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"The Testing Block"
Starring William S. Hart

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THE TESTING BLOCK
William S. Hart 1920

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Lantern Slide

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Lobby Card

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Publicity Photo

"The Testing Block" Paramount-Artcraft Pictures, released December 26, 1920.

8x10 glossy publicity photograph intended for newspaper use. Handwritten on the back of this print are the words, "Sunday, May 1 / New Lyceum."

May 1 fell on a Sunday in 1921, so this print was probably used to advertise a showing on May 1, 1921, at the New Lyceum theater in San Francisco.


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]


LW3133: 9600 dpi jpeg from original photograph purchased 2017 by Leon Worden.
HART CATEGORIES:
• Stage Career
• Hart Films
• Publicity Photos
• Hart as Author
• WWI War Bonds
• Hart Mansion
• Hart in Retirement
• Personal Life
• Hart in Artwork

WILLIAM S. HART FILMS

WATCH FULL MOVIES
Keno Bates, Liar (1915)
Knight of the Trail (1915)
The Ruse (1915)
The Cradle of Courage (1920)
White Oak (1921)
Tumbleweeds (1925/1939)
ALSO:
Farewell to the Screen, from Tumbleweeds Re-release (1939)


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Biography
(Mitchell 1955)

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Biography
(Conlon/McCallum 1960)

Essay: The Good Bad Man (Griffith & Mayer 1957)


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Film Bio, Russia 1926

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The Disciple 1915/1923

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The Captive God 1916 x2

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The Aryan 1916 x2

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The Primal Lure 1916

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The Apostle of Vengeance (Mult.)

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Return of Draw Egan 1916 x2

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Truthful Tulliver 1917

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The Gun Fighter 1917 Theater Invoice

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Wolf Lowry 1917

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The Narrow Trail 1917 (mult.)

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Riddle Gawne 1918 x2

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"A Bullet for Berlin" 1918 (4th Series)

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The Border Wireless 9-29-1918 Rialto Premiere

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Branding Broadway 1918 x2

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Breed of Men 2-2-1919 Rivoli Premiere

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The Poppy Girl's Husband 3-23-1919 Rivoli Premiere

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The Money Corral 4-20-1919 Rialto Premiere

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Square Deal Sanderson 1919

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Wagon Tracks 1919 x2

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Sand 1920 Lantern Slide Image

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The Toll Gate 1920 x3

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The Cradle of Courage 1920

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The Testing Block 1920: Slides, Lobby Cards, Photos (Multiple)

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O'Malley/Mounted 1921 (Mult.)

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The Whistle 1921 (Mult.)

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White Oak 1921 (Mult.)

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Travelin' On 1921/22

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Three Word Brand 1921

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Wild Bill Hickok 1923 x2

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Singer Jim McKee 1924 (Mult.)

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"Tumbleweeds" 1925/1939

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