The Cheat (1915 film)

Last updated

The Cheat
The Cheat FilmPoster.jpeg
Directed by Cecil B. DeMille (uncredited)
Written by Hector Turnbull
Jeanie MacPherson
Produced byCecil B. DeMille
Jesse L. Lasky
Starring Sessue Hayakawa
Fannie Ward
Jack Dean
Cinematography Alvin Wyckoff
Edited byCecil B. DeMille
Music by Robert Israel (1994)
Jesse Lasky Feature Plays
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release dates
  • December 13, 1915 (1915-12-13)(initial release)
  • November 24, 1918 (1918-11-24)(re-release)
Running time
59 minutes
CountryUnited States
Languages Silent
English intertitles
Budget$17,311 [1]
Box office$96,389 (domestic) [1]
$40,975 (foreign) [1]
The Cheat

The Cheat is a 1915 American silent drama film directed by Cecil B. DeMille, starring Fannie Ward, Sessue Hayakawa, and Jack Dean, Ward's real-life husband.


In 1993, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry. [2] [3] [4]


Edith Hardy is a spoiled society woman who continues to buy expensive clothes even when her husband, Richard, tells her all his money is sunk into a stock speculation and he can't pay her bills until the stock goes up. She even delays paying her maid her wages, and the embarrassed Richard must do so. Edith is also the treasurer of the local Red Cross fund drive for Belgian refugees, which holds a gala dance at the home of Hishuru Tori, a rich Japanese ivory merchant (or, in the 1918 re-release, Haka Arakau, a rich Burmese ivory merchant). He is an elegant and dangerously sexy man, to whom Edith seems somewhat drawn; he shows her his roomful of treasures, and stamps one of them with a heated brand to show that it belongs to him.

A society friend of the Hardys tells Edith that Richard's speculation will not be profitable and he knows a better one; he then offers to double her money in one day if she gives it to him to invest in the suggested enterprise. Edith, wanting to live lavishly and unwilling to wait for Richard to realize his speculation, takes the $10,000 the Red Cross has raised from her bedroom safe and gives it to the society friend.

The next day, however, her horrified friend tells her his tip was worthless and her money is completely lost. The Red Cross ladies have scheduled the handover of the money to the refugee fund for the day after that. Edith goes to Tori/Arakau to beg for a loan of the money, and he agrees to write her a check in return for her sexual favours the next day. She reluctantly agrees to this, takes his check and is able to give the money to the Red Cross. Then Richard announces elatedly that his investments have paid off and they are very rich. Edith asks him for $10,000, saying it is for a bridge debt, and he writes her a check for the amount with no reproof.

She takes it to Tori/Arakau, but he says she cannot buy her way out of their bargain. When she struggles against his advances, he takes his heated brand used to mark his possessions and brands her with it on the shoulder. In their struggle after that, she finds a gun on the floor and shoots him. She runs away just as Richard, hearing the struggle, bursts into the house. He finds the check he wrote to his wife there. Tori/Arakau is only wounded in the shoulder, not killed; when his servants call the police, Richard declares that he shot him, and Tori/Arakau does not dispute this.

Edith pleads with Tori/Arakau not to press charges, but he refuses to spare Richard. She visits Richard in his jail cell and confesses everything, and he orders her not to tell anyone else and let him take the blame. At the crowded trial, both he and Tori/Arakau, his arm in a sling, testify that he was the shooter but will not say why. The jury finds Richard guilty.

This is too much for Edith, and she rushes to the witness stand and shouts that she shot Tori/Arakau "and this is my defense". She bares her shoulder and shows everyone in the courtroom the brand on her shoulder. The male spectators are infuriated and rush to the front, clearly intending to lynch Tori/Arakau. The judge protects him and manages to hold them off. He then sets aside the verdict, and the prosecutor withdraws the charges. Richard lovingly and protectively leads the chastened Edith from the courtroom.


Edith Hardy (Fannie Ward) and Hishuru Tori (Sessue Hayakawa) in The Cheat The Cheat 1915.jpg
Edith Hardy (Fannie Ward) and Hishuru Tori (Sessue Hayakawa) in The Cheat

Production and release

Upon its release, The Cheat was both a critical and commercial success. The film's budget was $17,311. It grossed $96,389 domestically and $40,975 in the overseas market. According to Scott Eyman's Empire of Dreams: The Epic Life of Cecil B. DeMille, the film cost $16,540 to make, and grossed $137,364. [1]

Upon its release, the character of Hishuru Tori was described as a Japanese ivory merchant. Japanese Americans protested against the film for portraying a Japanese person as sinister. In particular, a Japanese newspaper in Los Angeles, Rafu Shimpo , waged a campaign against the film and heavily criticized Hayakawa's appearance. When the film was re-released in 1918, the character of Hishuru was renamed "Haka Arakau" and described in the title cards as a "Burmese ivory king". The change of the character's name and nationality were done because Japan was an American ally at the time. Robert Birchard, author of the book Cecil B. DeMille's Hollywood, surmised that the character's nationality was changed to Burmese because there were "not enough Burmese in the country to raise a credible protest." [5] Despite the changes, the film was banned in the United Kingdom and was never released in Japan. [2]

The film inspired French film critics to coin the term photogenie to specify cinema's medium-specific qualities and was filmed with innovative usage of lighting that helped raise awareness of film as a serious art form.


