8x10 sepiatone lobby card (standard size up to 1920) showing William S. Hart and his on- and off-screen love interest Eva Novak in "The Testing Block," distributed by Paramount-Artcraft Pictures in 1920.
Teaser text reads: "With his wife's return, Sierra Bill once more finds happiness." Novak rejected his real-life marriage proposal (see Davis 2003:144). It was a habit (ibid.); a couple of years later, costar Winifred Westover accepted.
This particular lobby card was probably used in Sweden. "Vargarna 1922" is handwritten on the back, in script contemporary to the period. Literally meaning
"wolves," "Vargarna" was the picture's Swedish title. The movie was distributed in Scandanavia in 1922-1923.
Directed by Lambert Hillyer, who directed most Hart films of this period, "The Testing Block" is set in the Sierras and uses several woodland locations including the Calaveras Big Trees (which became a state park in 1931).
At least one location was in Newhall — a cabin on the ranch of Babcock Smith, whose land Hart would purchase less than two months after the Dec. 26, 1920, theatrical release of this film. (After his retirement in 1925, Hart built his retirement home on the property.)
Co-star Eva Novak's film career spanned from 1917 to 1966; she is best remembered for having been paired with Tom Mix 10 times.
From Koszarski (1980:131):
Produced by the William S. Hart Company; distributed by Paramount-Artcraft; released December 26, 1920; © November 8, 1920; six reels (5972 feet).
Directed by Lambert Hillyer; screenplay by Lambert Hillyer from a story by William S. Hart; photographed by Joe August; art director, J.C. Hoffner.
CAST: William S. Hart ("Sierra" Bill); Eva Novak (Nelly Gray); Gordon Russell (Ringe); Florence Carpenter (Rosita); Richard Headrick (Sonny); Ira McFadden (Slim).
SYNOPSIS: "Sierra" Bill is the leader of a band of outlaws in the days of the California gold rush. His physical strength and courage are dominant, but his moral fibre has never stood the "Testing Block" of really bitter experience. In a raid to collect a reward offered for himself, he comes upon a poster of Nelly Gray, violinist in a band of strolling players. He and his men intercept the players and compel a performance. Nelly's violin plays havoc with the bandit's heart. He gives her a bag of gold and rides away with his followers, but not to forget her. Neither has Ringe, one of the bandits.
The gold is taken by the managers of the players, and they leave the rest of the troupe stranded. The bandits decide to capture the women and draw lots for them. "Sierra" Bill wants first choice and proposes to fight for it. In order to be on a par with his drunken mates he drinks his fill. He downs one after another of the band and rides away. On reaching the hotel where the players are stranded, Bill encounters a justice of the peace. Half-crazed by drink, Bill drags the justice up to Nelly Gray's room and forces a marriage. He then carries off the girl.
Billy and Nelly are man and wife two years later and have a little baby boy. Bill is mining gold with fair success when Ringe comes along with a Mexican girl he is tired of and plots to steal lovely Nelly. With the aid of others he induces Nelly to leave her husband, ruins Bill at the gambling table and gets his Pinto. He causes Bill to be arrested and taunts his jailed victim that his wife has gone and his child sick. Bill is half-crazed and uses his insane strength to break through the roof of the jail. He manages to send for Nelly and wreaks his vengeance on Ringe. Nelly returns to find the Mexican girl nursing the child, the doctor in despair because the little one cannot sleep. Nelly now learns of the conspiracy and uses her wits to save her child. She does so by playing her violin. She is thus occupied, happily succeeding, when Bill returns a changed man, a nobler one since he has passed through bitterest sorrow and misery on the "Testing Block." [Moving Picture World, December 18, 1920]
REVIEWS: If Bill Hart can write stories like this it's to be hoped he'll keep up the good work, for The Testing Block is the best thing he has done in many a day. It's a typical Hart picture of the good old days, fightin', shootin', and some more fightin'. ... If you want a real, live, honest-to-goodness human picture without that "sexy" business making its appearance every few minutes, then by all means book The Testing Block and consider it a good day's work. [Wid's, December 12, 1920]
The theme is an evolution of manhood. ... William S. Hart as the tigerish outlaw, "Sierra" Bill, is a figure so powerful and distinct as to need no other centering of attention than that provided by his own personality. His dress is new, his attitude more intensely animal than ever before, his expression of the lawless male one to be remembered. [Louis Reeves Harrison, Moving Picture World, December 18, 1920]
LW2878: 19200 dpi jpeg from original lobby card purchased 2016 by Leon Worden.