Scen.: C. Gardner Sullivan; F.: Joe August; Scgf.: Thomas A. Brierley; Int.: William S. Hart (“Selfish” Yates), Jane Novak (Mary Adams), Ernest Butterworth (Hotfoot), Bertholde Sprotte (“Rocking Chair” Riley), Harry Dunkinson (Ed Miller, the “Oklahoma Hog”), Thelma Salter (Betty Adams); Prod.: William S. Hart Productions (“Supervisione: Thomas H. Ince”); Dist.: Paramount-Artcraft 35mm. L.: 1257 m. D.: 57’ a 19 f/s. Col.
After The Narrow Trail, William S. Hart Productions relocated to the old Mabel Normand Studio in Edendale, where Hart and his team could be off by themselves, slightly apart from the Hollywood mainstream, and very far from Tom Ince’s new studio in Culver City. Selfish Yates is another of those films which feature a lawless Western town whose normal flow of business is interrupted by the arrival of an outside moral agency – in this case two helpless females in a prairie schooner. The Hart character rules this disreputable town, not as sheriff or gang leader, but as the entrepreneur of a string of “pleasure palaces”. No longer a “good bad man”, the characterization by now is one of supreme alienation, the hero unwilling to take any moral position whatsoever. One might think of Rick Blaine, operator of another gambling hell, whose proudest boast is that he “sticks his neck out for no one”. In many ways, the film takes up issues introduced three years earlier in “Bad Buck” of Santa Ynez, and even brings back the child actress Thelma Salter to repeat her similar role from the earlier film. Of course, with a bigger budget and more screen time, what was presented in broad brushstrokes in that film is developed here with considerably greater attention to detail of character, setting, and motivation. The technical qualities of Hart’s apparently simple productions were often praised at the time, especially by trade-paper critics who were more likely to be aware of the significance of such accomplishments. “The production contains some excellent lighting effects, which are credited to Joe August,” wrote the Motion Picture News. “The night scenes in particular are vastly superior to the usual broad-daylight tinted a dark blue which is usually seen. They have all the somber gray of real night.” This is the first public screening of the Museum of Modern Art’s restoration of Selfish Yates, which had been unavailable for decades.
Richard e Diane Koszarski