First Degree (1923)

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This Western features all the usual Universal Studios suspects: Frank Mayo as the manly hero, Philo McCullough as the slimy villain, and Sylvia Breamer as the pretty but less-than-distinctive love interest. The story is told in flashback as the Grand Jury calls in rancher Sam Bass (Mayo) to testify in a sheep stealing case. Bass, unaware of why he is wanted, immediately confesses to a murder and relates his long, sad story. Years before, he unsuccessfully pursued a gang of bank robbers and his evil half brother, Will (McCullough) -- who also was in love with Sam's sweetheart, Mary (Breamer) -- accused him of the robbery. Sam was tossed in jail for a year, and while incarcerated, he studied law. He began life anew once he was released, and when he ran for county prosecutor, Will reappeared and exposed him as a jailbird. Sam was run out of town, and when he tried to start all over again, Will attempted to blackmail him. By now, Sam was pretty fed up with the whole situation and a fight broke out, during which he thought he killed Will. But just as Sam is finishing up this incriminating testimony, the sheriff (George A. Williams) shows up with Will, who is alive after all -- and who turns out to be the sheep thief. Will is put behind bars, and Sam is reunited with Mary.

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Keywords

confession [criminal], court [law], criminal, false-accusation, half-brother, lawyer, love-triangle, murder, race-against-time, ranch, robbery, sheriff