The film was nominated for the American Film Institute's 2001 list AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills. [6] It was also nominated in the 2007 AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) list.

Remakes and adaptations

The film was remade in 1923, with George Fitzmaurice as director and Pola Negri and Jack Holt starring. In 1931, Paramount again remade The Cheat, with Broadway mogul George Abbott as director and starring Tallulah Bankhead. [2]

The Cheat was also remade in France as Forfaiture (1937) directed by Marcel L'Herbier. This version, however, makes significant changes to the original story, even though Hayakawa was cast once again as the sexually predatory Asian man. [5]

An operatic adaptation of the story, La Forfaiture, with music by Camille Erlanger and a libretto by André de Lorde and Paul Milliet, premiered at the Opéra-Comique in 1921. The first opera to be based on a film scenario, it was not a success, playing only three times. [7]


A copy of The Cheat is preserved at the George Eastman House. This surviving version is the 1918 re-release footage which includes changes to the Hishuru Tori character. [8]

The Cheat, which is now in public domain, was released on DVD in 2002 with another DeMille film Manslaughter (1922) by Kino International. [9] [10]

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Cecil B. DeMille</span> American filmmaker (1881–1959)

Cecil Blount DeMille was an American film director, producer and actor. Between 1914 and 1958, he made 70 features, both silent and sound films. He is acknowledged as a founding father of the American cinema and the most commercially successful producer-director in film history. His films were distinguished by their epic scale and by his cinematic showmanship. His silent films included social dramas, comedies, Westerns, farces, morality plays, and historical pageants. He was an active Freemason and member of Prince of Orange Lodge #16 in New York City.

The year 1914 in film involved some significant events, including the debut of Cecil B. DeMille as a director.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sessue Hayakawa</span> Japanese actor (1886–1973)

Kintarō Hayakawa; June 10, 1886 – November 23, 1973), known professionally as Sessue Hayakawa, was a Japanese actor and a matinée idol. He was a popular star in Hollywood during the silent film era of the 1910s and early 1920s. Hayakawa was the first actor of Asian descent to achieve stardom as a leading man in the United States and Europe. His "broodingly handsome" good looks and typecasting as a sexually dominant villain made him a heartthrob among American women during a time of racial discrimination, and he became one of the first male sex symbols of Hollywood.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Fannie Ward</span> American actress

Fannie Ward, also credited as Fanny Ward, was an American actress of stage and screen. Known for performing in both comedic and dramatic roles, she was cast in The Cheat, a sexually-charged 1915 silent film directed by Cecil B. DeMille. Reportedly, Ward's ageless appearance helped her to achieve and maintain her celebrity. In its obituary for her, The New York Times describes her as "an actress who never quite reached the top in her profession ... [and who] tirelessly devoted herself to appearing perpetually youthful, an act that made her famous".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Jeanie MacPherson</span> American actress

Abbie Jean MacPherson was an American silent actress, writer, and director. MacPherson worked as a theater and film actress before becoming a screenwriter for DeMille. She was a pioneer for women in the film industry. She worked with D. W. Griffith and Cecil B. DeMille, two of the foremost filmmakers of the time.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Camille Erlanger</span> French composer (1863 – 1919)

Camille Erlanger was a French opera composer. He studied at the Paris Conservatory under Léo Delibes (composition), Georges Mathias (piano), as well as Émile Durand and Antoine Taubon (harmony). In 1888 he won the Prix de Rome for his cantata Velléda. His most famous opera, Le Juif polonais, was produced at the Opéra-Comique in 1900.

<i>The Squaw Man</i> (1931 film) 1931 film

The Squaw Man is a 1931 American pre-Code Western film directed by Cecil B. DeMille. It was his third time filming the same play but the first in sound. It stars Warner Baxter in the leading role.

<i>This Day and Age</i> (film) 1933 film by Cecil B. DeMille

This Day and Age is a 1933 American pre-Code film directed by Cecil B. DeMille and starring Charles Bickford and Richard Cromwell. It is one of his rarest films and has been released on home video through the Universal Pictures Vault Series DVD collection.

<i>After Five</i> 1915 film

After Five is a 1915 American silent thriller comedy film directed by Cecil B. DeMille and Oscar Apfel. Based on the play of the same name by DeMille and his brother William, the film stars Edward Abeles.

