The Rattlesnake (1913), dir Romaine Fielding for Lubin Manufacturing Company.
Romaine Fielding (1868-1927) was one of the most fascinating characters of early silent cinema. A maverick who created a new identity and background for himself, he was a flamboyant actor, writer and director who created many westerns set in New Mexico for the Lubin studios, becoming by 1915 the most popular screen personality in the United States.
Sadly, few of his films (70 as director, more than 60 as actor) have survived the passage of time. Many perished in a fire at the Lubin HQ in 1914, and the few which remain survive in a poor state or are unrepresentative of his best contributions to cinema (he crops up in a couple of Alice Guy melodramas – Mixed Pets (1911) and Greater Love Hath No Man (1912) where his style of acting looks 19th century and theatrical; and can also be seen in a handful of comedies which are held by archives around the world, but by all accounts these are not representative of his talent).
Which brings us to ‘The Rattlesnake’, a film he directed and starred in, which was filmed wholly on location in that New Mexico outpost. It is missing the final few minutes due to nitrate decomposition, and the print shows significant damage, but this film, which was publicised on its release with the blurb “Man who threatens society with a dangerous snake returns to sanity after an encounter with a young girl”, zips along well enough.
Fielding plays the bad guy, a Mexican who, crazed with jealousy, wishes to kill the good guy, who has married his former girl (Mary Ryan), but of course he finds redemption by the closing reel. He’s an unconventional filmmaker with a back-story which would do any fiction scenario writer proud, which makes it frustrating in a way that there isn’t enough of a body of work to see this performer reappraised in any meaningful way.