Silent western serial gallery: William Duncan’s The Man of Might.

William Duncan’s The Man of Might (1919).

The images and information in this post were found by Rogelio Agrasánchez Jr. while doing research for one of his latest books, Guillermo Calles: A Biography of the Actor and Mexican Cinema Pioneer, published by McFarland in 2010. Calles was part of Duncan’s team at the Vitagraph for five years, before becoming an independent producer and director.

 Sources for this post are said book and La novela film, booklet published in Spain by Cinematográfica Miró, film distributor. It featured detailed, illustrated synopsis of movies during the silent era.

 Given that all William Duncan’s serials are considered lost stills, as well as detailed synopsis are now the only way researchers and film aficionados may get a glimpse at those box-office hits of the past.

 From La novela film we have taken the still images here reproduced.

man of might


Excerpt from the Agrasánchez’s book, pages 26, 27.

One of Vitagraph’s concesionaries in Spain was Cinematográfica Miró, which published the forty-page minibook La Novela Film. To coincide with the release of the movie, one of its issues provided a summary of The Man of Might. This pulp magazine not only contained an engaging narrative but also included eleven scene photographs from The Man of Might. Perhaps, this is the only guide to reconstructing some of the views of the original film. Dubbed in Spanish as De cara a la muerte, the sleek narration adopted new names for the movie’s main characters. For instance, Joe Ryan’s original “Scarface” Bender becomes Leandro Mullen “Puñales” in the Spanish version. William Duncan’s mining engineer Dick Van Brunt is now Enrique Carter, and Edith Johnson’s Polly Ransome is renamed Sara Benson. Willie Calles’s role does not appear as “Tomás” but is only acknowledged as “an Indian that joined the expedition in Los Angeles.” A fairly accurate synopsis of The Man of Might can be drawn from this foreign publication.

According to La Novela Film, the story of The Man of Might centers on a buried treasure in a distant island. Several men possess a piece of the map that leads to its location. The hero, Dick Van Brunt, helps the beautiful Polly Ransome in her hunt for this coveted cache. But the criminal “Scarface” Bender arrives at Polly’s ranch and kills her father in an attempt to steal the old man’s portion of the map. Dick consoles her and over time they get married. After recruting several people that hold the remaining pieces of the chart, Dick and Polly head an expedition into the sea. “Scarface” and his henchmen try to get rid of the hero and friends at every opportunity. Arriving first at the remote island, the villain is succesful in allying himself with an ancient Indian tribe of Aztecs. Dick and his followers are captured by the tribe and will be burned in a sacrificial ceremony to the sun god. Only two in the group are pardoned and kept as slaves: “an Indian [Willie Calles] that joined the expedition in Los Angeles and a man of the yellow race belonging to a very old civilization beyond the sea.” The Indian escapes and goes to the rescue of his condemned friends. After overcoming serious obstacles, Dick and companions finally reach the location of the treasure. However, just before loading their boat with the gold, “Scarface” and the Aztecs show up. There is a fierce gun battle and the hero succeeds in taking “Scarface” into custody. Dick and Polly have triumphed over their adversaries and will now be happy together.19


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19 La Novela Film, “De cara a la muerte” (Barcelona, Spain: Cinematográfica Miró, No. 23), No date.

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