The Cheat Review
The Cheat is a 1915 silent melodrama directed by Cecil B. DeMille and starring Sessue Hayakawa and Fannie Ward. It is one of the very best films of the year and one of the finest 1910s movies I’ve watched so far.
It is about Edith Hardy who leads a wealthy and extravagant life. But when financial troubles ensue, she, in order to help her and her husband, accepts the loan from a wealthy Japanese admirer. But she soon finds out that he is not an easy man to deal with. This is a pure melodrama, just like they used to make them back in those days. But whereas it can be too dramatic, I still enjoyed this story immensely as I found the message and the point being made crystal clear and the social commentary is great. What I also adore about this film is its story told through different angles and how almost everyone, except maybe the husband, is rather awful in this movie and highly unlikable which is so realistic and makes it very dark and serious. It is a very good story that is only undone by its unfortunate happy ending which is a highly unsatisfactory and contrived conclusion.
The characters are excellent thanks to terrific characterization at display here. Edith Hardy is a phenomenal protagonist, so uncharacteristic for the lead and especially for the time. She is so unlikable and a bad person, but she still wants everything to get better and she can be said to be more of a tragic figure than a bad person. Her husband Richard is probably the only good-natured character here and his care for his wife and his troubles with her are really well realized making him the most sympathetic character in the movie, the one the audience can sympathize with most. As for Haka Arakau/Hishuru Tori, he is a marvelous villain, he posed a real threat and a genuine villainous presence making his character the standout. The movie is racist in his portrayal and the fact that they changed his name and nationality from Japanese to Burmese did not help much as it is still racist, but this was made a century ago so it can be forgiven.
The acting is absolutely superb. It is interesting how Hayakawa gave a more subtle and natural performance than the overly theatrical performances of Fannie Ward and Jack Dean and it is interesting to watch that distinction on the screen. But all three are great for the type of performances they give. Jack Dean is really good and Fannie Ward, although too over-the-top in later parts, is still memorable and quite good in her role. But it is of course Sessue Hayakawa who is the highlight here, giving the finest performance. He also steals every scene he is in with a strong presence and great charisma and eerie look in his eyes. He made his villain all the more villainy which is much appreciated.
The directing from Cecil B. DeMille is outstanding and this is probably his best directed film in this decade, much better than his work in ‘Male and Female‘. He brought a polished and professional feel to the film. The Cheat is also incredibly well photographed with some shots being just pause-worthy and artistically expressed. The camera angles are wonderful and both the interiors and the exteriors are appealing to the eye. But the way it was filmed and photographed gave it such a modern look which is why The Cheat aged like fine wine, being powerful to this day. Some scenes are horrific and tense, while others are powerful and dramatic. But the sequence with the seal branding is so incredibly intense, powerful and even scary a bit to this day. It also has a solid dialogue and it boasts a suave direction and excellent score that accompanies the screen wonderfully. And the movie is very memorable and even iconic in some sequences. But above all I found the dramatic tone instead of excessive, quite satisfying and they pulled it off in a great way, making you feel the danger and the consequences.
There are two problems I have with The Cheat. The first is that the editing is flawed. The movie is incredibly fast-paced which is good because it lead to its evident ageless quality, but is bad because it seems rushed in the second half. Its rushed nature can be attributed mostly to the running time as it is too short for this story and definitely should have been longer. And the second flaw I have with the film is definitely the ending which is unfortunately a typical happy ending that seems contrived and even pointless. With a more sinister and sad ending, this would have been a much better film than it already is.