Hangman's House (1928)

Hangman's House (1928), produced and directed by John Ford.



[title card]: With the French in Algiers -- where fighting men from all the world find foemen for their steel.

(in the officer's mess)

Officer: Commandant Hogan is safely back from his patrol!

(The tall hearty Irishman enters, shakes hands all around and tells of his adventures, ignoring the messenger at his elbow for a while. When he reads the note, his face becomes grave).

Hogan: Sir, I must ask leave of absence to return home at once.

Officer: Home? To Ireland?

Second Officer: To Ireland... where there's a price on your head... why run such a risk?

Hogan: I've got to kill a man.

(pause for smoking and drinks)

Third officer: (raises glass) Vive le Commandant!

(all drink)

Back in Ireland, an unloved, haunted Hanging Judge insists on marrying his daughter to a sinister cad, despite her love for a decent young man. Dutifully, she obeys, but the villain is not getting into her bedroom. She has a faithful hound guarding the doorway. Hangman's House is not a happy place.

Hogan arrives disguised as a monk, and later as a blind man. He is watching all this carefully, but it takes a while for his interest to be explained. Until then we have horse racing and his fencing with the British Army; Hogan is a commander among the Irish rebels and a wanted man.

Hogan is our hero but the director -- for all his Celtic sympathies -- does not treat the British as villains. Soldiers on both sides are doing what they believe in, each respecting the other.

An unusual action/romance from Ford, I liked this 80 minute melodrama more than I expected. The source material is in much better shape than 3 Bad Men (1926) and the framing and composition seem more refined. Both were photographed by George Schneiderman.

The artistry of the late silent period continues to amaze me. The silent fragments I saw as a child were all of terrible quality. Restoration is better now and I appreciate quality filmmaking more.

The broad exaggerated mannerisms in acting were giving way to more subtle technique, and big Victor McLaglen had really mastered it.

Other directors have often credited John Ford as one of their greatest influences, but I often forget that many of them must have been talking about his vast body of silent work. I haven't counted but these must approach half of his total, starting in 1917. Nine films in his first year!

Available on DVD. Ford's 3 Bad Men (1926) is on the same Fox disc.