William s. Hart was one of the first great cowboys stars if the films. He began his acting career on the stage in 1888 when he was inn his twenties and first appeared in film in 1914 when he was 49. He had had some success on Broadway in Shakespearean roles and appeared in the original 1899 production of Ben Hur. He had two supporting roles in 1914 and became a star with that year's The Bargain. In 1915, Hart began a series of two-reeler westerns for producer Thomas Ince. These shorts became so popular that they led to th production of feature films, beginning in late 1915. Knight of the Trail was one of the last of the two-reelers Hart made. Hart went on to rule the western box office until the early 1920s, when flashier, more action-oriented films began featuring the likes of Tom Mix.
In Knight of the Trail, Hart plays Jim Treen, a cowboy who has been secretly terrorizing the town as a road agent. He falls in love with pretty, innocent waitress Molly Stewart (Leona Hutton) and vows to himself to go straight. Before the two were to be married, Molly discovers Jim's secret and breaks the engagement. She then bounces right into the arms of cad W. Sloan Carey (Frank Borsage), who steals Molly savings on the eve of their wedding and flees town on an eastbound train. Jim takes a perilous shortcut to overtake the train and forces Sloan to return the money to Molly. Molly sees the good in Jim and marries him.
The rather simplistic plot, written by Hart, is compensated for by superb acting by Hart and Borzage (who appeared in over one hundred silent films and became the noted director of Get-Rich-Quick Wallingford, A Farewell to Arms, and The Big Fisherman). Decent production values, intuitive direction, realistic western sets and costumes, and interesting locations also help make this short worth-while.
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