<i>Temptation</i> (1915 film) 1915 film

Temptation is a 1915 American silent romantic drama film directed and produced by Cecil B. DeMille. The film starred Geraldine Farrar and Theodore Roberts and was written by and based on an original story by Hector Turnbull. Additional writing was done by DeMille and Jeanie MacPherson, who did not receive screen credit. Temptation is now considered a lost film.

<i>Saturday Night</i> (1922 film) 1922 film

Saturday Night is a 1922 American silent romantic comedy film directed by Cecil B. DeMille and starring Leatrice Joy, Conrad Nagel, and Edith Roberts. It was Leatrice Joy's first film with DeMille.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sessue Hayakawa filmography</span>

Sessue Hayakawa was one of the first Asian actors and filmmakers to gain great fame and success in the United States. He starred in both English-language and Japanese-language films. His career peaked during the silent film period but continued on and eventually thrived in the talkie era, culminating with an Academy Award-nominated performance in The Bridge on the River Kwai in 1957.

<i>The Dragon Painter</i> 1919 film directed by William Worthington

The Dragon Painter is a 1919 English language silent romance drama film. It is based on the novel of the same name, written by Mary McNeil Fenollosa. It stars Sessue Hayakawa as a young painter who believes that his fiancée, is a princess who has been captured and turned into a dragon. It was directed by William Worthington and filmed in Yosemite Valley, Yosemite National Park, and in the Japanese Tea Garden in Coronado, California.

The Secret Game is a surviving 1917 American silent drama film produced by Jesse Lasky and released through Paramount Pictures. It was directed by William C. deMille and starred Sessue Hayakawa. It survives complete at the Library of Congress and was released on DVD.

<i>The Cheat</i> (1931 film) 1931 film

The Cheat is a 1931 American pre-Code drama film directed by George Abbott and starring Tallulah Bankhead and Harvey Stephens. The film is a remake of the 1915 silent film of the same title, directed by Cecil B. DeMille.

<i>The Call of the East</i> 1917 American film directed by George Melford

The Call of the East is a 1917 American silent drama film directed by George Melford and written by Beulah Marie Dix. The film stars Sessue Hayakawa, Tsuru Aoki, Jack Holt, Margaret Loomis, James Cruze, and Ernest Joy. The film was released on October 15, 1917, by Paramount Pictures. It is not known whether the film currently survives, which suggests that it is a lost film.

<i>The Honor of His House</i> 1918 American film

The Honor of His House is a 1918 American silent drama film directed by William C. deMille and written by Marion Fairfax. The film stars Sessue Hayakawa, Florence Vidor, Jack Holt, Mayme Kelso, Kisaburo Kurihara, and Forrest Seabury. The film was released on 1 April 1918, by Paramount Pictures.

<i>The Bravest Way</i> 1918 film by George Melford

The Bravest Way is a 1918 American silent drama film directed by George Melford and written by Edith M. Kennedy. The film stars Sessue Hayakawa, Florence Vidor, Tsuru Aoki, Yukio Aoyama, Jane Wolfe, and Winter Hall. The film was released on June 16, 1918, by Paramount Pictures.

<i>Sessue Hayakawa: Silent Cinema and Transnational Stardom</i>

Sessue Hayakawa: Silent Cinema and Transnational Stardom is a biography of actor Sessue Hayakawa, written by Daisuke Miyao, assistant professor of film at the University of Oregon, and published by Duke University Press. It won the 2007 Book Award in History from the Association of Asian American Studies and the John Hope Franklin Book Award from Duke University (2007).

<i>The Cheat</i> (1937 film) 1937 film

The Cheat is a 1937 French drama film directed by Marcel L'Herbier and starring Victor Francen, Sessue Hayakawa and Louis Jouvet. It is a remake of the American silent film The Cheat by Cecil B. DeMille.


  1. 1 2 3 4 Eyman, Scott (2010). Empire of Dreams: The Epic Life of Cecil B. DeMille. Simon and Schuster. p. 113. ISBN   978-1-439-18041-9.
  2. 1 2 3 Eagan, Daniel (2010). America's Film Legacy: The Authoritative Guide to the Landmark Movies in the National Film Registry. Continuum. p.  49. ISBN   978-0-826-42977-3.
  3. "Librarian Announces National Film Registry Selections (March 7, 1994) - Library of Congress Information Bulletin". Retrieved September 18, 2020.
  4. "Complete National Film Registry Listing". Library of Congress. Retrieved September 18, 2020.
  5. 1 2 Birchard, Robert (2004). Cecil B. DeMille's Hollywood. University Press of Kentucky. p. 70. ISBN   0-813-12324-0.
  6. "AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved August 20, 2016.
  7. Miyao, D. (2007). Sessue Hayakawa: Silent Cinema and Transnational Stardom. Sessue Hayakawa: Silent Cinema and Transnational Stardom. Duke University Press. p. 25. ISBN   978-0-8223-3969-4 . Retrieved May 24, 2022.
  8. Birchard 2004 pp.69-70
  9. "The Cheat".
  10. "2002 Kino on Video DVD edition".