Presented by Silent Revue in partnership with The Japan Foundation, Toronto
Dir. Cecil B. Demille (1915) 60 minutes 14 A
The film that solidified Cecil B. DeMille’s name as Hollywood legend—THE CHEAT is scathing in its portrayal of greed, sexual desire, and deceit. Starring Fannie Ward and Japanese screen idol Sessue Hayakawa, DeMille’s scandalous feature was the sensation of 1915, leading to several riots upon its release. A box office sensation, it’s “pre” Pre-Code and one of the silent era’s most notorious and transgressive depictions of sexuality and race.
Sessue Hayakawa in his most famous/infamous roles plays Japanese business man Hishituru Tori, whose sexual obsession with flighty socialite Edith Hardy (Fannie Ward) sparks an illicit business deal. After defrauding the Red Cross to pay off her dressmaker’s tab, Tori offers to loan Edith the money to cover her crime and keep her powerful husband (Jack Dean) unaware of her shameful deeds. However, Tori refuses to let Edith pay back her loan, and instead prefers to take his fee by defiling any pretence of her virtue. THE CHEAT’s “branding sequence” is one of the silent era’s most graphic scenes of violence, one that leads to the film’s murderous conclusion.
While it is undeniable that THE CHEAT depicts Hayakawa’s character in a racist light, the actor’s performance, regardless, is a triumph. Japanese-Americans protested the film’s initial release, leading the studio to change Tori’s nationality (as well as his name) to Burmese, assuming that Burma and Burmese-Americans were too few to cause any real trouble when the film was re-released in 1918.
Live accompaniment by Jeff Rapsis
Silent Revue is sponsored by Hollywood Suite
Silent Revue is curated by Alicia Fletcher
This screening is in partnership with The Japan Foundation, Toronto
Print courtesy University of Toronto Media Commons
Special Event Pricing $15, Members $12