The Cheat

Live Piano Accompaniment by Martin Marks
Screening on Film
Directed by Cecil B. DeMille.
With Sessue Hayakawa, Jack Dean, Fannie Ward.
US, 1915, 35mm, black & white, silent, 59 min.
Print source: George Eastman House

When a rich but profligate Long Island society woman spends a large sum of money entrusted to her by a charity, she seeks to hide her misdeed by turning to a wealthy Japanese acquaintance for a loan, yet this choice proves to have dire consequences. Predating his spectacles of the 1920s, this early directorial turn by Cecil B. DeMille already shows signs of the director’s signature style – titillating the audience with risqué sexual content while disavowing that titillation. Justly praised as ahead of its time, the film’s chiaroscuro cinematography illuminates a complex but deeply troubling blend of racism and gender politics at work. Nevertheless, Hayakawa's smoldering performance as the supposed villain dominates the film – nearly making him the hero and ultimately making him a star. 

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