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Riddle Gawne
Theatrical release poster
Directed byWilliam S. Hart
Lambert Hillyer
Written byCharles Alden Seltzer
Produced byWilliam S. Hart
Thomas H. Ince
StarringWilliam S. Hart
Lon Chaney
Katherine MacDonald
CinematographyJoseph H. August
William S. Hart Productions
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release date
  • August 3, 1918 (1918-08-03)
Running time
5 reels (50 minutes)
CountryUnited States
English intertitles

Riddle Gawne is a 1918 American silent Western film directed by William S. Hart and Lambert Hillyer, and featuring William S. Hart, Katherine MacDonald and Lon Chaney. The film was co-produced by William S. Hart and Thomas H. Ince. The screenplay was written by Charles Alden Seltzer from his earlier novel The Vengeance of Jefferson Gawne. Chaney historian Jon C. Mirsalis claims that William S. Hart contributed greatly to the screenplay but all other sources credit the writing of the screenplay solely to Charles Alden Seltzer.[1]

Considered lost for decades, two of the five reels were found to have survived in a Russian archive and are now kept in the film archive of the Library of Congress. It is unknown if Lon Chaney appears in those two reels.[2][3] A still exists showing Lon Chaney (as Hame Bossam) preparing to shoot the unconscious Riddle Gawne (William S. Hart) in the head.[4] A 1918 advertisement for the showing of the film at Sid Grauman's "Million Dollar Theater" in downtown Los Angeles exists,[5] as well as a great publicity photo showing the film's major players in a group shot.[6]

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Riddle Gawne is a man who seeks vengeance on the man who killed his brother Wesley. Before dying, his brother had revealed his killer's name as "Watt Hyat". Riddle buys a cattle ranch and settles down in an area ruled over by criminal cattle rustlers led by Hame Bozzam (Lon Chaney), who is in reality "Watt Hyat" under an alias.

Kathleen Harkness (MacDonald), the daughter of Colonel Harkness (Tilton), arrives in the West. Defending her honor, Riddle shoots two of Hame Bozzam's henchmen. Unbeknownst to the young woman, her father is a member of Bozzam's cattle rustlers, and Bozzam holds this fact over the old colonel's head so that he will let Hame marry Kathleen. Hame has Riddle shot, but Riddle survives and is nursed back to health.

Riddle then determines to clean up the town, and in the fight that follows, Bozzam kidnaps Kathleen after fatally wounding her father. Riddle, lone handed, pursues the fleeing man and his gang. After the chase, Riddle fights and kills Bozzam's henchman "Nigger" Paisley. But during the fight, Riddle's leg is broken. Threatening the now injured Riddle, Bozzam reveals his real identity as Watt Hyat, the man who killed Riddle's brother. In an ensuing struggle Hame Bozzam is killed, and Riddle wins Kathleen's hand.[7]



Lon Chaney had just left Universal Pictures over a salary dispute before getting hired to appear in Riddle Gawne (at the much higher salary of $125 per week). William S. Hart did not initially want Chaney to play the villain because he felt Chaney was too short to be imposing. It was Lambert Hillyer who talked Hart into using Chaney for the role. (Hillyer claimed his mother had seen Chaney in Hell Morgan's Girl (1917) and called him to Lambert's attention.) Riddle Gawne gave Chaney great exposure to the movie-going public and was instrumental in propelling him to later stardom. (Lambert Hillyer later directed Chaney again in The Shock (1923).)[8]

Parts of the film were shot on location in the Santa Monica mountains and in Chatsworth, California, from June 14 to early July. A western ranch house was built on a dairy farm for the production and later burned to the ground for a scene in the film.[9]


"The ordinary story of deferred vengeance is not liked by audiences of today...but RIDDLE GAWNE is made to respond to Hart's favorite idea of character conversion, and it is cleverly constructed." ---Moving Picture World.

"The star has one of those sympathetic roles in which he always shines...Lon Chaney has a prominent character role, and plays it up to the minute.... The nature of the story and the typical Hart role that has been given the star to interpret crowds its way right up to the front lines and retains its position as one of Hart's best." ---Motion Picture News[10]

"Well, Bill is as quick on the trigger as ever and puts this over with a wallop. This has all of the typical Hart elements with Bill standing off a whole gang... Lon Chaney was an effective willun." ---Wid's Film Daily[11]


Like many American films of the time, Riddle Gawne was subject to restrictions and cuts by city and state film censorship boards. For example, the Chicago Board of Censors required cuts, in Reel 1, scene of woman at bar, Reel 2, two scenes of woman at bar, scene of Riddle shooting man in back, the intertitle "Blanche Dillon, former dance hall girl, now Bozzam's 'housekeeper'" and all scenes young woman in Bozzam's house, scene of Bozzam slugging Jess Cass with gun, Reel 3, man shooting Riddle from horse, the intertitle "She may be a good nurse, but she ain't the sort of woman I want" etc., Reel 5, Bozzam shooting woman's father, shooting Riddle, and flashback scene showing the shooting of Riddle's brother.[12]

See also


  1. ^ Mirsalis, Jon C. "Riddle Gawne". Retrieved March 13, 2021.
  2. ^ Blake, Michael F. (1998). "The Films of Lon Chaney". Vestal Press Inc. Page 86. ISBN 1-879511-26-6.
  3. ^ "Progressive Silent Film List: Riddle Gawne". Retrieved June 26, 2008.
  4. ^ "Riddle Gawne (1918)".
  5. ^[bare URL image file]
  6. ^ Archived September 5, 2017, at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ "Reviews: Riddle Gawne". Exhibitors Herald. New York City: Exhibitors Herald Company. 7 (10): 27. August 31, 1918.
  8. ^ Blake, Michael F. (1998). "The Films of Lon Chaney". Vestal Press Inc. Page 86. ISBN 1-879511-26-6.
  9. ^ Blake, Michael F. (1998). "The Films of Lon Chaney". Vestal Press Inc. Page 86. ISBN 1-879511-26-6.
  10. ^ Mirsalis, Jon C. "Riddle Gawne". Retrieved March 13, 2021.
  11. ^ Blake, Michael F. (1998). "The Films of Lon Chaney". Vestal Press Inc. Page 86. ISBN 1-879511-26-6.
  12. ^ "Official Cut-Outs by the Chicago Board of Censors". Exhibitors Herald. 7 (11): 57. September 7, 1918.

External links

This page was last edited on 26 October 2023, at 06:27
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