35mm. D.: 8’ a 24 f/s. Bn.
By the end of 1921 Hart had completed the last of the films on his Artcraft contract. He prepared to retire from the screen, planning to live with his bride, Winifred Westover, in the grand new home he was building on his ranch property in Newhall. But the sudden collapse of the marriage changed these plans, and sent him back to Paramount for another series of films, only two of which were completed before Paramount dropped his contract. This time it was Zukor and Lasky whom he felt had betrayed him, and who had no real interest in the historically authentic Westerns he felt audiences would support. In response he turned to United Artists and produced Tumbleweeds, a Western that combined those elements of “authenticity” with the commercial attributes Zukor and Lasky had been pressing on him: more stunts and more comedy, a comic side kick, even a little dog. Although the film is explicitly about “the last of the West”, its tone is lighter than previous Hart pictures, which would probably have characterized the Oklahoma land rush (and its participants) far more negatively. Indeed, the land rush itself is almost unique in Hart’s cinema for its emphasis on spectacle and its exuberant staging and editing. Unfortunately, United Artists mismanaged the distribution of the film, dumping it into small theaters without giving it a proper chance in the major downtown showplaces; Hart successfully sued the firm for $278,000, although the judgment did not come down until after his death. But by then he had already reissued the film himself, in 1939, with a synchronized score and an unforgettable spoken introduction (“My friends, I loved the art of making motion pictures…”). The critics were still impressed: “If Hart was a young man and came into pictures today, he would zoom to the top as one of our finest actors,” Film Daily reported. “He will prove a revelation to all motion picture lovers who remember this greatest of the Western stars in the silent days.”
Richard e Diane Koszarski