Cast & Crew
Cecil B. Demille
Edith Hardy, whose obsession with expensive clothes irritates her husband Dick, a stockbroker, complains of Dick's frugality to her admirer, Hishuru Tori, a wealthy Japanese curio dealer who, like Edith, is a member of Long Island's "smart set." After a friend gives her a stock tip on a copper company, Edith invests the $10,000 raised for the Red Cross Belgian relief fund, with which she, as treasurer, is entrusted. When the company fails, Edith frantically appeals to Tori for help, and agrees that in exchange for the money, she will come to him the next night. When Hardy tells Edith that his investments have capitalized, Edith persuades him to part with $10,000, but Tori, refusing to accept it, becomes enraged, and with his curio iron, brands his seal on her flesh. Writhing with pain, Edith shoots Tori and escapes. To protect Edith, Hardy assumes the blame, but at the trial, Edith climaxes her story by baring her branded shoulder. The enraged crowd nearly lynches Tori, as Hardy's charges are dismissed.
Cecil B. Demille
Judge Arthur H. Williams
Broadway actress Fannie Ward stars as Edith Hardy, an irresponsible socialite who gambles away $10,000 she has collected for the Red Cross. Without the knowledge of her husband (Jack Dean, Ward's real-life husband at the time) she borrows that amount from wealthy Japanese ivory dealer Tori (Sessue Hayakawa) to cover her indiscretion. The catch is that Tori expects sexual favors in exchange for the loan. The distraught Edith finally turns to her husband for money to repay the loan -- but an enraged Tori calls the poor woman a "cheat," attacks her and, to mark her as his "possession," brands her with a hot iron. After Edith defends her honor with a gun, her husband steps forward to take blame for the shooting and the matter is resolved in a sensational trial.
Re-released during World War I, when Japan was an ally of the U.S., The Cheat so offended members of the Japanese government that Tori's nationality was changed to Burmese and his name became Haka Arakau. A master of subtle understatement at a time when most film acting was flamboyantly histrionic, Hayakawa achieved stardom thanks to his oddly sympathetic performance in The Cheat and an earlier performance in The Typhoon (1914). He formed his own production company in 1920 and enjoyed international success as a leading man and character actor. He was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance in The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957).
The Cheat, which was remade several times but never to greater effect, won much critical praise for DeMille, especially for its striking visuals and low-key lighting effects. "Never before has the skillful play with light and shade been used to such marvelous advantage," wrote one reviewer. But the director himself was less impressed by great reviews than in popular acceptance. After The Cheat enjoyed only lackluster box-office success in the U.S., DeMille reportedly dismissed it (despite its commercial success in France). Film historian Kevin Brownlow has written that, after the disappointing reaction to The Cheat and other innovative efforts of his early career, DeMille "lowered his sights to meet the lowest common denominator, so the standard of his films plummeted."
Producer: Jesse L. Lasky
Director/Film Editor: Cecil B. DeMille
Screenplay: Jeanie McPherson, Hector Turnbull
Cinematography: Alvin Wyckoff
Art Direction: Wilfred Buckland
Original Music (1922 score): Juan Maglio
Principal Cast: Fannie Ward (Edith Hardy), Jack Dean (Dick Hardy), Sessue Hayakawa (Tori/Haka Arakau), James Neill (Jones), Jack Yutaka Abbe (Valet).
by Roger Fristoe
This film was selected to the National Film Registry, Library of Congress, in 1992.
This film was selected to the National Film Registry, Library of Congress, in 1993.
According to a news item, some of the settings in the character Hishura Tori's home contained imported Chinese carved wood furniture. The courtroom judge was former New York Appellate Court Judge Arthur H. Williams. In February 1916, members of the Japanese Association of Southern California filed a protest against the showing of this film with the Los Angeles City Council.
This film was re-issued by Paramount on November 24, 1918, at which time the character played by Sessue Hayakawa was called Burmese and renamed Haka Arakau. The Cheat was remade in America in 1923 starring Pola Negri (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1921-30; F2.0838); and in 1931 starring Tallulah Bankhead. Marcel L'Herbier directed a French remake in 1937 entitled Forfaiture, in which Hayakawa recreated his role. Camille Erlanger wrote an opera based on The Cheat entitled La Forfaiture, which was the first opera to be based on a motion picture scenario.