Hangman's House (1928)

Genres - Drama, Romance  |   Sub-Genres - Melodrama  |   Run Time - 71 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Hangman's House, with its eerie title and the dark, foggy atmospherics of its opening scenes, at first appears to be a horror film. In reality, however, it is a very simple romance via John Ford, as Connaught loves Dermot but is forced to marry Darcy, who is a silent movie cad in the classic sense: a drinker, gambler, informer, horse murderer, and overall swine. Running barely over an hour, Hangman's House is flimsy on story and even flimsier on character. Ford's love of Ireland, even in such a weightless tale, is evident throughout, and for those familiar with his later, more accomplished Irish films, Hangman's House serves as an intriguing preview into the themes that he would further explore in the years to come. There is also, of course, Ford's ability to turn a simple scene into a cinematic tour de force. The death of Judge O'Brien, for example, is staged as he first watches the faces of those he has condemned come alive in his fireplace. Then a blurriness slowly overtakes the screen, and once it reaches O'Brien, he falls into his chair and drops his handkerchief. Other notable sequences include the St. Stephen's Day horse race (complete with a glimpse of John Wayne as an overenthusiastic spectator who tears down a fence in his excitement), Hogan's break from prison, and the climactic battle. Victor McLaglen dominates his scenes, exuding a charisma that makes it easy to understand why the other characters look to him for leadership. June Collyer and Larry Kent are fine as the young lovers, but Earl Foxe's villain lacks any semblance of ambiguity.