SQUAW MAN, THE (Oscar & Cecil B. DeMille Apfel, 1914, USA, 74m, BW)
The White Man
The Squaw Man
Directed by Oscar Apfel
Cecil B. DeMille
Produced by Cecil B. DeMille
Jesse L. Lasky
Written by Beulah Marie Dix (scenario)
Story by Beulah Marie Dix
Based on The Squaw Man
by Edwin Milton Royle
Starring Dustin Farnum
Cinematography Alfred Gandolfi
Edited by Mamie Wagner
Distributed by Famous Players-Lasky Corporation
Release dates February 12, 1914 (United States)
Running time 74 minutes
Country United States
The Squaw Man (known as The White Man in the UK) is a 1914 silent western drama film starring Dustin Farnum and directed by Cecil B. DeMille and Oscar Apfel.
James Wynnegate (Dustin Farnum) and his cousin, Henry (Monroe Salisbury), are upper class Englishmen and have been made trustees for an orphans’ fund. Henry loses money in a bet at a derby and embezzles money from “the fund” to pay off his debts. When war office officials are informed of the money missing from “the fund," they pursue James, but he successfully escapes to Wyoming. There, James rescues Nat-U-Ritch (Lillian St. Cyr), daughter to the chief of the Utes tribe, from local outlaw Cash Hawkins (William Elmer). Hawkins plans to exact his revenge on James, but has his plans thwarted by Nat-U-Ritch, who fatally shoots him. Later, James gets into an accident in the mountains and needs to be rescued.
Nat-U-Ritch tracks him down and carries him back to safety. As she nurses him back to health, they fall in love and later have a child. Meanwhile, during an exploration of the Alps, Henry falls off a cliff. Before he succumbs to his injuries, Henry signs a letter of confession proclaiming James’ innocence in the embezzlement. Before Henry's widow, Lady Diana (Winifred Kingston), and others arrive in Wyoming to tell James about the news, the Sheriff recovers the murder weapon that was used against Cash Hawkins inside of James and Nat-U-Ritch's home. Realizing their son was not safe, the couple sends him away, leaving them both distraught. Facing the possibilities of losing both her son and her freedom, Nat-U-Ritch decides to take her own life instead. The movie ends with both the chief of the Utes tribe and James embracing her body.
The main character James Wynnegate played by Dustin Farnum, was cast as the hero for the film. His wife in real life Winifred Kingston was also a well-known actress. She played the English love interest. Red Wing (real name Lillian St. Cyr) was born into the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska on the Winnebago Reservation, and she played the American Indian wife.
Directed by Oscar Apfel and Cecil B. DeMille and produced by DeMille and Jesse L. Lasky, the screenplay was adapted by Beulah Marie Dix from the 1905 stage play, of the same name, written by Edwin Milton Royle. This first screen version of the story was the legendary DeMille's first movie assignment. It also holds the distinction of being the first feature-length movie filmed specifically in Hollywood. DeMille wanted to emphasize the outdoors and wanted to shoot the movie in a place that had exotic scenery and great vistas. Initially he traveled to Flagstaff, Arizona to film the movie. After seeing the vast amount of mountains near Flagstaff; the filming was moved to the Los Angeles area.
It was not the first film to be made in the Los Angeles area, and film historians agree that shorts had previously been filmed in Hollywood, with In Old California considered the earliest. Harbor scenes were shot in San Pedro, California and the western saloon set was built beside railroad tracks in the San Fernando Valley. Footage of cattle on the open range were shot at Keen Camp near Idyllwild, California, while snow scenes were shot at Mount Palomar. Cecil B. DeMille felt that lighting in a movie was extremely important and viewed it as the visual and emotional foundation to build his image. He believed that lighting was to a film as “music is to an opera”. The Squaw Man went on to become the only movie successfully filmed three times by the same director/producer, DeMille. He filmed a silent remake in 1918, and a talkie version in 1931. The Squaw Man was 74 minutes long and generated $244,700 in profit.
Non-Native American actor Joseph Singleton played the role of Tabywana, Nat-U-Ritch's father. Lillian St. Cyr of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska was cast to play the role of Nat-U-Ritch, a member of the Ute tribe. She is also known as "Princess Redwing". St. Cyr along with her husband James Young Deer (of the Nanticoke people of Delaware) have been regarded as the first "Native American power couple" in Hollywood. DeMille selected Lillian St. Cyr to play Nat-U-Ritch because he wanted an authentic Native American. During the early silent film era, films that were based on the experiences of Native Americans were popular. The central theme of this film was miscegenation. In the state of California, anti-miscegenation laws existed until 1948; however, while African Americans couldn’t legally marry whites in California during the filming process, marriages between Native Americans and whites were permitted.
