully told, with striking black and white photography. Their loss.
Buckskin Hamilton guides a wagon train across the wasteland, caring well for the pioneers he escorts, but hoping to solve the murder of his brother by one of the travellers.
December 26, 2019