Plot: Passin’ Through (Douglas Fairbanks) is an outlaw, but he’s not a violent or hardened type of criminal. He is careful not to hurt anyone or even steal too much, as he has much different intentions than most bandits. While he does take a little something for himself at times, his real focus is to liberate food and practical supplies to give out to those in need. As he never knew his own father, he has a soft spot for children without a dad, so he tries to help out. Of course, regardless of how gentle his robberies are, he is still an outlaw and always on the run from the authorities. So he passes from town to town, hence his colorful nickname. When he arrives in a new frontier town, he finds himself at odds with a local crime kingpin, but can Passin’ Through evade the bad intentions of the man known as The Wolf?
Entertainment Value: This one was once thought to be lost forever, but thanks to an existing print that was found and restored, The Good Bad Man is now back in prime circulation for generations of cinema buffs to appreciate. The movie stars Douglas Fairbanks in his first western role, in a narrative that keeps a fairly light tone, even though it touches on some serious topics. Fairbanks penned the story and writes from a personal place, as the central theme of children without a father mirrors his own real life struggle with the same issue. The movie has some nice comic notes and a well developed, quite effective romance, but also delivers a solid, more traditional western element as well. So while brisk in tone, there is a serious side to the narrative and it is well crafted. I appreciate how well the serious, comic, and romantic elements are mixed and how the end result still feels cohesive and effective.
The romance provides some of my favorite moments, as Douglas Fairbanks and Bessie Love have wonderful exchanges. The two are able to do so much with facial expressions and mannerisms, never limited by the lack of spoken dialogue. The little touches make all the difference in the world and here, we have two skilled performers making the most of every expression, every reaction. Fairbanks excels in what must have been a tough role, as this kind of soft-hearted, but tough character wasn’t a simple task to pull off so well. While the romantic moments were among some of my favorites, the action is also well executed and really shines at times. The visual elements in the action scenes is what helps them stand out as memorable, as the staging is so thoughtful and well planned, which lets the action pack a nice punch. In the end, there’s a little something for almost everyone here and even if you’re not sold on the action or romance, the visuals and performances should win you over. The Good Bad Man is well recommended to anyone who appreciates well made silent cinema, classic movies in general, or westerns with a tinge of romance.