Original publicity photo, No. A13-2.
William S. Hart is the outlaw Ice Harding and his horse Fritz is the outlaw King, leader of a herd of wild horses, in "The Narrow Trail" (1917). It was Hart's first picture for Adolph Zukor's Artcraft Pictures Corp. after Hart left Harry E. Aitken's Triangle, along with producer Thomas Ince, director Lambert Hillyer and a few key crew members. (Hart's second picture for Zukor, "The Silent Man," was actually released first.)
Zukor was the mastermind who turned Famous Players-Lasky and its successor, Paramount, into a monopolistic distribution empire that controlled everything from production to exhibition in company-owned movie houses, and forced independents to rent lousy pictures if they wanted to show the good ones. The scheme was eventually busted up by the feds (and it's why studios can't own movie theaters today), but that came later. For now, what it meant for Hart was bigger budgets, wider distribution and higher salaries.
Just as "The Narrow Trail" was a "first," it was also a "last" — it was the last time for two years that Ince allowed Hart to use Fritz in a picture. Ince had previously owned Fritz and sold the pony to Hart reluctantly. Fritz stood just a little over 14 hands high and weighed only 1,000 pounds. Hart stood 6-foot-2. Ince thought Hart
looked ridiculous astride the small pony. Adolph Zukor remembered that "Bill's feet almost touched the ground" when he rode the little pinto, and Zukor admitted that there was criticism of "so big a man on so little a horse." Some of the Hollywood cowboys said that Hart preferred riding the pony because he was afraid of horses, but the mawkish star responded that a westerner's love for his horse amounted "to a religion" (Davis 2003
Ince forced Hart to ride a more appropriately sized mount in "The Silent Man," to Hart's chagrin (ibid:115).
Nonetheless, when "The Narrow Trail" was released at the end of 1917, Hart made personal appearances with Fritz to promote the picture, and "most critics agreed that it was one of the actor's best. ... Advertisements for the movie proclaimed: 'Better a painted pony than a painted woman'" (ibid:114).
The woman, incidentally, was Sylvia Breamer, who also played in "The Cold Deck" (1917), Hart's last picture for Kay-Bee/Triangle. A newcomer from Australia, she's one of the few leading ladies Hart isn't known to have proposed to.
About "The Narrow Trail."
From Koszarski 1980:74
Produced by William S. Hart Productions; advertised as "supervised by Thomas H. Ince"; distributed by Paramount-Artcraft; released December 30, 1917; ©October 3, 1917; five reels.
Directed by Lambert Hillyer; screenplay by Harvey F. Thew from a story by William S. Hart; photographed by Joe August.
CAST: William S. Hart (Ice Harding); Sylvia Breamer (Betty Werdin); Milton Ross ("Admiral" Bates); Robert Kortman ("Moose"Halloran); Fritz (The King).
SYNOPSIS: Ice Harding is an outlaw. They capture a wild pinto pony which Ice breaks and rides. Although he rides the swift running pinto the sheriff swears to "get" Ice some day. Ice and his men hold up a stage; among the passengers are Bates, a San Francisco vice king, and his pretty niece Betty Werdin, who at heart is a good girl. Ice refuses to take "jewels from a lady" and stares in admiration at Betty. The pinto pony becomes too well known so Ice leaves his men and makes his way to Saddle City, where he again meets Betty. She refuses to be a partner to her uncle's schemes [to fleece Harding, who is posing as a wealthy rancher] and he returns to Frisco. Ice asks for Betty's address and she gives him a false number. He looks her up [in the city] and, disappointed, wanders to the waterfront. Halloran sees him and decides to shanghai him. They try to "get" him in a saloon, but he cleans out the place where he finds Betty. [After a period of misunderstanding, they meet again in Saddle City.] They decide to go straight and begin life anew after Ice has won a thousand dollars with King in a horse race. [Exhibitor's Trade Review, January 12, 1918]
REVIEWS: The Narrow Trail has naught that makes it worthy of being an Artcraft, at Artcraft prices, other than the fact that it carries the name of Hart as the star... . [He] has had better girls working opposite him in the past. Robert Kortman ... one of the shanghai boys, put up a corking fight with Hart: other than that, there was nothing in the supporting company except Hart's horse, Fritz — he at least was natural. [Wid's, January 10, 1918]
In The Narrow Trail William S. Hart has a film offering of exceptional merit, if suspense and climax go to constitute merit. The story builds with quickening tempo to a crescendo finish which leaves one breathless, and through all the hurry and agitato of the movement it unfolds a simple tale of the heart — or of two hearts, rather — which is profoundly moving and convincing. ["DAB," New York Dramatic Mirror, January 12, 1918]
LW3353: 9600 dpi jpeg from original photograph purchased 2018 by Leon Worden.