The Squaw Man: Double Feature 1914 / 1931
Cecil B. DeMille's The Squaw Man is a first and a last. The 1914 version is widely regarded as the first feature film made in Hollywood. And DeMille makes the final film under his MGM contract with a 1931 Talkie of the oft-told tale (DeMille lensed a second silent version in 1918) about a British outcast in the West, his Native American bride and events that shatter their happiness. The films vary greatly. The first is packed with events - a horse race, a brawl with a Scotland Yarder, a shipboard fire, a night in New York - that foreshadow DeMille's ambitious narrative reach. The second hones in on the tender and ultimately heartbreaking familial relationship. Same story. Same filmmaker. A rare chance to experience them in different ways.
- Run Time: 181 minutes
The 1931 version of “The Squaw Man” was the third filming of the play, all of them by Cecil B. DeMille. The play was written in 1905 and starred future famous silent film cowboy William S. Hart. It ran for nearly a year and was revived several times, then spawned a novel. It featured the marriage between a White man and an Indian and the birth of their son, a scandalous topic for the times. All three films and the novel follow the same basic story line.
The 1931 film stars Warner Baxter as the disgraced Englishman who marries Indian Princess Lupe Velez and together they create a son played by Dickie Moore. Eleanor Boardman plays Baxter’s English love interest and Charles Bickford plays an evil rancher.
Warner Baxter (1889-1951) was a big star in the 20s and won an Oscar for “In Old Arizona” (1929). He went on to star in “Prisoner of Shark island” (1936) and “Kidnapped” (1938) and his career fizzled after that. I'm not a big fan of Baxter and this film didn't change my mind.
Lupe Velez (1906-44) was “the Mexican Spitfire” and one of the first successful Latina actresses, starting her career in the silent era and expanding in the 30s. She is still doing silent era hystrionics in this film but she got better in her later films.
Eleanor Broadman (1898-1991) was a major silent film star, married to film director King Vidor, and best known for “The Crowd” (1928). This was her last film with MGM.
Crusty Charles Bickford (1891-1967) plays the villain. He appeared in nearly 100 films. He was nominated for an Oscar three times (“Song of Bernadette” in 1943, “The Farmer’s Daughter” in 1947, and “Johnny Belinda” in 1949), and each time, the actress who played opposite him won the Oscar for Best Actress – Jennifer Jones, Loretta Young, and Jane Wyman.
Dickie Moore (1925-2015) was just 5 years old when he made this film but he was already a veteran of over a dozen films. He gave Shirley Temple her first on-screen kiss (1942) and appeared in nearly 100 films.
The 1931 version plays mostly like a silent film in terms of the acting style and the camera movement. That’s a little disappointing because 1931 was a great year for film with “Frankenstein”, “Cimarron”, “Mata Hari”, “City Lights”, and “Dracula”. The Oscars went to “Cimarron” (Picture), “The Champ” (Actor), and “Min and Bill” (Actress). Other notable films released that year include “M”, “Public Enemy”, “Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde”, and “Monkey Business”.
The Squaw Man has some historic value, especially being able to see two versions, but otherwise there are far better films to see.
Dr. James Gardner