I was immediately struck by how authentic the natives appeared in this film. Instead of the usual white guys painted dark to resemble American Indians, the film's producer, Thomas Ince, actually hired Sioux actors to play most of the parts. Now here's the odd part about that--the Chief's son was NOT played by a native or a white actor but by the Japanese actor Sessue Hayakawa! Odd...but it did work.
The story might surprise many viewers today, as it was told from the natives point of view AND was very sensitive in its portrayal. This didn't really surprise me, as MANY early silents showed the American Indians in a very positive light and it was only into the 1930s, 40s and 50s that these people became terrible stereotypes--more like mindless savages than real people.
It begins with the Chief, Gray Otter, deciding to send his young son off to the Indian school run by the white society (a common practice at the time). However, when the boy (Hayakawa) returns, it's obvious he has little positive character--he drinks heavily and hangs out with scum. In fact, instead of following his father and becoming a credit to his people, he forms a group of renegades and becomes a bandit. When these criminals attack the stage, this is where the film becomes very, very compelling--and Gray Otter must decide what to do about his son. I won't say more--it would spoil the suspense. However, suffice to say that the film is a wonderful portrait of the tribe as well as the difficulties faced by assimilation. Well worth seeing and one of the better silents of its time.
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