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Film / Hell's Hinges

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Hell's Hinges is a silent film from 1916 directed by Charles Swickard and starring that most famous of silent-era cowboys, William S. Hart.

The Reverend Robert Henley is sent out to the Wild West town of Placer Center, better known as "Hell's Hinges", with his sister Faith accompanying him. Rev. Henley was strong-armed into becoming a man of the cloth by his mother and has little interest in his job, but Faith is a true believer.

Hell's Hinges would be a tough challenge even for a parson who was serious about his job, as it is an out-of-control center of crime and violence ruled by Silk Miller, who owns the dance hall and has no interest whatsoever in any moral reform in his seedy town. Gunfighter Blaze Tracy (Hart) has been called into town by Miller to help throw the do-gooders out. Tracy sums up his philosophy as "shoot first and do your disputin' afterward", but one look at pretty Faith and he falls in love. One talk from Faith and Tracy finds religion, too.

Unfortunately, Rev. Henley goes in exactly the opposite direction. Tempted by one of Miller's prostitutes, he sleeps with her, drinks himself into a stupor, and misses his own church service. Tracy leaves to get help for the drunken reverend, but while he's gone Miller and his goons burn the church down. Rev. Henley, who joined the mob setting fire to his church, is gunned down in the crossfire. When Tracy returns to find the church burning to the ground and Faith cradling her dead brother's body, he goes on a mission of revenge.

Hell's Hinges has a cynical take on the Wild West that was well ahead of its time in 1916. The scene at the end where Tracy goes into the bad guy bar is rather reminiscent of the climax to Unforgiven some 80 years later. Hell's Hinges was one of Hart's most popular films, and is one of two William S. Hart films on the National Film Registry. John Gilbert made his film debut as an extra.


  • Crapsack World: Hell's Hinges is a pretty terrible place. You can't even start up a church without someone wanting to burn it down.
  • Fire Purifies: Tracy bursts into Miller's dance hall and shoots Miller and a couple of his mooks. The rest of the crowd in the dance hall backs away from an enraged Tracy. He then proceeds to shoot down the chandelier, which sets the dance hall on fire. The fire spreads and proceeds to burn down the entire town.
  • Good Smoking, Evil Smoking: The crowd of ruffians and thugs that bursts into the church service includes several people smoking cigarettes. Rev. Henley lights up a cigarette as he sits down to drink with a whore.
  • Guns Akimbo: Tracy does this when going into Miller's dance hall.
  • Love Redeems: Tracy is a violent gunfighter, but Faith turns him into a hero.
  • Meaningful Name: The good woman who pulls Tracy away from a life of crime and brings him to religion is called Faith. The guy who starts the fire that burns down the wicked town of Hell's Hinges is called Blaze.
  • Nun Too Holy: Reverend Henley only became a parson because his mother pushed him into it. When he's assigned to a posting somewhere in the Wild West, he dreams of scoring with seƱoritas. One of the town whores has a pretty easy time luring the good reverend into sex and drinking. He winds up helping set fire to his own church.
  • The Place: The town of Placer Center is better known as "Hell's Hinges".
  • Riding into the Sunset: Or the sunrise, that is, as Blaze and Faith go off to start a new life after Hell's Hinges burns to the ground.
  • Torches and Pitchforks: A torch-wielding mob of the town's undesirable elements attack the church. The church's congregation fights back, starting a wild shootout, but the bad guys succeed in burning the church down.
  • The Western / The Wild West: Why yes. Hell's Hinges is the stereotypical Wild West town, with drinking, whoring, debauchery, and gunfights in the streets.
  • Wretched Hive: Hell's Hinges itself.
    Title card: ...a gun-fighting, man-killing, devil's den of iniquity.