The Squaw Man

02_1914 Squaw Man, The (Farnum)

Here’s another post in honor of Native American Heritage Month. 

In an earlier post today we mentioned some of the theatrical precursors to the cinema’s treatment of Native American depiction. Here is an important American movie (actually several of them) that grew out of those early stage melodramas.

The Squaw Man started out as a hit stage play written by Edwin Milton Royle in 1905. The play starred William Faversham and William S. Hart (later to become a great star of western pictures.) It was so popular on Broadway it was subsequently revived in 1907, 1908, 1911 and 1921.

The 1911 revival starring Dustin Farnum only ran eight performances, but it wasn’t a total loss. Cecil B. DeMille was to make it his film directing debut in 1914. It was to be the first feature length film to be shot in Los Angeles; as well as the first feature length western. This is an important Hollywood movie; everyone should know it.

The story: a pair of aristocratic cousins are entrusted with an orphanage’s charity fund. One gambles the fund away; the other takes the blame to save the family honor. He flees to America where he becomes a rich rancher and marries a Ute squaw, who bears him a child. The transition is unintentionally amusing in its abruptness: A guy in New York tells him, “You should come West with me”, and then the next title is “Jim arrives at Maverick”.

Things zip right along. The squaw kills a bad man as he is about to shoot her husband. It stays quiet for six years, until a guy running for sheriff decides he needs to solve the crime. The sheriff comes for the squaw right after her son has been to sent to England for boarding school. She kills herself. The movie ends abruptly there, which is somewhat unsatisfying.

A cloud of racism hangs over the movie. Rather strongly implied is that our hero will wind up back with the with the white woman he has loved all along, the widowed wife of the ruthless cousin who wronged him (who dies while climbing in the alps and confesses all). 

DeMille couldn’t leave this one alone either. He remade it in 1918, and again as a talkie in 1931.

Here’s the 1914 version starting with part one: 

native american heritage

For more on early film history don’t miss my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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For more on the history of show business consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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