Though there were Native American actors, whites were mostly cast as Indian characters. Native Americans actors who played Indian roles might even perform in redface. The costumes that Native American filmmakers made were often inaccurate. Young Deer and his wife Lillian St. Cyr helped to transform how Native American characters were represented. The characters they created and portrayed were sympathetic in complex ways, although other studios like Kalem were also attempting to accurately portray Natives in film. However, other scholars argue that Native American-themed silent films did not alter in any way the dominant perception of Indians themselves. Apparently, a large number of films displayed the Native American experience from many different perspectives and did involve Native American writers, filmmakers, and actors during this time period.
The Squaw Man (1914) is the first film by director Cecil B. DeMille, and reputedly, the first feature film ever made in Hollywood (though some film scholars dispute this claim) . These noteworthy "firsts" began when would-be stage producer Jesse Lasky approached Cecil's brother, William C. de Mille (a celebrated Broadway playwright) to collaborate on an operetta. William was managed by his mother, Mrs. H.C. de Mille, who ran a theatrical agency. Since William was committed to another project, she recommended her younger son Cecil, who also had dramatic aspirations, and was not without experience both as a writer and actor. A skeptical Lasky agreed to meet, and he and Cecil quickly forged a bond and decided to work together -- not on a play, but a film. Short films were the norm, but it was becoming evident that feature-length films would soon dominate the marketplace. DeMille and Lasky decided to wager on the future of cinema, and with an investment of $26,500, they formed the Lasky Feature Play Company.
As their first property, they chose a story that appeared to be an easily exploitable property: The Squaw Man, written by Edwin Milton Royle. It had begun as a successful stage play in 1905 (featuring future cowboy star William S. Hart), and had been revived in 1907, 1908 and 1911. At a price of $5,000, the filmmakers recruited the star of the 1911 run, Dustin Farnum. Because DeMille had no experience as a filmmaker (his apprenticeship consisted of a single day at the Edison Studios), Oscar Apfel was brought along to co-direct, and to help initiate the producers into the world of filmmaking.
This film is neither a story of an Indian girl who becomes a man, nor a man who becomes a squaw. Rather, it is the story of a dishonored white nobleman who marries an Indian woman, and as such is an opportunity for commentary on race, gender, and class, all through the lens of “honor” as it was understood at the time. Predictably, the resolution involves the death of the unfortunate squaw, and the white man’s restoration to his proper civilized context, although apparently their child (conceived out of wedlock) is due to be raised as the “next Earl of Kerhill.” This was Cecil B. CeMille’s first outing as a director, and also the first feature film to be shot in the area of California later designated “Hollywood.” The story behind it is nearly as interesting as the picture on the screen, and it also represents a pretty impressive debut at a time when movies were generally made as simply as possible. I was impressed by the angled closeup used to demonstrate a pickpocket at work, the use of splitscreen to show a flashback, and the (real) locomotives that were integrated into the town saloon/railroad station set. The story, which seems obscure today, was derived from a popular novel which had several successful stage adaptations.
It was the first feature-length (six-reel) film shot in Hollywood. Designed to jump-start Jesse Lasky's fledgling studio, it utilized the stage experience of DeMille (who had partnered with Lasky on three Broadway musicals) and the film experience of Apfel, formerly of the Edison company. Shooting was dogged by violent interference from the Motion Picture Patents monopoly, and later the whole project was threatened by an error in the film's sprocket perforation that prevented it from being projected properly. That problem was fixed, and the film went on to make a quarter of a million dollars at the box office, an unbelievable sum at the time, enough to establish Lasky's studio as a force for years to come.
The plot seems fairly plausible at first, at least in terms of the popular melodrama at that time. James Wynnegate, an English aristocrat, takes the fall for an embezzlement of regiment funds by his cousin, an earl. Then things get weird. He boards a ship for America, survives a shipboard fire, and meets a garrulous cowboy in New York who brings him West to help him run his ranch. Going snowblind while searching for stray horses, his life is saved by an Indian woman, and eventually they get married. But she is suspected of shooting one of the local bad guys, and meanwhile James' old sweetheart from England (by a thoroughly implausible coincidence) shows up in the same town. The sets, and especially the costumes, are laughable by today's standards. The silly hats, the decrepit excuse for an Indian tribe, and the wildly gesticulating performances (by no means atypical in those days) are impossible to take seriously. The film stars -- well, probably no one you've ever heard of. The lead role is played by a lump of dough named Dustin Farnum. In fact, it's interesting to see how different, or perhaps just less discriminating, the idea of attractiveness was in these early dramas. In a way, it's refreshing, because there wasn't yet an emphasis on glamour -- audiences could be captured by the semblance of a coherent yarn, and lots of happenings. But nobody in the picture can act worth a damn, and you start wishing the film would end a couple of reels before it does.
