Les Bates and J.B. Warner in Big Stakes (1922)


(director: Clifford S. Elfelt; screenwriter: Earl Wayland Bowman; music: Donald Socio; cast: James B. Warner (Jim Gregory), Eleanor Fair (Senorita Mercedes Aloyez), Les Bates (Bully Brand), Wilamae Carson (Mary Moore), H.S. Karr (sidekick Skinny Fargo), Robert H. Grey (El Capitan Montoya), A. Knott (Pascal); Runtime: 61; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Franklyn E. Backer; Milestone; 1922-silent)

“It had some heady stuff for a quickie silent Western.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A rarely seen independently made silent Western that’s set in contemporary times. It’s directed by Clifford S. Elfelt (“Under Fire”/”Danger”/”Flaming Hearts”) and written by Earl Wayland Bowman. The star is the 27-year-old James B. Warner, who would die two years later from TB. The film has a Latino beat and covers contemporary social issues such as racism, mixed marriages and feminism. It highlights fistfights, the KKK, the Mexican Army, Mexican songs, Mexican jumping beans, relationships between the Mexican aristocracy and working-class gringos, and a love triangle. Besides having a smart screenplay, it has some quirky dialogue that’s an acquired taste (one character laments “…dynamite is a tame sport compared to foolin’ around with women”).

Mercedes Aloyez (Eleanor Fair), the daughter of a wealthy Mexican rancher, is betrothed to Mexican army Captain Montaya (Robert H. Grey). Though her father consented to the marriage, she is still not sure if she loves him and is not in a rush to wed. When American cowboy Jim Gregory (James B. Warner) crosses the Texas border to chase a stray steer on Mercedes’ property, they fall in love on the cute. While El Capitan is on army duty, he has the Yaqui goat-herder Pascal (A. Knott) watch Mercedes. When Pascal reports to El Capitan about Mercedes’s rendezvous with Jim, he gives the spy a present of jumping beans and returns with a squad to capture Jim and his overweight comic relief partner named Skinny (H.S. Karr). They end up wagering with El Capitan for the hand of Mercedes by betting on which jumping bean leaves the circle first. Also, the loser will have a poisonous Gila monster bite them. Jim wins, but allows El Capitan to live and Mercedes to choose the one she loves. Before they can deal with that, Jim receives word that his American waitress girlfriend Mary (Wilamae Carson ) needs his help because she has been captured by the KKK. It seems their hooded leader and her diner boss, Bully Brand (Les Bates), desires her and wants to eliminate his rival Jim in this trap he’s setting. The Mexican army helps rout the KKK so Jim can rescue Mary. In the end stability returns, as the senorita chooses her Mexican friend to marry and Jim returns to his independent-minded modern working-class white woman, who drives a car.

It had some heady stuff for a quickie silent Western, reminding me of a low-rent Birth Of a Nation (though looking afoul at the KKK).