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Film: The Cheat
The Cheat is a 1915 film starring Sessue Hayakawa and directed by Cecil B. DeMille.

Edith Hardy (Fanny Ward) is an idle Long Island socialite who keeps pestering her husband Richard (Jack Dean) for more spending money. Richard is neglecting her for work, and can't give her any spending cash anyway as all his money is tied up in an investment. Edith's idleness has led her to flirt with Hishituru Tori, a Japanese ivory merchant (see Re Cut below) played by Hayakawa in his Star-Making Role. Tori clearly has a thing for Edith, and she enjoys the attention.

Edith is treasurer of the local charity, which is raising money for the Red Cross to use for aid to Belgium. When one of Richard's friends mentions a get-rich-quick scheme, Edith, greedy and tired of her husband's thriftiness, foolishly takes the charity's money and invests it. Naturally, she loses it, and in desperation turns to Tori. His earlier puppy dog adoration for Edith turns into something much more predatory once he has the upper hand. He suddenly demands sex with her in exchange for the money. She agrees, but then her husband's investment finally comes in, she gets him to write her a check, and she tries to renege on the deal and give Tori the money instead. He does not take it well.

The Cheat was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry in 1993. Hayakawa's quiet, controlled acting style comes across as very modern. He became a huge movie star, and formed his own production company. However, the racism endemic in the Hollywood film industry—he certainly could never be paired romantically with a white actress, for starters—wound up making him to to Europe in The Twenties. He made movies in France until World War II, and after the war came back to the United States. Forty years after this film he starred in David Lean's masterpiece The Bridge on the River Kwai. As for DeMille, the film was not that indicative of his later career, as he abandoned this more ambitious kind of moviemaking for big-budget epics.


Tropes:

  • Attempted Rape: When Edith refuses to have sex with Tori and tries to give him his money back instead—the titular "cheat"—he demands she keep her end of the bargain, and tries to take her by force. They struggle, and he ends up branding her with the red-hot brand on his desk. She grabs a gun, shoots him non-fatally in the shoulder, and runs away. The film does not show the brand hitting Edith's skin, but it does show smoke rising as Tori's face contorts with rage. The scene is still shocking. When the film was remade in 1931 the director focused his camera on shadows against the wall as the branding took place off-screen.
  • Chiaroscuro: The opening scene, with Tori, in his dimly-lit room, branding his statues.
  • Entitled to Have You: Tori's reaction after Edith tries to back out of their money-for-sex deal.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Tori's gentlemanly manner is revealed to be a facade.
  • Foreshadowing: In the opening scene Tori is shown branding the figurines that decorate his home. He later tells Edith that he marks all his possessions that way.
  • Get Rich Quick Scheme: If someone comes to you and tells you that they can take your ten thousand dollars and double it overnight, do not listen.
  • Idle Rich: Edith isn't very sympathetic—complaining when her husband doesn't spend enough on her, stiffing the maid of her wages, toying with the affections of Tori. This makes the latter portion of the film, which presents her as the tragic heroine, somewhat at odds with the first part.
  • Karma Houdini: Edith gets off scot free after stealing and losing the charity money.
  • Large Ham: Even by silent film standards, Ward's theatrical gestures stand out, especially in contrast with Hayakawa.
  • Married to the Job: Richard is focusing all his attention on getting his deal done, and isn't spending any time with his wife. She winds up getting into trouble.
  • Please, I Will Do Anything!: After Richard takes the blame for his wife shooting Tori, Edith goes back to Tori and begs that he not press charges. He refuses, and she offers herself to him sexually. He refuses again, with contempt, saying "You cannot cheat me twice".
  • Re Cut: In the original, Hayakawa plays a Japanese ivory merchant named Tori. The Japanese government and Japanese-Americans were quite rightly offended by the film. Three years later, when the film was re-released, the United States had entered World War I and was militarily allied with Japan. Consequently, in the 1918 re-release some title cards and a couple of expository newspapers where changed, and Hayakawa's character became a Burmese ivory merchant named Haka Arakau. This re-release is the only version that survives; the original has been lost.
  • Sexual Extortion: Pleasant, non-threatening Tori turns on a dime, demanding sex with Edith in exchange for the $10,000 she needs to replace the Red Cross money.
  • Stealing from the Till: Edith takes the Red Cross money and foolishly uses it in an investment.
  • Victoria's Secret Compartment: This is where Edith hides the Red Cross bankroll, and later the check she tries to pay Tori back with.
  • Wall Slump: The most interesting shot of the movie, in which Tori, who has taken a bullet, slumps against the wall—but it's a Japanese-style translucent rice paper wall. The camera shot is from the other side, and shows Tori in silhouette as he slumps down, leaving a smear of blood on the wall.
  • Yellow Peril: The affable, courteous Tori reveals himself to be a sexual predator. If this wasn't bad enough, the thoroughly racist ending features a courtroom full of angry white people who nearly lynch Tori after Edith saves her husband by telling the truth and revealing the brand. DeMille may have made the antagonist Asian in order to make sure audience sympathy lay with the otherwise rather unsympathetic Edith. When the movie was remade as a talkie, the racial component to the story was dropped, probably because portraying a sexual relationship between an Asian man and a white woman in any context was no longer allowed by Hollywood censors.
The Birth of a NationEarly FilmsFattys Tintype Tangle
Annie HallNational Film RegistryThe Wind

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