Whatever else you might say about it, the picture moves. Sometimes it moves too fast -- long gaps in space and time traversed in a quick, jarring cut. The most interesting aspect of the story is the character of the "squaw," played by an actual Winnebago Indian named Red Wing (the only Native American in the cast, as far as I can tell). This woman saves her man's life twice, bears his child, and is generally strong, heroic, and noble. But she still ends up at the losing end of the plot. Another interesting sidelight is that she gets pregnant first, and then the white man rushes off to find a preacher so they can be legal, no bones about it. (Of course, there was no Hays Office yet.) Movie audiences were still the unlettered masses back then. At least, the majority of paying customers were poor and working class. So it's a bit ungenerous to deride the ridiculous plots and low-quality production values of The Squaw Man or other popular features in the early days. As entertainment, this was actually something of an advance -- with a lot of different situations and sets, and according to some sources, the first use of indoor lighting in Hollywood. DeMille's movies became the force behind Lasky's success, and later they helped Famous Players and Paramount, the studio's later incarnations, rise to the top in the 1920s.
Cecil B DeMille's The Squaw Man is historically important as the very first feature length movie ever to be shot in Hollywood. The year was 1914 and this tiny little farming community near Los Angeles would soon be transformed into the movie capital of the world. The Squaw Man also marked DeMille's directorial debut (technically he co-directed with Oscar Apfel) one full year before Griffith made The Birth of a Nation. More than anyone else in the history of film, DeMille would come to represent the icon of the silent movie director, flaired pants tucked into knee high boots, megaphone in one hand and riding crop in the other, barking out orders to vast crowds of extras. 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.
Films directed by Cecil B. DeMille
The Squaw Man (1914) Brewster's Millions (1914) The Master Mind (1914) The Only Son (1914) The Man on the Box (1914) The Call of the North (1914) The Virginian (1914) What's His Name (1914) The Man from Home (1914) Rose of the Rancho (1914) The Ghost Breaker (1914) The Girl of the Golden West (1915) After Five (1915) The Warrens of Virginia (1915) The Unafraid (1915) The Captive (1915) The Wild Goose Chase (1915) The Arab (1915) Chimmie Fadden (1915) Kindling (1915) Carmen (1915) Chimmie Fadden Out West (1915) The Cheat (1915) Temptation (1915) The Golden Chance (1915) The Trail of the Lonesome Pine (1916) The Heart of Nora Flynn (1916) Maria Rosa (1916) The Dream Girl (1916) Joan the Woman (1916) Lost and Won (1917) A Romance of the Redwoods (1917) The Little American (1917) The Woman God Forgot (1917) Nan of Music Mountain (1917) The Devil-Stone (1917) The Whispering Chorus (1918) Old Wives for New (1918) We Can't Have Everything (1918) Till I Come Back to You (1918) The Squaw Man (1918) Don't Change Your Husband (1919) For Better, for Worse (1919) Male and Female (1919) Why Change Your Wife? (1920) Something to Think About (1920) Forbidden Fruit (1921) The Affairs of Anatol (1921) Fool's Paradise (1921) Saturday Night (1922) Manslaughter (1922) Adam's Rib (1923) The Ten Commandments (1923) Triumph (1924) Feet of Clay (1924) The Golden Bed (1925) The Road to Yesterday (1925) The Volga Boatman (1926) The King of Kings (1927) Walking Back (1928) The Godless Girl (1929)
Dynamite (1929) Madam Satan (1930) The Squaw Man (1931) The Sign of the Cross (1932) This Day and Age (1933) Four Frightened People (1934) Cleopatra (1934) The Crusades (1935) The Plainsman (1936) The Buccaneer (1938) Union Pacific (1939) North West Mounted Police (1940) Reap the Wild Wind (1942) The Story of Dr. Wassell (1944) Unconquered (1947) California's Golden Beginning (1948) Samson and Delilah (1949) The Greatest Show on Earth (1952) The Ten Commandments (1956) The Buccaneer (1958)
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