DENNIS SCHWARTZ 
IS THERE ANY GOOD 
IN SAYING 
EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?

 
SQUAW MAN, THE (director/writer: Cecil B. DeMille/Oscar Apfel; screenwriter: from the play of Edwin Milton Royle; cinematographer: Alfred Gandolfi; editor: Mamie Wagner; music: Scott Salinas; cast: Dustin Farnum (Capt. James Wyngate), Monroe Salisbury (Sir Henry), Winifred Kingston (Lady Diana), Red Wing (Nat-U-Ritch), William Elmer (Cash Hawkins), Foster Knox (Sir John), Joseph Singleton (Tabywana), 'Baby' Carmen De Rue (Hal), A.W. Filson (Lady Elizabeth); Runtime: 78; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Cecil B. DeMille/Jesse L. Lasky; Warner Bros.; 1914-silent)

 
"An early indication of DeMille's future strength as a visual filmmaker."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This is the first film that Cecil B. DeMille ("The Ten Commandments") directed, and it was co-directed by the vetran stage actor Oscar Apfel. It's also supposedly the first feature shot in Hollywood (location shooting was near Flagstaff, Arizona), and it lays the groundwork for Hollywood's future take on depicting Indians. We have come a long a way in how we depict Indians, and this western lets us see how far. The film shoots for melodrama and makes little attempt to achieve accuracy about the Indians (even their tents look like stage sets). It's based on the 1905 play by Edwin Milton Royle. De Mille made another version in 1918 and a talkie version in 1931. What's surprising is that the unusual storyline promotes interracial marriage, that the co-star actress Red Wing was a real-life Indian, and its visual imagery is almost surreal--giving it a rather stark modern look. The film had great success at the box office, which helped its producers, De Mille and the stage producer Jesse Lasky, eventually become the giant Paramount studio. For modern audiences, it's both a curio and serves as a valuable Hollywood history lesson for its early films.

In London, Captain James Wynnegate (Dustin Farnum) is made executor of the Widows and Orphan Fund raised by members of his regiment for the families of men killed in battle. But his cousin Sir Henry (Monroe Salisbury), the Earl of Kerhill, embezzles the funds to pay off his racing debts. The family's matriarch Lady Elizabeth (A.W. Filson) urges that James take the rap to save the aristocratic family's good name. James agrees because he's in love with Sir Henry's wife Lady Diana (Winifred Kingston), and takes a boat to New York to escape justice. Once there he saves a rough cowboy visiting the city from a pickpocket, and gets invited to his hometown in the hills of Wyoming. There James buys a ranch using the name Jim Carston. When the local bully, Cash Hawkins (William Elmer), comes gunning for his rancher rival in the saloon, the Indian maiden Nat-U-Ritch (Red Wing) plugs him. The grateful Jim marries her and they have a son Hal. When Sir Henry accidentally dies in a mountain climbing accident in the Alps, he confesses to the embezzlement and exonerates his cousin Jim. Lady Diana arrives at Jim's ranch and informs him that he's now the Earl of Kerhill. When Diana learns of his son Hal, she hugs him and is set to take him back to get educated in England. Meanwhile the sheriff finally figures out that Nat-U-Ritch killed the rustler Cash, and to appease the locals so he can get re-elected comes to arrest her. But she conveniently commits suicide, allowing Jim to return to civilization in England.

The film is an early indication of DeMille's future strength as a visual filmmaker.  

REVIEWED ON 5/26/2010       GRADE: B+

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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