William S. Hart was the great solitary Western hero of silent film who rode his horse off to new adventures once his job was done. In WOLF LOWRY, he meets a young settler played by Margery Wilson, herself a director in the early 1920s whose films are all considered lost.
William S. Hart’s latest characterization is laid in an exciting, to say nothing of an appealing, western drama. Mr. Hart always appeals, his deeds always thrill, but it is seldom that he impersonates such a sentimental character as “Wolf” Lowry. The situation wherin he discovers that Thorpe is not the half-brother of the girl he loves but her long lost sweetheart is one full of pathos that will certainly cause all eyes in the house that are open to become wet. The romance of Lowry which refuses to terminate conventionally puts an entirely different complexion on the picture and distinguishes it sharply from other Hart pictures which have gone before. True, there is his sudden reformation when he first sets eyes on an innocent girl, there is a fight that causes one to sit breathless and there are other incidentals common to all Hart pictures, but these we have come to look upon as being distinctly a part of the actor. Without them the magic spell of Mr. Hart might easily lose its charm. But on the surface WOLF LOWRY defies all comparison with his other work in the past. It is an all-absorbing feature and one that the followers of Mr. Hart will assuredly enjoy. The western atmosphere has been faithfully reproduced and the supporting players enter into the spirit of the picture with a sincerity that raises realism to a high degree.
Motion Picture News, 9.6.1917
Critics and audiences regarded WOLF LOWRY as a quintessential William S. Hart film, Exhibitor’s Trade Review citing “Exciting gun play, love interest, the sweep of the great out-of-doors country and the spirit of self-sacrifice exemplified in the central character,” as the recognizable hallmarks of any Hart picture. In WOLF LOWRY he is a cattle baron whose idea of a good time is running off anyone who dares trespass on his domain. The film presents this as understandable tough-guy behaviour that has gone over the line, and will require a bit of civilizing. There is something wrong with all this testosterone-driven behaviour that could do with some feminine influence. Margery Wilson would seem to be the candidate here, and critics of the day were charmed by Hart’s “bashful lover” routine and the taming of his “cave man” persona. But this is one of those self-sacrificing films, a category in which the Hart character either dies, doesn’t get the girl, and/or wanders into the wilderness alone, leaving civilization to the more civilized (and domestic) characters. In fact, this romantic attraction seems somehow a part of the cattle king’s general property interests, his policing of a squatter’s cabin soon transformed into the stalking of its latest inhabitant (he begins hanging around at night, observing Margery Wilson’s shadow on the window shade). When he does realize the girl is lost to him, he abandons all the rest of his property, too.
Richard Koszarski, Le Giornate del Cinema muto, Pordenone 2019