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Cecil B. DeMille
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Cecil B. DeMille
Wyoming schoolteacher Molly Wood is attracted to a cowboy known as "The Virginian." He has to help hang his best friend Steve when the latter falls in with a bunch of cattle thieves led by Trampas. Eventually the Virginian must take on the bad guys and get the girl. Written by
Ed Stephan <firstname.lastname@example.org>
As the Virginian and his posse approach the rustlers, it is clearly daylight, but when the camera cuts to the outlaws' campfire, it is clearly night. See more »
[to those seated at the barbequie table]
You think that school ma'am's straight? If you knew what the stage driver told me ...
[overhearing and responding angrily]
Stand up on your legs, you polecat, an' tell all you're a liar!
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This was Cecil B. DeMille's first picture as sole credited director. Like the better known yet inferior Squaw Man, which he co-directed with Oscar Apfel, it is a western starring Dustin Farnum. Unlike its predecessor, The Virginian bears the hallmarks of having been made by a classy albeit inexperienced director, and the definite DeMille style is beginning to emerge.
Part of The Virginian's superiority over The Squaw Man is its tighter storyline. This is probably helped by the fact that it unswervingly follows genre convention. The western may have been in its infancy, but even in 1914 the iconic cowboy and his inevitable shootout with the villainous outlaw were already synonymous with it. One factor which characterises this as an early western is the theme of an outsider coming to the west in this case the love interest Molly. At this time the west was not yet old, and it was an exotic place for easterners to discover. There's already something of a shift going on here though as the hero himself is an established westerner. I have to say, Dustin Farnum looks a lot more comfortable here playing the genuine cowboy as oppose to the English gentlemen traveller of The Squaw Man.
Right from the start, Cecil DeMille differed somewhat in approach from DW Griffith in that he was most concerned with what went on in individual shots rather than the relationship between them, favouring long takes and rich compositions. He shows some promise here, making good aesthetic use of depth and balance, although he's not quite there yet when it comes to clarifying action and character. For example, he introduces the villain Trampas with a title card, then confuses us by showing three men sitting round the table. Our eyes will probably be drawn to the man on the left with the large sombrero, but it's only thirty seconds or so into the scene that we realise it's the man on the right who is Trampas.
Some more typical and innovative DeMille touches emerge later. DeMille was one of the first filmmakers to convey psychology through technique. For example, when Farnum and his pal Steve are fondly remembering their adventures together, he literally shows their memories on screen in a superimposed image. Of course, this technology had been around since Melies' heyday fifteen years earlier, but DeMille is using it to photograph thought. You don't see anything like that in the work of Melies, or Griffith for that matter.
By and large however, De Mille is still taking his lead from Griffith, which is fair enough as Griffith was the undisputed master at the time. His staging and use of close-ups looks very much like that in the Biograph shorts. There's also some Griffith-style parallel editing to contrast the diverging paths of Steve and Farnum, when the former falls in with the cattle rustlers and the latter falls in with the school ma'am. The later DeMille tended to keep individual scenes intact. However, it would not be long before fully-fledged DeMillean classics such as The Cheat would appear.
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