With no surviving copies of the first movie filmed in Yavapai County, a nationwide search of movie reviews and newspaper accounts of The Cringer recap the 1912 film.
When the Lubin Motion Picture Company located a studio in Prescott, it was an economic windfall. The Journal-Miner declared the studio was spending upward of $7,000 a month at local merchants — the equivalent of nearly $190,000 today.
The Cringer starred Romaine Fielding, and two Prescott locals scored parts.
A Mt. Carmel, Pennsylvania newspaper wrote the film was “replete with startling situations, full of thrilling action with plenty of cowboys, good fast riding and desperados.”
The movie opens with Fielding playing a sheepherder who becomes known as the Cringer.
Early on, the sheepherder showed cowardice witnessed by a number of cowboys. According to the Daily Arkansas Gazette, he is “made desperate through abuse”; even “while attending (to) a sick kid,” the Gettysburg Times wrote.
“A theft of a horse, a fire, a run by a fire department, (the) chase of the horse thief, daring horsemanship and fine acting,” described the Leavenworth (Kansas) Post.
Fortunately, one reviewer spoiled the ending. According to the Meridian (Connecticut) Journal, after being shot by the posse, the Cringer “dies murmuring the words ‘I was not afraid.’”
The Prescott premier was Dec. 3 at the Wigwam; completely sold-out for two nights and a matinee.
According to the Journal-Miner, the bank robbery scene included two locals. Playing the bank clerk was Malcolm Frasier — the secretary of the Chamber of Commerce that initially wooed the film company. As Frasier counts a pile of money, the Cringer walks in, draws his revolver, demanding Frasier turn it over.
“Before doing so, Frasier … presses a button that connects to the office of the Prescott Protective Association, but Harry Heap is asleep at the switch … drunk again,” the article described.
Heap’s portrayal of a chronic drunk had no ill-effect on his standing in the community. In less than six years, he would be elected mayor.
The Western Heritage Center, located in the old Sam Hill Hardware building on historic Whiskey Row, has an exhibit on the film history of Yavapai County. Included are stories, posters, the phone booth that appeared in Junior Bonner and a monitor playing 100-year-old silent films featuring Prescott. For operating hours check: www.visitwhc.org