Any film that starts with the hero pawning his rather smart California spurs for a drink has got to be worth watching.
The film in question is “The Pilgrim” a 1916 short film starring and directed by Frank Borzage. Borzage (1894 – 1962) later became famous as a director of films such as “Moonrise”
I was lucky enough to see “The Pilgrim” at Bath Film Festival, it played along with two other short Borzage films “The Pitch o’ Chance” and “Nugget Jim’s Pardner”. There was live musical accompaniment from the excellent Kate Lissauer (fiddle, banjo & voice) and Jason Titley (guitar) There’s more about the event including images here and here
The film starts with Pilgrim leading a lame donkey into town, treating its injured leg and then pawning the aforementioned spurs in the saloon. The cowherds from a local ranch pile into the bar, and their leader sees the spurs, and asks the barman about them. The barman points out Pilgrim & the rancher asks if he’s a cowman and promptly hires him. (They must have been good spurs)
Once back at the ranch the other cowherds will not make space for our hero in the bunkhouse, so he sleeps with his donkey. Its leg is miraculously better by now. There’s a lovely photo of the donkey being an obliging pillow on the Mubi website here.
Enter the love interest. The ranch owner’s daughter has decided that she wants to see “the real west” and visits the ranch from the city. This leads to much excitement & dressing in Sunday best amongst the ranch hands, but not for Pilgrim. He does however help her when she gets lost out riding, and together they nurse a man who he stabbed in a fight (but it wasn’t his fault), and they go riding around the ranch together, and he falls for her, but she’s engaged to someone else, so he goes off, alone with his donkey again. The End.
OK, so not that much of a plot, but beautifully filmed and a wonderful chance to see authentic cowboy saddlery from the beginning of the 20th Century. The ranch daughter’s riding outfit isn’t bad either.
The film might still be doing the rounds of film festivals, in which case it is well worth catching. It is also available as an “extra” on a Borzage DVD of “The River” read about it here