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Long before Charles Bronson took the law into his own hands in the vigilante melodrama, Death Wish (1974), there were other cinematic equilivalents of this type of extremist who lived by his own code. An excellent early example is The Ace of Hearts (1921) in which a secret society meets regularly to pass judgment on people they deem unsuitable for society. After selecting a new victim, the group is dealt a deck of cards and the player who draws the "Ace of Hearts" is responsible for carrying out the assassination. Their method of execution? A bomb.
Featuring a new music score by Vivek Maddala, The Ace of Hearts is a rarely seen Lon Chaney feature which marked the actor's second project for Goldwyn Pictures and reteamed him with director Wallace Worsley of The Penalty (1920). In the central role of Farralone, Chaney plays a character torn between his sworn duty and his love for Lilith (Leatrice Joy), a 'death club' member who violates the strict code of the society for a fellow member, Forrest (John Bowers). Rather than watch Lilith and Forrest suffer the consequences for their betrayal of the group's ideals, Farralone devises a drastic final solution to the problem. Like many other Chaney films where the main protagonist makes great sacrifices for the object of his affection, whether it be self-mutilation, a prison sentence, or death, The Ace of Hearts doesn't vary the scenario in this regard.
However, the original ending of the film was a different matter entirely. A slightly disfigured Morgridge, the leader of the group, finds the lovers in a secluded cabin and notifies them that the group was eliminated by a bomb and they are free to emerge from hiding. Samuel Goldwyn was completely dissatisfied with this conclusion and insisted on the more dramatic ending allowing Farralone to ensure the safety of the young lovers.
Director: Wallace Worsley
Screenplay: Ruth Wightman (based on the novel by Gouverneur Morris)
Cinematography: Don Short
Cast: Leatrice Joy (Lilith), John Bowers (Forrest), Lon Chaney (Farralone), Hardee Kirkland (Morgridge), Raymond Hatton (The Menace).
by Jeff Stafford