Travelin' On ★★★

A 1962 study of the Western notes that this was the last of William S Hart's classical style films. "One had to admit that his work had become unabashedly sentimental, in its own way as cliche-ridden as the slick 'B' pictures he detested so much." A Motion Picture News piece from 1923 makes it sound like many assumed the picture would be Hart's last (who had taken a two year absence from production). The story seems less hokum than the reviews make it out to be. It certainly feels proto-Fordian in its pacing, and decidedly complex in its relationships between Hart's gold-hearted Westerner that "don't trust nothin' that walk on less than four feet" and the preacher's family he becomes infatuated with (more specifically, the preacher's wife).

While the first half struggles through a good deal of exposition, the film comes alive in its second half thanks to the stunning night time photography by DP Joseph August, who helped develop a style of low-key lighting as a cost efficiency. The expressionists lighting feels indebted to the UFA style in Germany, and August's images often use deep focus framing and compositions alongside these lights. In short, it's remarkable for its time. Hart went on to not only found the American Cinematographers Society, but he shot some of the greatest films by Hawks, Borzage, Cukor, Dieterle, Stevens, and most notably a long collaboration with Ford at Fox ranging from the 1920s to 1945's They Were Expendable. He also served with Ford's shooting unit during WWII and was injured while filming The Battle of Midway.