During the game, Billy discovers that Washburn is cheating…and in a mutual exchange of temper, guns are drawn. Jane steps in to stop things from escalating, but it appears that in her struggle for Billy’s gun she shoots and kills him. In explaining the incident to the ship’s captain (Charles Arling), Washburn spins a yarn that Jane was forced to gun Billy down after the young man’s intentions proved less than honorable…and conveniently leaves out the part about him trying to rook Hamilton in poker.
A morality play set against the background of the “go west, young man” trek in the mid-1800s (the time frame is 1850, shortly after the California gold rush), Wagon Tracks showcases William S. Hart at his Western finest. The film was praised effusively by film critics at the time of its release, none more so than the Los Angeles Times: “The great desert screen epic is with us at last. It has been done by William S. Hart and C. Gardner Sullivan, with the aid of a fine cast and superlative photography…” The reviewer went on to call Sullivan’s screenplay “a masterpiece.” A little closer to home, the Atlanta Constitution (this is years before it merged with The Atlanta Journal) gushed “No one who sees this picture will soon forget it. It will be a vivid memory for months afterward.”
Gun Law Justice).
Wagon Tracks is important because coming January 24 (this Tuesday), it will be the first of Hart’s films to receive treatment on Blu-ray. In a press release from Olive Films, Alex Kopecky observes: “William S. Hart was an iconic performer, and it’s hard to believe that he has been missing from Blu-ray collections until now.” The movie, due to its public domain status, has been available on YouTube and DVD (Grapevine Video, Sinister Cinema, etc.) for several years…but the Olive Films release is the one you definitely have to purchase. Mastered for home video from an original 35mm nitrate print courtesy of the Library of Congress, this version of Wagon Tracks is positively breathtaking. (I was very impressed by the film’s tinting—particularly those scenes illuminated by campfires, where the movie is bathed in an orange glow—and the original score composed by Andrew Earle Simpson.)